18 November 2015

Jeff Lynne's ELO - Alone in the Universe

This album has surprisingly cause some tension, but not for me personally.  The original ELO (Electronic Light Orchestra) were formed in the 1970 and over the years have conquered America, toured the world and they have been loved by millions.  They have split up a few times and they have also be in some fights with each other and all of the other rock & roll soap opera stuff which comes with the territory.  To list it all here would be longer than my review and that is not the point of this blog.  This is the thirteenth studio album by the ELO and released under the name Jeff Lynne's ELO; now the only reason I can think of this is due to Mr Lynne owning the name of ELO after settling a dispute with other members and because he is pretty much the only person performing on this record, he produced it - basically it is all him.  This has caused friction with some of his fan base as they think it should be a Jeff Lynne solo album and not have anything to do with ELO.  Personally, as a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins - if the name holder wants to release an album under a certain name, who are we to argue?  But this is beside the point, now it is time to see if this album adds anything to the ELO legacy.....

‘Alone in the Universe’ starts with a reflective taint with the song “When I Was A Boy”, all about a young boy having a dream, with music filling the air and it is all done to a slow to medium pace rock song.  It reminds me a bit of The Beatles and has a gentle tone to it, you really could not get offended by this one.  From the opening you know exactly what you are going to get and it is all very pleasant and about as hard as some orange jelly and about as new as a first copy of Hamlet; but it is just a decent classic rock song and it is not wanting to change the world, it is just meant to be there for a few moments and people can get lost in the words – job done on the first song.  “Love & Rain” continues the same pattern as you are introduced to on “Alone in the Universe” which could be an alternative version of “Unchain My Heart” from the late, great Joe Cocker.  It has the 80’s/90’s classic rock shine which is fine for what it is, you are not expecting hard biting political statements from this, you are not expecting a song in praise of Cthulhu and you will not be wishing for anything other than a love song to a soft/AOR/classic rock beat and you will be pleased to hear that it does exactly that.  “Dirty to the Bone” is a warning about a lady who is not a good egg, a caution to stay away from that person who will make your life a living misery.  I am not too sure about this one, it has a few different guitar effects going on, it feels like Tom Petty is on this song (this is not the case as everything apart from the shaker and the tambourine were played by Mr Lynne) and it does not move the album along.  It is a little bit faster on the drumming, but this is in conflict with the main guitar (not the acoustic, that is going at a faster pace as well) as that sounds as if it was sourced from a dream and it seems a little messy. 

“The Night Will Come” is a song about yearning for a lost love, with the night time being harder to deal with than any other part of the day.  It is another AOR number that will in undoubtedly make the fans of ELO and Jeff Lynne very happy, it does not venture too far from his standard proven ground and it does nothing wrong at all.  It is not strictly to my tastes, but it is a song where I can see the craftsmanship that has been invested into this song.  With a strum and atmospheric noise, “The Sun Will Shine on You”, it sets out its stall with a plea for self-redemption and saying that you can find forgiveness within as well.  It reminds me a little of Julian Lennon for some reason, but that is beside the point.  As a song, it is one of the strongest on the album in terms of what I like; in terms of what the general public will like, it will be welcome like a long-lost son coming home.  It is a very gentle number that is well played once more, marking the halfway point on this album.  “Ain’t It a Drag” places the band’s collective feet firmly to the rock peddle (as much as this album rocks), it also has the word ‘shit’ in it which made me laugh when I first heard it.  But it is a shot of energy that this album has been needing, it is fun and bounces along like an over excitable puppy.  Its lyrics about bad times are in contradiction to the music (a theme of the album), but it is another of the highlights of this album for your reviewer here.

“All My Life” slows everything back down, once more we are in AOR/love song country.  Boy is looking, boys finds and boy does nothing – it is a series of events that has been done a million times before.  It is a slow number that is well played, cannot fault that but it does not really hit any of the buttons that I think it is aiming for.  “I’m Leaving You “has a Calypso feel to the music, it is all very gentle and you can imagine the Caribbean when you are listening to it.  Sadly it does not do anything for me, no matter how many times I repeat it; however I can once again see the effort that went into it and it is a gentle number that will drift over people like a warm sea, but it is not for me.  The penultimate song is called "One Step at a Time" and it is much like "Ain't It a Drag", the music and the lyrics are not in sync and it does feel as if there is a pacing issue here.  It is a faster paced number, but the vocal deliver and lyrical content are about getting everything together and could have been better suited to a different type of music.  But despite all of that, it sort of works in a way that it should not - they counter balance each other and it is driving me mad and making me happy in equal measure.  Ending the album is the title track "Alone in the Universe" which feels like the counterpart to "When I Was a Boy" in many ways, they bookend the main part of the album with reflective songs; this one is about being on your lonesome in this big cosmos which we call the universe.  It is another slow AOR number that will have its fans, once again I cannot fault the performance, but it is not something I would go out of my way to listen to.  But I have heard a hell of a lot worse than this and at least it has a passion behind it.  There are two other bonus tracks ("Fault Line" & "Blue") both of which are about on par with the rest of the album.

For what this album is, I cannot fault it.  It is an AOR album that does exactly what it should; none of the songs outstay their welcome, short and to the point, not too wild or anything other than classic easy listening rock.  Jeff Lynne is a world renowned musician and it is easy to see why, his performance on all of this is beyond reproach.  But it is not the music for me, I cannot get excited by this album as there are too many songs which sound mis-matched when it comes to the music and the lyrics.  But this is one of those times when I can see more worth to the whole and it works despite my own objections, it is not something I would go out of my way to listen to in the future but it is also something that I would not object to if it came on.  My mark is all for the passion and drive behind the music, but that is about it; you cannot be a fan of something and still respect it at the same time strangely enough, but only time will tell where it fits in the ELO fan-scape.

6.5 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there

Top track - Ain't It a Drag

You can purchase the standard version of Alone in the Universe on Amazon here

You can visit the ELO website here

You can visit the ELO Facebook page here and follow their activities here

You can stream Alone in the Universe on Deezer here

You can stream Alone in the Universe on Spotify here

You can stream Alone in the Universe on Tidal here

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