It seems unbelievable that one of the hottest records of the moment is the comeback album of Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra. It shouldn’t be, I mean there is no way this should be happening, Jeff’s last comeback in 2001 was nothing less than a complete disaster and lets face it ELO part II was just flogging a dead horse. So, how the hell has a band which fizzled out thirty years ago been dusted off, reanimated and come back sounding exactly like they always did? It’s like the time fabric continuum got folded and Jeff just picked up where he left off.
Basically, this is Jeff doing what ELO does best; high quality hook filled tracks offering a sense of nostalgic comfort. So, in that regard it’s an enjoyable record that fits the current retro climate perfectly, but one can’t help but feel that there’s something not quite there. It’s a bit like drinking decaf, it tastes good and fulfills ones desire for a cup of coffee but something just don’t feel right, and I think I might just have put my finger on it.
‘When I Was a Boy’ sets the tone with its easy piano melody like something from a John Lewis Ad, that slightly muffled drum sound and the nostalgic lyric; it’s oh so familiar as we are taken back in time to Jeff’s childhood bedroom. It’s effective though, I find myself transported back to my own, except in mine you could here ELO coming through the floor from my Mum’s record player. ‘Love and Rain’ continues the vibe with a vaguely funky guitar riff, like a laid back ‘Superstition’, it’s lyrical simplicity in stark contrast to the musical complexity with multiple layers of instrumentation.
The album then proceeds to pilfer Jeff’s own back catalogue magpie style; we get the futuristic sound effects on ‘Dirty to the Bone’, the predictable ‘All My Life’ and the mid-tempo flashback of ‘I’m Leaving You’. It’s as if Jeff went into the studio and pieced a few songs together from the ELO catalogue of licks, drumtracks and melodies; nowhere more so than on ‘One Step at a Time’, which is futuristic sounding, but with those well used ELO harmonies. The two bonus tracks, the Wilbury’s-ish ‘Fault Line’ and ‘Blue’, seem to owe more to other periods of Jeff’s career however.
Nevertheless, there are some gems sandwiched between the slices of predictability. The reggae vibe of the riff and the minor piano chords to ‘When The Night Comes’ giving it a slightly darker feel, while the atmospheric ‘The Sun Will Shine On You’ evokes a sense of longing, but is bang up to date and has a quite lovely vocal from the man. There is always a simple Beatles-esque number and in ‘Aint It a Drag’ we get a straight ahead crowd pleasing pop-rock melody that sounds as if it has Ringo on the drums.
Album closer’Alone in the Universe’, the bonus tracks notwithstanding, is a down tempo slice of emotion with a lingering guitar to give it a heartfelt edge – it’s all kinda obvious, but hey, what the hell, Jeff could give lessons on how to write a hit.
All in all ‘Alone in The Universe’ is an enjoyably nostalgic journey through everything that once made ELO the biggest band in the world and Jeff Lynne one of the industry’s most successful hit makers. It’s a comfort zone record, Jeff didn’t leave his and it will no doubt transfer you to yours and as such fits the times like a glove. There’s just that ever so slight sense of disquiet, the feeling that something is missing and I guess it’s the drama that those sweeping orchestral crescendos of multiple Cello and Violin used to bring to ELO all those years ago, after all, losing 21 members of a band is bound to strip something away.