Electric Light Orchestra "Zoom"
In 1970, the ELO were formed by three members of The Move; Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne to get away from the stress of their crumbling group. ELO would be a side project Ė something just for fun. Roy Wood had been lead singer of The Move, and he continued to sing lead with ELO. Jeff Lynne had been recruited for The Move toward the end of their journey as a keyboard player, but in ELO Lynne would assume mostly guitar duties. Bevan would continue to pound the drum skins. Wood left ELO after the 1st album to focus on a more glammy project, Wizzard, giving Lynne control of the group. Over the years, dozens of people came and went through the lineup, with Lynne and Bevan as the anchor of the groupís sound, with Lynne firing off hit after hit as the 70ís crept on. The trademarks of ELO in this time were Jeff Lynneís three-dimensional production, the use of strings in every song, Beatles-esque chord changes, and Lynneís pleading tenor voice. Starting in the early 80ís, Bevanís association with the "group" began to wane, as did ELOís hits. Since then, Jeff Lynne has almost exclusively been a producer with one of the most easily recognizable sounds in the world of rock and roll.
This year, Lynne released a new ELO album called "Zoom". Many critics balk "what about the OTHER members of ELO?!" but really ELO has become a side of Jeff Lynne, and is truly no one elseís band. Itís a bit like chastising Trent Reznor for releasing NIN albums. If Jeff Lynne wants to record a bunch of songs for fun, as a vacation from his producing job, so be it. Put a spaceship on the cover, call it ELO, and thatís all the proof I need. The initial listen will throw old school ELO fans for a loop, but closer listeners will hear the trademark sounds of long ago and also the growth of a dated 70ís band into a timeless classic rock group with an ace pop songwriter at the helm of the mothership.
The albumís opener, "Alright" leaves something to be desired in vibe Ė it sounds VERY 80ís (in a bad, bad way) but the solo section is magnificent enough to wake up the ELO listener looking for proof that Lynne hasnít lost the touch. This song is also the albumís first single, and is sure to disappoint anybody, fan or not. Itís dull, lifeless and dry. Letís move on... "Moment In Paradise" finds Lynne at a white grand piano in the sky. Think Iím joking? Put on them headphones. Itís time for the REAL start of the album. This is where ELOís old motto "to pick up where ĎI am the Walrusí left off" comes in. Lennon & McCartney would be proud to slap this tune on one of their albums, were Lennon still alive. From then on, itís up to the individual listenerís likes and dislikes. Ringo Starr and George Harrison make guest appearances on the album, with Georgeís appearances being particularly welcome. For an album that many have overlooked or lambasted, it sure has a lot of neo-classic ELO tracks on it. Even some of the best songs Iíve heard, period. "Stranger On A Quiet Street" begs for you to hit the replay button. Sheer bliss. I had to break this one down and analyze it to figure out what it is that makes this song (and other tracks on this album) so magical, but I simply could not find the source. Lynne is proving to the whippersnappers that he has the touch of a songwriting genius. "Just For Love" continues the extremely Beatlesy vibe, and I couldnít have been happier with that. The almost harsh ELO production has been scaled back to a smoother sound. And itís not exactly the same sound Lynne has been using on the artists and bands heís been producing lately. He could be accused of using a cookie-cutter method with his clients, and I pretty much agree. However, Jeff Lynne producing ELO (or himself) sounds natural and unforced. Instead of pouring string arrangements all over the album, Lynne has spared us the dated, pseudo-disco strings in favor of sparser, maturer arrangements here and there. The robotic vocal effects are all but gone in favor of lush layers of harmonies. "In My Own Time" is the outstanding bluesy track that features strings the most. They still donít overpower the track like old ELO Ė instead, the basic melody, harmony, and chord changes do the talking. Itís a refreshing change. "Ordinary Dream" builds the album further, both in strength of songwriting and in mood, itís a fantastic track. The final song on "Zoom" is perhaps my favorite song on this album, "Lonesome Lullaby". The edge on this song is razor sharp, and a bit dark considering that itís ELO. The usual tip-of-the-hat to The Beatles wasnít enough on this one. The hat comes off. "Cry Baby Cry, Tell Me ĎBout Your Lonesome Lullaby" (open your Beatles songbooks to the "white album," side four) being the chorus of this song Ė and it WORKS without being a rip-off. Itís a dangerously good chorus that uppercuts your jaw once the lift is through and you think youíve heard the hook of the song already. Once again, the tricky ELO chord changes (did I mean Beatlesy? I donít know anymore) are as much the hook as the melody or the lyrics. This song is the ear candy, the creme de la creme, the centerpiece of this album, and thereís no good reason why you should have to live any longer without hearing it. I give this one song five out of five stars; itís as good as it gets. The album overall is probably ELOís finest album, though many would probably disagree. Itís not an updated version of ELO; itís a more mature version. It doesnít rely on dated production to get the song through to you. It is for this reason that I recommend it to former ELO fans and casual ELO listeners (who may not OWN anything by ELO... yet) alike. I also recommend it to Beatles fans looking for a new fix.