Classic Album Review: The Electric Light Orchestra – “ELO 2” (1973)

ELO 2

If you are a relative newcomer to ELO or have only heard albums such as “A New World Record” or “Out Of The Blue”, then “ELO 2” may come as a little bit of a shock to you the first time you hear it, especially if you’re expecting the album to be anything like the solitary hit single, “Roll Over Beethoven”. It’s almost a completely different sound from the radio friendly Electric Light Orchestra mainstream radio listeners will have come to know and expect. Jeff’s vocals are raw and more difficult to understand, the instruments sound relatively untouched by the later lush production values Jeff became renowned for and this album is so eclectic, it’s very difficult to categorise. You can call it experimental, wacky, classical-influenced prog-rock if you like (that’s the nearest I can come to when attempting to describe it), but it’s probably best not to try to fit this album into any genre. In fact, the only album to sound anything like it is the début album by ELO, although the first ELO album has far more of a Roy Wood feel to it than this one… with good reason.

Owing to differences of opinion as to what direction the band should take, Roy Wood left ELO not long after the preparation for this album started and so Jeff Lynne was left to finish it by himself, with the aid of his newly assembled band mates, including Richard Tandy on keyboards, Mike de Albuquerque on bass, Wilfred Gibson on Violin, as well as cellists Colin Walker and Mike Edwards. What resulted from those sessions were five tracks (the shortest one weighing in at six minutes and fifty-one seconds) mostly recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs, owing to the band’s close understanding with each other gained during their numerous live dates prior to the recording sessions, and they are, pretty much, all magnificent. “In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2)” is a moody, powerful, heavy rock number which highlights the gloriously scratchy cellos and has a mildly pessimistic but very inventive lyrical theme. “Momma…” is a sad song with truly beautiful music telling the story of a lonely girl travelling far from home, lamenting the loss of her Mother.

“Roll Over Beethoven” is a brilliantly overblown, seven minute version of the Chuck Berry composition with a bit of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony thrown in for good measure. It’s simply a great moment in rock and roll and, in my opinion, the definitive version of that song. “From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1)” is a multi-sectioned, lyrically-apocalyptic piece of mercurial genius which starts off reminiscent of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” only to then get gradually heavier, eventually featuring a fantastic boogie-woogie piano part guaranteed to get every listener’s head nodding and toes tapping. The last song on the original album, “Kuiama”, at just over eleven minutes, is an ambitious piece telling of the emotional cost of war. I have to admit to finding the album difficult to criticise; it is a beautifully creative, darkly brilliant piece of work, part-rock, part-classical, completely original. In this writer’s opinion, this is a more accomplished piece of work than their début, primarily owing to the fact that Lynne’s was able to gain complete artistic control and, as a result, there is a flow and coherence to “ELO 2” which the admirably creative yet deeply uncommercial début slightly lacked.

This was the last album to be made in the spirit of the same kind of experimental ethos the The Electric Light Orchestra was specifically formed for. Beyond their second album, Jeff largely returned to the kind of shorter, more conventional pop-rock songs he had written before teaming up with Roy, albeit retaining the classical influence and the orchestral theme. Wood’s influence can still be felt on “ELO 2” and he appears, uncredited, on two tracks (“In Old England Town” and “From The Sun To The World”), playing cello and bass. Without Wood’s early influence, this could have been a considerably difference affair, but the complex, long arrangements which were a feature of ELO’s first album continued to be fully embraced and realised by Lynne. It is debatable, however, whether this would have happened if not for Roy, so it could be argued that his final contribution to the group was helping shape and influence this stand-alone, unique helping of grandiose, ambitious art-rock. Regardless of how it began, the album ended with Jeff very much at the helm of the ELO ship and the group ready to be moulded in his creative vision, with the re-birth of The Electric Light Orchestra and their more popular sound poised to emerge.

*****

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About A.D.S.

You are reading the musings of a music-obsessed forty-something who was brought up on The Beatles, lived through Britpop and now spends his time in pursuit of the best music around. This 'blog gives me an outlet to write about the huge number of albums I buy and the many gigs I go to. All of the opinions expressed are my own and if you don't agree with me, then I understand - music is a very personal thing. I like to receive comments, especially if they're nice ones.
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