“Eldorado” was the moment in The Electric Light Orchestra’s history when Jeff Lynne really raised his game. Leaving behind the multi-tracked cellos and strings of earlier recordings, a full thirty-piece orchestra, arranged by and under the baton of Louis Clark, were utilised for the first time to fully realise Jeff’s rock-orchestra dream. Subtitled “A Symphony By The Electric Light Orchestra”, “Eldorado” is an undoubtedly ambitious project which is also a concept album in the loosest terms; it has a distinct thematic beginning and end, recurring musical themes throughout as well as links between tracks. The concept is that all the songs are the result of one person’s dreams, an escape from their mundane life into an ideal, fantasy world, but, lyrically, there isn’t a particular story to follow or enough continuity to convincingly bind the theme together. Still, the album certainly feels and sounds convincing as a coherent, flowing piece of work on a surface level and Lynne’s production skills on “Eldorado” had improved dramatically compared to his previous studio album (“On The Third Day”), from just a year before. This was the game changer, the record on which the ELO sound, enhanced by the masterful Louis Clark arrangements, most casual listeners recognise was born.
The album begins with the “Eldorado Overture”, a rather grand, dramatic piece of music which includes a spoken word introduction (voiced by Peter Forbes-Robertson) prior to a brass and string symphonic phrase that repeats and is built upon to fuel the the musical anticipation, after which the piece explodes into waves of cascading, energetically-bowed strings and crashing percussion before seguing beautifully into “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”, a sublime, dreamy ballad with lyrics as gorgeous as the melody and the solitary hit single from this album. After an instrumental interlude which features a fanfare playing musical questions and answers, we are treated to “Boy Blue”, a bright, upbeat, catchy piece with a extremely pleasing pizzicato section that tells the tale of a heroic, full-blooded character from an age gone by. After that, the heavy “Laredo Tornado”, which boasts a powerful, bluesy guitar riff, an impressive vocal performance from Jeff and choral “woo”s that could have been lifted from The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus” adds a darker texture to the album. A similar musical character that features in the “Eldorado Overture” reappears in “Poor Boy (The Greenwood)”, an uplifting, up-tempo song which references the legend of Maid Marian in the Robin Hood story. This song ends with a reprise of the cascading strings from the Overture, bringing side one of the original vinyl version to a stirring, exhilarating close.
Jeff Lynne’s Beatles influences are almost a little too obvious on “Mister Kingdom” which borrow both musical phrases and lyrics from Lennon’s “Across The Universe”, but the songwriter just about manages to give the composition enough originality to distract from the similarities. Although it certainly has a rather formidable, rousing ending it is fair to say that it is probably the weakest point of the whole project, whereas “Nobody’s Child” is nothing less than delightful; this moody shuffle with a tremendous Richard Tandy piano solo where the protagonist dreams of being seduced by an older woman is packed full of sexual overtones and melodrama. More musically basic, but still very effective, is “Illusions In G Major”, which sees Jeff writing a slightly amended 12-bar blues song, but with the orchestral backing and an electrifying guitar solo, it manages to be much more than the sum of its parts. The album’s title track, “Eldorado”, with the soaring Jeff Lynne vocal, swelling strings and haunting choral section brings the story to a close, with the dreamer waking up to his real life and longing to get back to his Eldorado (a golden city, rich with jewels and finery in Spanish mythology). The “Eldorado Finale”, with the same dramatic flourish as it began, albeit with a fuller sound, brings a remarkably ambitious and wonderfully creative piece of work to a magnificent close.
“Eldorado”, like previous ELO releases, saw a few personnel changes with Mike de Alberquerque quitting very early on in the album’s recording, leaving Jeff to play the majority of the bass parts and the introduction of Hugh McDowell on cello, paving way for the stable “classic ELO line-up”, many people’s enduring idea of who the Electric Light Orchestra were. The re-released, remastered version with the “Eldorado Instrumental Medley” is well worth having, as the extended sequence of music, without the vocals, reveals quite splendidly just how intricate and creative the instrumentation and arrangements are. Although this album is extremely enjoyable and the vision behind its creation and realisation has to be acknowledged and admired, it is also true that the songs aren’t, as a whole, as strong as they are on many other ELO albums. The conceptual nature of “Eldorado” led to many storytelling narratives, steeped in history and folklore, which makes them a little more difficult to form an emotional attachment to, unlike the majority of Jeff’s greatest songs. Arguably, the best tracks here (“Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”, “Laredo Tornado”, “Nobody’s Child” and “Eldorado”) are the ones to which the listener can relate to with the heart as well as the mind, but this doesn’t lessen the highly artistic nature of the whole production nor make the music throughout the album any less crafted or aesthetically delightful. At the time, this, ELO’s fourth album, was quite clearly the most accomplished record in their catalogue and still sounds rather impressive forty years later.