Jeff Lynne’s ELO - Alone in the Universe

Jeff Lynne’s ELO Alone in the Universe cover
Jeff Lynne’s ELO
Alone in the Universe
Big Trilby Records
ELO sort of died with the release of “Zoom” years ago. The last album that credited it’s making to the “band”. Since then and following a couple of mini-reunions, some legal battles with the members of “The Orchestra” after Bev Bevan sold his rights to the name back to Jeff over their use of the “name” and several re-masters later, all the while Lynne was attempting to flex his music muscles with a variety of side projects, the first “proper” album of studio material in many years surfaces under the Jeff Lynne’s ELO moniker, even if that’s a bit redundant with him owning 100 % of the rights to the name. On the other hand, an album that credits him solely for everything, but the shaker and the tambourine, I suppose, pre-fixing the album with his name is far from poignant.
Stylistically, it’s quite close to what the band has been known for, although the fact that all of it has been recorded by a single person, actually makes it sound a little less impressive. Also the orchestral element isn’t there in the “sense” of actual instruments, but layered sounds seem to try to recreate that “orchestral” feel instead. Lynn’s voice isn’t too shabby considering his age, but in the past he’s sounded considerably more virile. Having the privilege of working with The surviving Beatles in the 90s and even going on to be part of The Traveling Wilburys, along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty and working as a producer with some of these guys, he has managed what very few other musicians have… and I guess that “has rubbed” a bit off on him as well. While the Beatles influence was always strong in ELO’s music, in “Alone in the Universe” that notion is probably taken a step further, but thankfully without interfering too much with the band’s own identity.
What really makes the album quite enjoyable though, despite its few shortcomings, is the fabulous songwriting, which is pretty consistent and works even in this more minimal sort of arrangement, without the “orchestral” backdrop of the earlier stuff… it goes without saying that Lynne can still pen a good pop song or two, or in the case of this album a bunch of them. Some ten tunes or so…
“When I was a Boy” takes us way back to when, and it’s probably the most Beatlesque number on here. A quit interesting and a little bit sad tune, but nonetheless the one song chosen as a single.
“Love & Rain” is funkier and that added grove is exactly what makes it stand out, besides a really nice solo in there.
“Dirty to the Bone” I’d say is a little unexpected, but irresistibly catchy and it really has that’s poppy perfection that the band’s late 70s recordings had.
“When the Night Comes” is probably one of the most atmospheric tunes with both keys and guitars painting a melancholic enough canvas upon which Lynn draws with some beautiful vocal melodies.
“The Sun Will Shine on You” has a very 60s atmosphere, very acoustic and at first glance even simple. “Here Comes the Sun” this ain’t but it’s not bad either.
“Ain’t It a Drag” is a way more up-beat number with a little honky tonk piano that again reminds of The Beatles at their pop/psych high with maybe a bit of Bob Dylan’s 115th dream inanity thrown in for good measure… lovely number.
“All My Life” is the sort of maudlin song about finding true love and spending all the earthly days with and its sweet, as one would expect.
“I’m Leaving You” is faintly reminiscent of the late Roy Orbinson but with a twist..
“One Step at a Time” could probably be amongst the fastest songs, I can remember and takes cues from both rock and pop, but there’s also a strong disco/funk undertone running through it and it feels like some good time music.
Last but not least, “Alone in the Universe” is a bit more prog, a lot more poignant and while it bears all the trademarks of the band,with maybe a bit of spaced out Bowie thrown in… it has a more free flow and some synth effects that make it quite more psychedelic than one would expect of the orchestra.
Even when reduced down to one man playing pretty much everything, ELO remains a quite valid and timeless source of inspirational music in the pop/rock arena. While it seems unlikely that ELO might be resurrected as a proper band anytime soon, it might be nice to be able to catch some performances by them at some point in time… while people might take this “new” album in a multitude of ways, I am mostly positive towards it, mainly due to the real inspired nature of its compositions.