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Electric Light Orchestra - Out Of The Blue CD (album) cover

OUT OF THE BLUE

Electric Light Orchestra

 

Crossover Prog

3.57 | 185 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Whilst struggling to eke out a living amid the smoggy environs of the greater Los Angeles metropolis in the late 70s I relied on my trusty 8-track player to spare me from depending solely on local radio for decent music when in my car. (Believe me, to find oneself figuratively imprisoned in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the San Diego freeway with only the current hits to keep you from going postal is to tempt disaster in a major way.) Pooh-pooh the clumsy, fat cartridges that audio device required all you want but those things came through when it counted. I didn't have many tapes because it was too expensive to buy separate copies of prized prog for both my Toyota and the turntable in my flat so the mobile selections tended to be less serious overall. This recording was better than most of the other plastic boxes rattling around my dusty floorboards so it got a lot of play. It was music suitable for cruisin' or for barely inchin' along, whichever situation I found myself in, and I never felt guilty for missing part of it while I screamed obscenities at the imbecile drivers around me. The surprising thing is that the contents of "Out of the Blue" hold up today as well as ever. It's still a fun listen.

I was never as big a fan of ELO as I was the group they evolved from (the stupendous Move) but their leader Jeff Lynne retained enough of that band's unorthodox spirit to keep me intrigued by what they were doing. And you couldn't avoid ELO if you tried. In '77 they were at their peak (radio loved them) so they put out their first double album with full confidence that it would kill. It did. You might scoff at those who willfully indulge in proggy pop like this but go ahead, I can't help myself. There's something imbedded inside Jeff's tunes that makes me cock my head like a parakeet and not just any artist can do that. Pay close attention to what's going on in the background (or forefront sometimes) with this enigmatic ensemble's offerings next time you hear them on the classic rock airwaves. You may hear something you didn't notice before.

They begin with the peppy shuffle-beat of the infectious "Turn to Stone." The flanged fast- talking chant halfway through is an example of what I'm babbling on about. It's just enough of a detour to keep things from being too formulaic and the song's fade out is a respectable homage to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." The opening of "It's Over" reminds me of the aura their cool "Eldorado" album possessed years earlier but the number is a Motown- across-the-Mersey deal that only treads shallow waters despite its quirky soap opera soundtrack finale. "Sweet Talkin' Woman" follows and it's a nostalgic nod aimed at doo- wop. Obviously it succeeded in seducing the public since it hit #17 on the singles chart but it's not something I want to sit through repeatedly. The proceedings get a kick in the buns with "Across the Border," an energetic rocker that meshes Mexican Mariachi horns, deep strings and synthesizer lines to create a tune like no other in their repertoire. "Night in the City" is a fascinating fusion of the Move's oddness with the slick mind-set of the Bee Gees, resulting in a composition that makes me smile. (Not all prog has to be brow-wrinkling serious, ya know!) Who but ELO could sing infantile words like "I'll get you, yes, I'm gonna get you" and make it legitimate? "Starlight" is the only true throwaway cut to be found here. It's not all that terrible, just too puny to wander the schoolyard alone. Yet I like it and don't know why.

Wild noises (including a gallant Tarzan holler) populate the intro to "Jungle," a rhythmic musical stroll with some children's-story lyrics I find hard to resist. I never knew what to expect from these boys but, for a gang of superstars, this is as unpretentious as it gets. It's stuff like this that makes them so charming. "Believe Me Now" is a drama-filled instrumental segue into "Steppin' Out," an R&B-tinged ballad with dense orchestration and heavily stacked vocals (what they were able to do so effortlessly). "Concerto for a Rainy Day" is a side-long excursion that starts with a shower followed by a pulsating symphonic theme featuring dynamic accents leading to "Standin' in the Rain." The kind of large-scale production you're treated to on this song makes ELO prog-worthy in that it's wholly pompous and completely over-the-top in self-important grandeur. I love it. (You gotta problem with that?) "Big Wheels" is a soulful, slow dance number that drags its heels until they spice up the bridge movement, a tactic that, unfortunately, is tardy in its arrival. "Summer and Lightning" sports a thunderous onset and promises huge dividends but it backs down quickly and suddenly there's one too many light ballads. At this juncture ELO teeters dangerously on the brink of routine and, as much as I've championed their methodology, I admit I was tempted to nap at the wheel.

Thank God for the prog cavalry arriving in the nick of time with what I consider their apex, "Mr. Blue Sky." Lynne must've kidnapped the muse that inspired Lennon & McCartney during their "Sgt. Pepper/Magical Mystery" phase because this magnificent track's a Beatleized jewel that shines like the sun. Everything about it is delightful. It's ridiculously uplifting, clever counter-melodies abound, each section introduces a new sound into the mix and the giant-sized coda is pure greatness. I couldn't wait for it to come around on my 8-track (those babies didn't have fast-forward) so I could crank it loud and bathe in its proggy majesty. It never grows old. "Sweet is the Night" comes next and no ditty should have to follow a tune that splendid but at least it doesn't make a fool of itself. It's light fluff, to be sure, yet a well-crafted number that might've been another hit for them if they'd released it as a single (but, then, what do I know?). They slip out from under that creamy diversion to present the spacey, curious instrumental "The Whale" with its appropriately bubbly intro. Yeah, it's corny as a can of hominy but it works in a weird sorta way. "Birmingham Blues" is a beefy entree of American rock & roll garnished with generous pinches of English posh and glitz added for style points. Jeff tosses in a gritty guitar solo and there's even a hint of Bowie to be tasted in the pan gravy. "Wild West Hero" is a scrumptious dessert. The lonely piano with Lynne's wistful vocal at the beginning is excellent and the tight harmonies on the chorus are sublime. The hard-rockin' interruption they sneak in twice is much like something the Move would've dared to do and the a capella breakdown is genius. The whole shebang finishes in a brilliant ascending chorus and a subdued but fitting tail end.

I'll admit that ELO wasn't the most consistent of prog-related bands but in the case of "Out of the Blue" they did avoid careening off the road completely while delivering their best batch of songs ever. What they lacked in jaw-dropping talents they made up in originality and verve and that's what appeals to me most. I think. I mean, I reckon that's what it is but I confess my sinful affection for them while cognizant that I shouldn't give a carp for them at all. With ELO I find myself enjoying music I'd hate and abhor if it was by anyone else. I'm not alone, evidently. I've read that in '06 they were ranked in the U.K. magazine "Q" #11 on their list of musical guilty pleasures. They're even higher than that on mine, right alongside the brothers Gibb and Missing Persons. ELO is a conundrum. There'll not likely be another akin to 'em, though, and this record contains the essence of what made them so magnetic to millions as well as to strange proggers like me. I only asked them for honesty and that's what they gave me.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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