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Electric Light Orchestra - Electric Light Orchestra II CD (album) cover

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA II

Electric Light Orchestra

 

Crossover Prog

3.53 | 152 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

progaeopteryx
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The Electric Light Orchestra is one of those bands that you either love or hate. There could be a myriad reasons why. Possibly one of the reasons was their long history of making sappy, cheesy pop songs. Another may have been their movement away from the experimental art rock they embraced on their first three albums. But it was this experimental era of their history that was most interesting.

After the departure of Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne was left in charge of the band. Lynne moved the band to a more accessible sound, yet continued to embrace the experimental. ELO II featured the addition of several new band members including two cellists, a violinist, Richard Tandy on keyboards, and Mike De Albuquerque on bass. With this new lineup ELO created a more accessible symphonic prog/art rock sound that was less experimental than their debut, but much more refreshing. I happen to think the cello makes a wonderful addition to a rock band's sound and ELO (on ELO II and On the Third Day) probably makes the best use of a cello I have ever heard on a rock album. The addition of the Moog synthesizer also contributed to this new "symphonic" sound.

ELO II starts off with a dark cello line on In Old England Town, probably one of the darkest songs ELO ever made. This song is a negative look at the problems of the world back in 1972 dealing with pollution, the military, money and so on. For example...

Down, down, at the launching pad; Giant phallus stands erect; Ten thousand tons of waste throb, then eject; Look out space, we're gonna change our place.

These kinds of lyrics are far beyond the sappy nonsense ELO would practically mass produce on most of their later albums. Although this is one of the most interesting songs ELO ever did, it is far from perfect. Lynne's guitar playing is at best adequate, something he would always be known for, never being considered exceptional. The drums are also low in the mix. Lynne's vocals fit this song nicely having an angry edge to them, but they are somewhat muffled and it isn't always clear what he is singing without actually reading the lyrics.

The next song Mama is a prelude to the future sound of ELO, a simple straight-ahead rock song, slightly Beatlesque. It's a sad song about a daughter who is alone, now that her mother is gone. It sounds like it would easily fit on their Face the Music album. The cellos are nice on this, but it is the weakest track on the album. It is however, mixed much better than the first track.

The third track is one of ELO's best known songs and has always been the closer to their live sets. Here they cover Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven, but they turn it into an 8+ minute prog and straight-ahead rock classic featuring those famous notes from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony first played by the string instruments as an intro to the song and then interspersed throughout the song by most of the other instruments. The long instrumental sections of this song are great featuring great violin solos and some highly-skilled drumming from Bev Bevan. A lot of energy on this one.

From the Sun to the World has a very majestic symphonic sound to it, mostly due to the beautiful, yet uncomplicated Moog passages. The middle instrumental section (between verses 3 and 4) is a calming, beautiful passage. Although the music has a distinctly positive vibe throughout, the lyrics on this are dark and deep. The music is a little sloppy, but the energy of the track surely makes up for it. Great song.

The finale on this is the 11+ minute epic, Kuiama. Kuiama is about war, possibly Vietnam although it isn't mentioned in the song. The lyrics again are dark and quite upfront. Lines like "...in this country, they got rules with no reason, they teach you to kill and they send you away, with your gun in your hand, you pick up your pay, so cruel, that no-mercy tool" are a far cry from later stuff like Mr. Blue Sky and Telephone Line. This song is just filled with dark emotion. Musically it has a very haunting sound, with the deep cellos and the wonderful use of the Moog to produce those strong stabs. The instrumental section from about 4:50 through 8:30 is stunningly beautiful, yet sad and dark. The violin solo of Wilf Gibson is full of deep emotion and Bevan's drumming is superb. It climaxes at the end with dark and spacey Moog sounds. A brilliant ending to this dark album.

This, in my opinion, is the peak of ELO's creativity. That unfortunately says a lot for this band considering they will have almost a dozen more albums released after this one. Their incorporation of two cellists and a violinist, not just as background instruments, but as vital components of the band created a unique sound for ELO that was nothing like any of their contemporaries. True, they made uncomplicated music that pales in comparison to bands like Yes and Genesis, but the uniqueness of their sound made them standouts. Unfortunately, this is the last album Lynne would have lyrics as inspiring as this, forever degrading into a never ending sea of cheese. ELO would never sound more raw and with as much energy as on ELO II. The downsides of ELO II are the somewhat muddy production, the somewhat sloppy playing, the weak guitar work, and Lynne's vocals being difficult to decipher without lyrics and their lack of range (which is surprising as on later albums Lynne has an incredible range). Overall, this is an excellent addition to a prog collection, well worth four stars. Highly recommended and one of the two best ELO albums ever made, far better than anything made from 1974 to the present.

progaeopteryx | 4/5 |

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