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Electric Light Orchestra - Electric Light Orchestra [Aka: No Answer] CD (album) cover


Electric Light Orchestra


Crossover Prog

3.59 | 236 ratings

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4 stars You just have to love an album that kicks off with a blast of off-key cello scraping, and ends with inebriated bassoons and more off-key cello scraping, plus has listed among the player credits no less than ten instruments that are traditionally found in a classical orchestra. Add to that a primer on English civil war ("Battle of Marston Moor"), a dirge-like rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" ("Nellie Takes Her Bow"), and an album cover by Hipgnosis, the same guys who brought us so many Pink Floyd covers (Animals, Ummagumma, Dark Side of the Moon, etc.), and you have what may be one of the most disjointed, haphazard, pretentious, and ultimately delightful albums in the progressive archives.

And make no mistake - this first album by the Electric Light Orchestra truly qualifies as a full-blown progressive work, despite their later reputation as a glossy disco- pop hit machine. It's hard to say when they crossed that line, although the beginning was surely shortly after this album released and Roy Wood departed for a critically-acclaimed but largely obscure career with Wizzard. The final straw was probably 'A New World Record' with its four hit singles and surgically-precise arrangements. I'd have to say that the 'progressive' phase of the ELO lifecycle lasted about three years, right up until about when Jeff Lynne figured out that Top- 40 singles directly correlated to bigger houses and larger bank accounts, and around the same time when the rest of the band learned to fully tune their instruments.

In the interim, No Answer delivered a very eclectic blend of sounds that was not only ahead of its time, but also disarmingly funny (although I'm not sure if the funny part was intentional). Roy Wood brought an almost baroque orchestral sensibility to the group from his days in the Move, while Jeff Lynne was clearly heavily influenced by some of the more experimental sounds of the Beatles. For me, the collision of styles was more than I could process as a young kid, and it would be a decade or so later before I really began to appreciate this album.

"10538 Overture" is only an 'overture' in the sense that it is played by a band that has the word 'orchestra' in its name, and in its heavy use of stringed instruments. Otherwise it's an artsy tale of a faceless, nameless person (10538) who I guess is either running from 'The Man', or simply committing suicide. Either way, he falls off a cliff and dies. The heavy cello and violin strings here are dissonant and sometimes off-key, but overall it's a very original work that scored a surprising hit in Britain.

Roy Wood's first contribution "Look at Me Now" is another string-intensive work about a distraught guy who has apparently lost a lover to murder. I'm not sure, but he may have been the same one who did the deed. Anyway, the sound is almost eastern European, definitely nothing like the slew of spacey pop hits the band would be churning out a few short years later.

In "Nellie Takes Her Bow", Lynne brings out his 'Thomas Dolby' microphone to chirp out a minstrel tale of a stage actress named Nellie. Somewhere in the middle the bassoons kick in and the "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" bit takes over. Really weird. Lynne's tenor here is an early example of the trademark sound made famous with songs like "Strange Magic" and "Sweet is the Night" later on.

The "Battle of Marston Moor" is a spoken word work by Wood, backed by what I suppose may have been stylish Anglo orchestral music a few hundred years ago. The protagonist is apparently the Scottish rebel who is forming an army to take on the King. The obligatory battle-sounding percussion and simulated mob shouts complete the picture. This is the longest song on the album, but probably didn't need to be.

Wood kicks off the second side of the vinyl version with "1st Movement", subtitled "Jumpin' Biz", which is off all things a short acoustic instrumental. Anchored by guitar, the Bill Hunt's French horn and Woolam's violin are also prominent. A nice little tune with maybe a bit of a Spanish flair (although to tell the truth, I seem to hear 'a Spanish flair' in just about anything that features acoustic guitar, so feel free to form your own opinion).

"Mr. Radio" is probably the most obvious precursor to the later ELO sound that would become so famous. The lyrics, on the other hand, are rather depressing, about a guy who's wife has left him and who's only remaining companion is apparently his radio. I read a description of this album once as "the Moody Blues in a bad mood", and this song seems to fit that description perfectly.

"Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)" is Lynne's turn to serve up an instrumental. This one, like "1st Movement", is also heavy on bassoon and cello, but the anchor comes from Lynne's piano instead of Wood's guitar. Based on the title and the picture inside the album fold, I take it this song is a reference to some slaughter that occurred in early 20th century New York, but whatever the beef was that was being fought over then (if indeed this was an actual event), it was apparently not significant enough to have made its way into my high-school American history book.

"Queen of the Hours" is another tune heavy with strident strings, mostly violin and cello (I think - hell, I'm not an expert on orchestral instruments by any means). Anyway, not sure what this is about, but it seems to fall into the "Moody Blues in a bad mood" category as well.

The album closes with "Whisper in the Night". I suppose this is the one critics are referring to when they describe this album as "pretentious". The music is typical of the rest of the album, but the lyrics are frankly a bit over-the-top:

"Snowflake bird she came, taking grey clouds from your door; Face the midnight sun, you have something to live for. Daughter of your dream, shine a guiding light for me."

Alrighty then. This actually kind of reminds me of some of those ancient Protestant hymns my cousins used to sing in their Lutheran church back in the 60s. In any case, it does seem to fit the bill for an album-closer.

So I guess my point here is that, despite what your opinion of the Electric Light Orchestra and their body of work is, I would encourage you not to let that color (er, 'colour') your opinion of this album. While the Lynne sound is certainly detectable here, this is not your older brother's ELO. This is a genuine progressive body of work that is worthy of a place on any serious collector's shelf. And for that I'll give it four stars.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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