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Electric Light Orchestra - Face the Music CD (album) cover

FACE THE MUSIC

Electric Light Orchestra

 

Crossover Prog

3.29 | 167 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I think of Jeff Lynne, the CEO of ELO, as being a musical entrepreneur. He saw an open niche and he (along with his cohorts) filled it while steadfastly maintaining his personal integrity and semi-progressive mindset. Scoffers should note that writing and producing catchy songs wasn't something he turned to out of frustration. On the contrary, he'd been a purveyor of pop all along, starting back in the 60s when he was a member of the British outfit Idle Race. When he joined the magnificent Move in '70 his knack for making memorable melodies complimented Roy Wood's eccentricities perfectly. Later, when Lynne and Wood set up a symphonic prog format for their Electric Light Orchestra offshoot that incorporated a string section as a fundamental and equal aspect of the band, they effectively carved out that special niche I mentioned earlier. The group's debut LP is still a dazzling monument to imagination and ingenuity but, unfortunately, the piquant partnership between Jeff and Roy soured and ELO soon took on the appearance of a dead bulb. Wood left to form his odd Wizzard group but Lynne still believed in what they'd started and carried on gallantly. While they were virtually ignored in their native land ELO slowly but surely gained a fascinated following in the states and their 4th album, the intriguing "Eldorado," climbed into the top 20 of the Billboard charts in '74. When "Face the Music" hit the record bins in the fall of the following year they had a large, receptive audience eager to hear (and buy) more of their contagious prog-hued pop that offered a seductive alternative to the formula-bound fare that was saturating the AM radio airwaves. As I said, Jeff saw a demand and he supplied what was needed to meet it. Don't hold that against him just because ELO didn't sound like ELP.

One of the things I found so engaging about The Move's music was their frequently irreverent approach to making records that included everything from adding duck calls to employing made-up instruments such as their clanging "Banjar." "Face the Music" opens with a small dose of that same fun-in-the-studio attitude that leads to the eclectic instrumental, "Fire on High." The beginning of the song displays traces of their prior album's dreamy nostalgia and they use it to usher in the hard-strummed acoustic guitar foundation that makes the number stick in your head like a childhood memory. While it's somewhat quirky and disjointed in places (The inherent looseness is due mostly to Bev Bevan's demeaning drumming. I'll try my best to avoid mocking his lack of talent more than I already have in related reviews but it'll be a struggle.), it still possesses the inimitable ELO personality that can be so charming so often. (The tune probably sounds familiar. For years a snippet of this track served as theme music for "CBS Sports Spectacular" broadcasts.) "Waterfall" follows and it's a typical example of Lynne's passion for pop decorated with unconventional orchestral colorings. Like a warm shower, it takes me from this fallen world for a few minutes and that's nothing to snub your nose at. The staple of classic rock radio, "Evil Woman," is next. Yes, it'll be played to death forevermore but there's absolutely nothing wrong with contemplating a well-constructed pop ditty with the universal appeal that this one has. Next time it comes on listen for the easy-to-overlook interplay between Richard Tandy's piano and the sprightly string arrangement.

"Nightrider" is deceivingly infectious. Something about this tune is so congenial and debonair, as if every member of the band was performing it with a heartfelt smile on their face. I can't explain it. What could've and perhaps should've come off as corny as Nebraska farmland comes off as undeniably cool. It's a fun track. The low point of the proceedings is next, an aggressive rocker entitled "Poker." Sung decently enough by bassist Kelly Groucutt, it starts strong but loses vital momentum when the group tries to get too cute and clever with the arrangement. They should've kept it simple. The charismatic "Strange Magic" follows and the ship gets back on a steady course. Once again, Jeff doesn't let the ensemble's idiosyncratic nature get in the way of giving birth to a fine specimen of easy-going, enjoyable pop. He can't help himself from composing what his muse tells him to write and he obeys without question. (If that's an affliction then I'd love to have it.) "Down Home Town" is yet another instance of the English trying their damnedest to emulate Americana/C&W music with amusing results. The Stones, Sting and a host of others have attempted in vain to capture the southern aroma so ELO is in good company here. The energetic violins do give it a noble Aaron Copland feel and the cheerful chorus deserves some respect but overall it's kind of a mess. They end on a high note, though. "One Summer Dream" features a pretty string section intro that has a nice Randy Newman-ish ring to it before it turns into a sweet, loping song with an admirable amount of depth within its texture. I'll admit that it's as mushy as a bowl of sugary oatmeal but I do find myself being swept up in its lush embrace and I can't bring myself to apologize for that. It's a comforting sensation to indulge in.

If this is the kind of light, fluffy crossover prog material that leaves a bad taste in your mouth then I suspect that ELO might as well be roped in with Justin Beiber as far as you're concerned and therefore you have no use for them at all. That's okay. I understand. Different strokes and all that bilge water. But there's ample room for variety to thrive under the Progressive Rock umbrella and these guys have as much right to be here as The Moody Blues or Journey. "Face the Music" isn't a landmark recording that changed musical history yet it's no scurvy commercial sell-out, either. Its success solidified ELO's status as an international entity. "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic" were huge hits that propelled the LP to the #8 spot and that's nothing to sneer at. (Look, I'd rather sit through this than "Tormato" or "Invisible Touch" any day of the week.) It's off-the-reservation pop done with class, existing in a dimension of symphonic prog music that many progressive bands and/or artists eyed with envy but weren't able to enter into without falling flat on their faces. ELO was just being honest. 3.3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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