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Electric Light Orchestra - Discovery CD (album) cover

DISCOVERY

Electric Light Orchestra

 

Crossover Prog

2.67 | 153 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars One of the things I found annoying about the original release of this album was the packaging, which really didn’t make much sense to me at the time (or now). The vinyl release came in a gatefold cover with a poorly-focused picture of three non-descript middle-easterners in a desert on horses with swords raised standing over the kid from the cover holding the ELO jukebox/light emblem thing. This might have been meant as a little bit of a clever play on the album’s title, but if so the significance was lost on me and the extra expense by the label for a gatefold seemed to be unwarranted. Also, the black-and-white pictures of the band on the sleeve were meant to be ‘classic’ looking I suppose, but I didn’t understand why the photographer didn’t bother to clean the filthy window behind Richard Tandy’s head, or why Jeff Lynne felt the need to have eleven microphone stands behind him. Or why the lyrics sheet included a concert photo from three years prior which showed at least three members who were no longer with the band. I did like the font used to print the lyrics though. And in retrospect I realize today that I both had way too much discretionary time back then, and apparently spent a lot of time studying album covers while under the influence.

That aside, I still like to play this album every so often, despite its being almost a completely disco-pop creation. ELO finished their transformation from a creative, orchestral-leaning band to a by-the-numbers hit machine with Discovery, just in time for the end of a decade of brilliant progressive music. Five of the nine songs on the album became hits in Europe, the U.S., or both – “Shine a Little Love”, “Confusion”, “The Diary of Horace Wimp”, “Last Train to London”, and the band’s first and only #1 single “Don’t Bring Me Down”.

While the string and choral arrangements are still here as with previous ELO albums, the overriding musical theme here is a danceable disco beat. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but one should be aware if picking up this album for the first time (which is hard to imagine unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past couple of decades). Along with the disco beat is an almost overwhelming use of synthesizers to create all manner of interesting sounds, from crowd noises to dream sequences to bells to train whistles to sounds we have no natural instruments for.

“Shine a Little Love” opens the album and leaves no question as to the type of music being put forth (Discovery = disco-very, as we learned quickly back then). Toe-tapping beat, more synthesizer than actually instruments for the most part (although Lynne manages some decent guitar riffs), and Kelly Groucutt with a bass line that would do a funk band proud. A major world-wide hit single, nothing but popular dance music, let’s not even pretend. So be it.

“Confusion” is more of the same, although a bit slower-paced and with some interesting keyboards and vocoder vocals. By the way, ever notice it’s hard to tell when Lynne slips from his normally sub-alto voice into a falsetto? This was the first album where this became apparent.

“Need Her Love” is one of two ballads (“Midnight Blue” being the other) and it was hugely popular during the slow-dance portion of a good disco evening in that era. The guitar picking around the languid string arrangements are quite seductive. I did a bit of disc-jockeying around this time and these two were regularly requested.

“The Diary of Horace Wimp” is a sort of cheesy “Irene Wilde”, assuming you don’t already classify the latter as cheesy. It’s a story-song, which I personally like, but more importantly confirmed that the band was indeed at least trying to make music that was more than dance tracks.

By far the most just plain likeable song on the album is “Last Train to London”, another story-song. This one’s about a guy who misses his train so he can spend time with a woman. It also has a dance beat, but the string arrangements and Lynne’s guitar are vintage ELO and combined with the upbeat tempo and Lynne’s comfortable voice this has become a song for lovers over the years.

Surprisingly the one decidedly non-disco song, “Midnight Blue”, is also probably the most boring, owing largely to the un-ambitious arrangement and Lynne’s annoying falsetto.

The next two tracks (“On the Run” and “Wishing”) are the forgotten songs since neither ended up as a single, nor as a dance-hall staple. Except for the heavy synthesized percussion and keyboard tracks these sound more like something from El Dorado.

The album closer is “Don’t Bring Me Down”, which needs no description since this was an intergalactic disco-pop hit in 1979 that is still played regularly on both AM and FM radio today.

The only fair way to rate this album is in its context to the rest of the ELO body of work; otherwise, any assessment must consider its relevance as a dance standard, or as a progressive work (it’s obviously not), or as a pop album, which it really isn’t either. So, three stars is I think the right place to put this one, close to Out of the Blue and better than most of what came after, but not in the same league as the first four studio albums.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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