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


Electric Light Orchestra


Crossover Prog

3.60 | 244 ratings

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4 stars I am embarrassed (more often than I care to admit) when I come face to face with the realization of what an immature musical brat I was in my younger years. "No Answer" is a case in point. I adored The Move, owned all their LPs and kept them in perpetual heavy rotation on my turntable. But when I got the news that the band was no more and had evolved into something called The Electric Light Orchestra I threw a mental tantrum and steadfastly refused to even give their new venture an arbitrary listen. Now, almost four decades later, I finally found out that I was only cutting off my nose to spite my now-aging mug. If only I'd taken the time to comprehend that ELO was Roy Wood's earnest attempt to establish an equal songwriting partnership with Jeff Lynne (and not a rude act of disrespect on his part to disown my beloved Move) I would have benefited enormously because this recording encapsulates the raw, anti-commercial spirit of early 70s progressive music that I so admire and I'm just sick that it took me this long to discover its treasures. Oh, well. Better late than never.

It's important to note that Wood was a talented multi-instrumentalist. According to Lynne, "If you could blow it, pluck it, strum it or bow it, Roy could play it." So, when the rest of the group retired for the evening after laying down the basic rhythm track for "10538 Overture" (originally intended to be a Move number), Roy and Jeff stayed behind and started overdubbing multiple tracks of string parts like mad scientists gone wild. The result was, in their words, "bloody marvelous." They realized that this was the sound they had been dreaming of for so long and The Electric Light Orchestra was born that very night. Over the next year they would invest the money they made from The Move LPs and concerts to create a new species of music that literally brought an orchestra into a rock & roll band. "No Answer" is the result of their diligent, imaginative labor.

Whereas The Move was prone to be humorously frivolous and downright nutty from time to time, this is a much more serious and sober undertaking as demonstrated in the first song, "10538 Overture." The fat guitar sound, sawing cellos and Lynne's penetrating vocal combine to create a wall of sound that's impossible to ignore. I warn you. This is not light-hearted fare, my friends. The tune's progression is involved and the spirited performance is intense from beginning to end. And, perhaps best of all, Bev Bevan's amateurish drumming is kept low in the mix. (I'm sure BB is a dandy person to know but did Roy make some kind of blood oath to Bev's mom, promising that he'd never fire her son or what? I'm sorry, but the man has always been an imposter posing as a drummer.) Wood's fine "Look at Me Now" is next and it's basically a lively string quartet with horns surrounding Roy's inimitable voice. Again, this is not just some simple little ditty. It contains an unusual yet inventive passage that catches you off-guard and, thank heaven, there are no drums to muddy it up. This is followed by Jeff's fabulous "Nellie Takes Her Bow," a good example of his affection for nostalgic styles of composition. This time he conjures up echoes from theatrical vaudeville and mixes them with somewhat bizarre, jazzy characteristics while retaining a very melodic foundation. Along the way guest violinist Steve Woolam contributes a stirring solo and strains of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" can be discerned. This tune captures the essence of musical experimentation without limitation and it is fascinating.

"The Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd 1644)" is a peek into the genius insanity of Roy Wood's fertile mind. It involves an ominous spoken-word segment and veers deeply into ever-changing avant-garde and neo-classical territory. Due to Bevan's refusal to participate on the song we're spared his juvenile tub-banging and are treated to the much more tasteful percussion of Mr. Wood. This is a very adventurous work of aural art. Perhaps feeling that they might be getting a bit "out there" for some folks, Roy wrote the short and much more commercially viable "First Movement (Jumping Biz)" which he honestly admitted was a near rip-off of Mason Williams' 1968 hit "Classical Gas." It's rather fun, though, and it shows off his deft finger-picking guitar technique quite well. With Lynne's vocal altered to sound like he's singing through a megaphone, "Mr. Radio" is yet another stroll down memory lane that takes unanticipated detours from what is expected. Jeff's surprising talent on the piano becomes obvious early on as he gives the song a Gershwin-like feel that's delightful. And, not unlike their unorthodox instrumental sections on "Battle," they take the listener through some very intricate progressions that stand in direct contrast to the tune's memorable melodies. It's truly an amazing arrangement.

A strange, eerie atmosphere ushers in "Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)," another odd number that features the piano once again. It's a very modern composition that brings to mind Mahler and Copland with its incredible musical colorings. Complex and captivating. Lynne's "Queen of the Hours" is another well-written, high-quality tune where his intense singing pierces through like an arrow. (Trust me, it's great. I fear I've run flat out of flattering adjectives!). Not to be outdone in the vocal department, Roy presents his underappreciated warbling throughout the beautiful air of the album-ender, "Whisper in the Night." Here again we are mercifully released from the distraction of Bev's clumsy drum thrashings and the song is a joy to absorb. (Bonus tracks consisting of alternate mixes/takes on four of the nine cuts don't add a lot to the CD but they do have a different tone and flavor. Nothing to write home about, though.)

Unfortunately, Roy Wood jumped ship less than a year after this was released and formed his own "Wizzard" group. For those of you who only know ELO by what they eventually became with Jeff Lynne at the helm (and there's a lot to admire for what he accomplished) I can only tell you that this album doesn't sound anything like the semi-prog band they evolved into and achieved superstardom with. There's not an "Evil Woman" or "Showdown" pop hit to be found here. This is a wonderful exhibition of two extremely creative minds that, for one brief juncture in music history, manufactured a collection of compositions that are some of the most unique and progressive you will ever have the privilege to hear. If it weren't for Bev Bevan's tactfully downplayed but still audible detractions and detriments this would be a masterpiece. A very enthusiastic 4.4 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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