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Electric Light Orchestra - Secret Messages CD (album) cover


Electric Light Orchestra


Crossover Prog

2.67 | 188 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars (The rating for this review is for the 35th anniversary double album released in 2018)

'Secret Messages' is the 10th album released by Electric Light Orchestra, and by this time, the band was pretty much all about Jeff Lynne that it was about a rock band founded on the idea of being a band that utilized classical instruments to create rock music. The orchestra part of the band was pretty much just happy background support, not unlike the brass section of another 'great band turned pop', Chicago. Yes, these bands were selling records at the time, but their identifying sound had become just secondary layers turning them both into just another commercial band.

The original version of this album really has nothing that stands out from any of ELO's previous work, in fact it just all seems like top 40 versions of rehashed material, and it is hard to find anything really memorable out of the ten tracks that make up the album. There are a couple of great tunes here like 'Four Little Diamonds' and 'Secret Messages' but they soon wear out their welcome as time passes.

However, in defense of this album, Lynne originally wanted it to be a double album much like 'Out of the Blue' was. He had enough tracks to make it that way, but CBS decided that a double album was too expensive to make and was less likely to sell a lot of copies. So, instead they released the stripped down version. In 2018, Lynne finally was able to release the album the way he wanted it, as a double album with all of the songs (except one) that were originally planned to be on the album and with the tracks in the order that he wanted them to be in the first place.

So, the question is, does this make the album any better? Actually, it does to a certain extent. The music that was left off is still more pop-oriented. There is no progressive music on the double album version either. However, a few of the tracks that were left off were better than some of the ones that were included in the original album. ELO lovers will definitely want to check them out.

The first four tracks take up side one of the anniversary edition in the same order as the original album, no changes there. Side two starts to see some differences as the next track is the strong track 'Stranger', and this is followed by the first 'new' track 'No Way Out' (which was previously available as a bonus track on the CD reissue) which is also one of the stronger tracks. At this point, the track 'Beatles Forever' was supposed to follow according to Lynne's original concept. This was the only track still left off of the Anniversary Edition. If you get a chance to hear a bootleg version of the track, you will understand why it has never been used, it's quite tacky and it uses many of The Beatles lyrics, they probably have a hard time getting clearance to use the lyrics, especially on something so embarrassingly awful. This side then finishes with the more lackluster tracks 'Letter from Spain' and 'Danger Ahead'.

Side Three begins with one of the highlights of the original album 'Four Little Diamonds' and then the side loses steam with 'Train of Gold'. Two previously unreleased tracks follow with 'Endless Lies' (appeared as a bonus track on the CD reissue) and 'Buildings Have Eyes' both of which are pretty much more of the same commercial fare, then ends with the hit from the album 'Rock n Roll is King'. Side Four begins with an okay, previously unreleased track 'Mandalay' followed by 'Time After Time' from the original release. After this is a shortened version of what was an instrumental sleeper 'After All', the full version of which was included on one of the past CD reissues, but not on the original album. It was a smart move to only leave a snippet of that track on here because it works better as a short introduction for the last track, which is also the previously unreleased 'Hello, My Old Friend'. This is the best track written for this album in Lynne's original concept. If the album was made up of tracks like this one, the album would have been much better. It's sad to think that it had been left in the unused bin for so long as it is the best track produced by ELO in their later years. Even though it is progressive lite, at least there is a small dose of progressive style to it.

Overall, the double album version is maybe only a half star better than the 'label's' version of the album. But for the avid fans of ELO's pop sound will definitely love this. I can only manage to give it 3 stars, and most of that is because of the last track. There is a little bit more variety to this version of the album too, which is something the original definitely lacked. So, if you are an avid fan (and I do know of some people that are), then you will definitely want to get this edition. Otherwise, if you are hoping for something that sounds like the older, unique sound of the band, then you will be disappointed. This is not one for those searching only for progressive music as there is nothing here for you unless you love pop, Roy Orbison and Beatles impressions and 50's nostalgia.

TCat | 3/5 |


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