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Electric Light Orchestra - Discovery CD (album) cover


Electric Light Orchestra


Crossover Prog

2.89 | 277 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars I recall with unexplainable clarity the first time I slapped this album on the turntable and put needle to groove. In June of 1979, while waiting for my treasure-laden ship to come in (the one that never showed up), I was making ends meet by working at a record store in Redondo Beach, California so in that timeframe (that ended up lasting about a year) I got to hear firsthand what was going on in the music biz just by doing my banal job. When "Discovery" arrived I was still enamored with ELO's wonderfully creative "Out of the Blue" double LP that I had running almost non-stop on the 8-track cassette player in my fire engine red Toyota Celica. I was anticipating another large dose of progressive pop with the quirky, unpredictable edge that I'd come to expect from this eclectic bunch. But by the time I'd listened to the whole disc from start to finish I knew instinctively that Jeff Lynne & Co. had hit the proverbial brick wall and that his band would never again be the industry juggernaut they'd been up to that juncture. ELO's well had run dry. Turned out I was right.

The dreaded disco influence had infiltrated a host of my favorite groups in the preceding years so it wasn't an absolute shock to find that Jeff and the boys had succumbed to its siren-like beckoning. (You had to live in that era to know what a despicable disease it was. It was ugly, relentless and no one seemed immune to its lure.) "Shine a Little Love" opened the record and, after a semi-mysterious intro piqued my interest briefly, I was led like a gullible lamb to slaughter via the infernal thud of the immutable droning dance beat to endure in pain a commercial ditty that lacked any purpose other than to fit into the then-current "Travolta trend." It still has no redeeming character and never will. The aptly-titled "Confusion" followed, a tune that demonstrated fully that the usually inventive Lynne really had no clue as to where to take ELO next. I realized that they couldn't stay where they'd been yet for them to hesitate in boldly venturing into uncharted territory was a fatal blunder. They were caught between not wanting to alienate their throng of fans while needing to be more aggressively courageous in order to grow but only ended up becoming mediocre. It happens to the best of 'em.

"Need Her Love" was an atmospheric, slightly nostalgic ballad that was well-constructed and arranged. The lush string score and the way the orchestration blended with the keyboards was very effective. This track gave me hope that things were going to get better. Speaking of keyboards, the odd effect they used for "The Diary of Horace Wimp" distinguished the number from the get-go. It was very Beatle-ish in nature and at least it belied an attempt on their part to be imaginative (yet let there be no doubt, "Mr. Blue Sky" it ain't). "Last Train to London" squashed all remaining illusions that the album would redeem itself midway through. It was another mind-dulling, disco-themed piece of dryer lint that further proved my adage that those who become musical followers instead of leaders rarely succeed. This tune was every bit as demeaning as the inane opening cut. "Midnight Blue" offered a glimpse of the past ELO magic in that this sad torch song contained all the elements that made the band so instantly identifiable. Jeff was in his wheelhouse here, avoiding the reefs.

The peppy, upbeat vibe of "On the Run" provided a nice contrast from the melancholy mood that the previous song established. State-of-the-art synthesizers and clever studio tricks were employed to add spice and the change in tempo for the second movement was a wise move. The sweet lead-in to "Wishing" was wasted when the number turned into a clunky, plodding dirge that went nowhere fast, further proving that drummer Bev Bevan lacked the ability to inject life into average material when he needed to. The original vinyl closed with the infamous "Don't Bring Me Down." Despite its becoming a top five single in the USA I've never liked this song very much due to a severe lack of substance and hate to think that later generations might judge ELO by this overplayed, anemic song. Lynne has stated that he wrote it in a hurry to finish the record and it has always sounded that way to me. Haste made waste.

The reissued version of the album that came out in 2001 included three bonus cuts but they are far too weak to make up for this disc's inherent deficiencies. The previously unreleased version of "On the Run" is brighter than the earlier rendition but, at one minute in length, it seems superfluous at best. Jeff's home demo of "Second Time Around" displays an obvious Beach Boys flavor but it's even shorter than the previous snippet so it is worthless. The short-lived cover of Del Shannon's "Little Town Flirt" is very retro in a Frankie Avalon kind of way and appropriately corny but, in an indictment of "Discovery" as a whole, it's more enjoyable to sit through than the majority of the album. That should tell you volumes.

My disappointment in this disc was shared by millions. The group that could fill stadiums before started having trouble selling tickets as the 80s decade commenced. ELO had wrung out every drop of uniqueness they collectively possessed throughout the 70s and by the time they made "Discovery" there was nothing left to do but to try to jump on the disco gravy train and make a few quick bucks. The band as such made a few more records but the charming spell they'd weaved for so many years with their progressive style of pop rock had been broken with this release and they were never the same. Lynne would go on to become one of the world's most sought-after producers (with good reason) but his personal vehicle known as the Electric Light Orchestra would slowly dim and fade into oblivion after "Discovery" turned out to be the beginning of the end. 1.8 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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