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Electric Light Orchestra - Zoom CD (album) cover


Electric Light Orchestra


Crossover Prog

3.00 | 145 ratings

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3 stars On Electric Light Orchestra's badly marred end-of-the-70s-decade release, 'Discovery,' the group's leader Jeff Lynne asked the band's loyal followers to 'Don't Bring Me Down.' Unfortunately, they did anyway. Not because they'd become ungratefully fickle or mean-spirited, but because the material on that album was remarkably substandard. In other words, one cannot put mascara on a warthog and expect the animal to take the blue ribbon at the county fair. Fact was, ELO had reached its pinnacle with the outstanding double LP 'Out of the Blue' in 1977 and, musical gravity being what it is, there was nowhere to go from there but south to one extent or another. In a dubious attempt to remain trendy and relevant, Jeff and his thinned-out entourage had unwisely (and much to my chagrin) ventured into the slimy quagmire that was disco on 'Discovery.' And the result was that they'd been sucked into its demonic vortex, never to be seen again save for a few desperate air bubbles that rose to the murky surface from time to time with their logo on them.

However, not being one to dwell on his used-to-be's, the indefatigable Lynne refused to panic, choosing to patiently sit by the phone for opportunity to find him in the Yellow Pages and ring him up. He didn't have to wait long. The stellar reputation he'd built for himself by masterminding ELO's amazing stretch of success was not lost on those who hoped his moxie would rub off on their careers, as well. Former Beatle George came calling first and Jeff's magic touch helped his invigorated LP, 'Cloud Nine,' to revive Harrison's fading popularity. What followed that triumph was a string of musical notables such as Dave Edmunds, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison (the last three mentioned, along with George Harrison, joined Jeff in forming one of the most unlikely supergroups of all time, 'The Traveling Wilburys.' Talk about being in the right place at the right time!), all of whom wanted a piece of what Lynne was offering in the way of creative oversight. He was even bestowed the hallowed honor of taking the late John Lennon's raw home demos and cleaning them up to the point where the surviving members of the Fab Four were able to create two new Beatle songs for the 'Anthology' project with them. Lucky Jeff was having so much fun working with his idols that the whole notion of trying to hold together an eclectic group like ELO seemed like a waste of valuable time in comparison so he was content to let his old band stay locked up in the prog-related mausoleum throughout the 90s.

However, his close association with the gifted luminaries he'd been hanging around with taught him more than any PHD earned at Oxford could've and, at the turn of the millennium it dawned on Jeff that perhaps he could incorporate all the knowledge and wisdom he'd absorbed into a revival of his beloved offspring, ELO. After all, a plethora of their classic tunes from 'Showdown' to 'Do Ya' to 'Telephone Line' were still being played on classic rock stations from Bonn to Honolulu so maybe all their old fans, upon hearing the news, would show up in droves and form a line around the planet to buy something new. Thus the band's thirteenth offering, 'Zoom,' came into being. I'd always been an admirer of Lynne and his quirky combo but I've been disappointed so many times by odorous 'reunion' records that I chose to take a wait-and-see stance as to what might be included in their fresh collection of songs. Alas, I never heard a note. All I gathered was that the album was a flop at the box office and that interest was so anemic that a planned tour promoting 'Zoom' had to be cancelled. I forgot all about it, choosing to be content with endless replays of guilty pleasures such as 'Livin' Thing.'

Sometime around a year ago I finally got around to giving 'Zoom' a listen or two or three and, lo and behold, it ain't too shabby. I'll put it this way, if you liked the prog-tinted pop that ELO excelled in manufacturing in the 70s then you'll most likely find a lot of satisfaction in this record. Keep in mind that it's more of a Jeff Lynne solo deal than a bonafide regrouping of past members by a long shot but who's fooling who here? He was the undisputed chief of the tribe since Roy Wood departed after their debut so don't worry, this disc won't be mistaken for something by Justin Timberlake. I can truthfully say that the best thing about 'Zoom' is that it's the first ELO album ever made without the abysmal drumming of Bev Bevan being included and that fact alone elevates its overall quality enormously. Lynne and the one-and-only Ringo Starr did the percussive duties and Mr. Harrison tossed some tasty licks in here and there to add a dash of class to the proceedings. Plainly put, what you've got here is a record more than worthy of brandishing the ELO banner.

Jeff opens impressively with the energetic 'Alright.' It's a bluesy shuffle with plenty of strong guitars, full harmonies and Lynne's distinctive vocal tones. Within seconds you'll be assured that you're listening to an Electric Light Orchestra product. 'Moment in Paradise' is next and it encapsulates Jeff's long-running affection for torch song ballads that he so excels in producing. The engineering and arranging skills employed are impeccable. My favorite cut follows, the playful 'State of Mind.' It's a guitar riff-based rocker with an incredibly catchy choral hook line. I love the way Lynne always finds a spot to inject a surprise moment to delight my ears with as he does here. 'Just For Love' owns a dense depth of field that augments this dreamy ballad appropriately but, as usual, he diverts the tune into an unexpected direction, giving it an eclectic flavoring. 'Stranger on a Quiet Street' possesses another bluesy vibe at the beginning but it doesn't remain in that restrictive mode for long. Jeff wisely allows the song to freely go where it wants. 'In My Own Time' is an example of his obsession with string-heavy nostalgia but he manages to keep it from becoming tiresome by utilizing alluring vocal lines and clever studio tricks that liven up the track.

'Easy Money' is a slice of rock shuffle stuffed inside an early 60s groove. It sports an intriguing turnaround on the bridge section and I detect an honorable nod to The Move via its raucous attitude. If there's a pothole in the trail it comes on 'Really Doesn't Matter.' Since Lynne produced Petty's wonderful 'Full Moon Fever' CD it's understandable that Tom's influence should appear at some point but the number, with its jangling stacked guitars, veers too far away from the patented ELO sound to fit into this collection. He redeems himself with the next cut, 'Ordinary Dream' because, by contrast to the previous song, this epitomizes ELO in every way, containing all the vital ingredients that made the band such a phenomenon in their heyday. 'A Long Time Gone' fully displays Jeff's superb song-crafting abilities as well as his tasteful manipulations of string-section enhancements. 'Melting in the Sun' is another low point, though. It's not terrible but it has nothing to offer that separates itself from the other cuts in general. 'All She Wanted' is a straightforward rocker that features Lynne's cool recorded-from-the-other-side-of-the-room gated drum effect that others imitate but none can quite duplicate to perfection. The album closes with 'Lonesome Lullaby,' another Petty-without-the-rough-edges ditty and it treats the listener to a very Beatle-like chorus that takes some of us geezers back to a simpler time.

As I stated earlier, 'Zoom' didn't. In comparison to ELO juggernauts like 'A New World Record,' it literally Zunk. Since 2001 wasn't exactly a stupendously positive year in Earth's history (due to mankind revealing its most horrendous side) the album's failure could easily be attributed to the populace's attention being drawn elsewhere but such is life. If you like ELO then I'm not going out on a limb to recommend you getting a copy for your listening pleasure. There's a lot more to like about it than not. As an aside, if you should by chance catch the hour-long mini-doc about Jeff Lynne called 'Mr. Blue Sky' on your TV or internet feed I think you'll find it most enlightening. Bottom line, the man is a gentle genius and 'Zoom' shows that attribute very well. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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