For most of its first run, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) operated as a band. However, in effect the success of ELO was really down to one person viz. singer-songwriter-musician-producer Jeff Lynne. Thus, this album of new material — the first since 2001’s Zoom — is credited to “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” and perhaps rightly so. Though personally, ELO would have done it for me — I mean ELO fans know who is the force behind those wonderful songs.
ELO is literally a one-man band now. Not even Richard Tandy’s keyboards make an appearance. Only thing that Lynne did not do? Sing the female vocals (ably done by daughter Laura)! And for that reason, Alone in the Universe comes across like ELO’s late 70s/80s work.
And that is a good thing!
None of Lynne’s songwriting or arranging or performing prowess has been diminished by the passage of time. In fact, the songs are more focused on the man’s strengths. There is little fat to trim off here as song after song delivers premium melodies, lustrous harmonies & a heady mix of ballads and rockers. Meaning? It’s an ELO fan’s wet dream – many times over!
The one that stands out first and foremost is naturally the first single and the opener — “When I Was a Boy”. A obviously autobiographical song about Lynne’s journey as a musician, the music itself is vintage ELO — from the Lennonesque melodic references to the descending Bach chord progression. It’s a tune one is bound to instantly sing along to. Brilliant.
The rest of the album remains faithful to the ELO legacy — equal parts Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Byrds and of course, Roy Orbison — but still uniquely ELO in every way possible. Tracks like “Dirty to the Bone”, “When the Night Comes” and “The Sun Will Shine On You” are all gorgeous examples. And on “I’m Leaving You”, Lynne once more pays tribute to the late great Big O, with a heartfelt reflection on the breakup of a relationship. Beautiful.
Seems facetious to describe Alone in the Universe as one of the albums of the year — it just seems that it deserves to stand outside the prefabricated drivel that modern pop music represents in 2015. So let’s just say that if you are a lover of true pop music, then this is the one for you!