PoP20 | PoP LEGENDS : ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – ZOOM (2001)

An ELO review from 2001!

If the announcement of a new ELO album, after a 15-year absence, raised eyebrows, then the realisation that Zoom is essentially Jeff Lynne playing everything caused many brows to furrow.

What the detractors will fail to recognise is that after co-founder Roy Wood walked away, ELO succeeded or failed based primarily on the creative talents of Jeff Lynne. It is instructive to note that Lynne has been the singer, songwriter and producer of every ELO album after the debut record and the phenomenal popularity ELO achieved in the 1970s was due largely to his ingenious gifts.

Even after Lynne retired ELO upon the release of Balance of Power, signalling the completion of his contractual obligations to Epic, he would make a name for himself, first as an in-demand producer with the likes of Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Roger McGuinn, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson, Del Shannon and even his heroes, The Beatles and secondly as a member of that successful supergroup, The Travelling Wilburys. Even if his solo album, Armchair Theatre failed to make any significant commercial impact.

Now into his 50s, Lynne revives the ELO brand name, keen to make his mark on a brand new music scene. Whilst, he may make little impression on the mediocre fluff that clutters the charts nowadays, he certainly has much to contribute, especially to the millions who recognised the value of classic pop music by picking up the Beatles 1 album.

The Beatles and ELO are almost joined at the hip — it is so easy to arrive at that conclusion. Early in its career, John Lennon himself approvingly remarked that breakthrough single “Showdown” contained the kind of music the Beatles would have made if they never broke up. Lynne namechecked the Fab Four in the sublime “Shangri-La” – ‘faded like the Beatles on Hey Jude,’ the line went. When the surviving Beatles decided to record Lennon’s “Free As A Bird,” inevitably Lynne was brought in to produce the track. Not to mention the fact that George Harrison and Ringo Starr guest on Zoom itself!

Without being blasé about it, Zoom, in my humble opinion, is the nearest thing we have to a new Beatles album in the new millennium. Lennon’s astute observation about Lynne/ELO still holds true although at its core, Zoom remains an ELO album. There is no dichotomy in that statement if you think about it carefully.

Lynne’s strengths mirror his heroes — the ability to write irresistible melodies, the keen production expertise, a reverential attitude to pop’s rock ‘n’ roll roots and the uncanny gift of matching arrangements to fit the song perfectly.

These elements are all evident on Zoom – the slick and dynamic “Alright” and “Stranger on a Quiet Street,” the ‘old school’ rockers “State of Mind,” “All She Wanted” and “Easy Money,” the breezy pop charm of “Melting in the Sun,” “Really Doesn’t Matter At All” and “Lonesome Lullaby” and the lovely melancholy tunes of “Moment in Paradise,” “Just For Love,” “In My Own Time” and “Long Time Gone.”

But the absolute high on Zoom arrives with “Ordinary Dream,” perhaps the song most faithful to the ELO tradition here. With appropriate strings embellishment, an instantly impressive melody and heartfelt lyrics about loss and regret – “Couldn’t really understand at all, the writing on the wall from you to me. The jigsaw puzzle of a twisted tale, that set its lonely sail from to you to me,” “Ordinary Dream” easily sits next to the likes of “Shangri-La,” “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Waterfall,” “Midnight Blue” & “21st Century Man” as evidence of the continuing genius of Jeff Lynne.

More than that, Lynne has certainly buffed up his guitar playing during the “fallow” years – many of the songs on Zoom are blessed with outstanding guitar work and it is this main ingredient that sets Zoom apart from its celebrated predecessors.

Not only is this THE comeback record of the year but easily one of the finest albums intelligent pop fans will be fortunate to be acquainted with in 2001. (9)

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