Audio CD (October 9, 2012)

Label: FRONTIERS

ASIN: B008OJ291W

We’ve had no shortage of “Best Of” compilations from Electric Light Orchestra over the years. These have included very good double-disc re-mastered collections. But, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ELO, Jeff Lynne went beyond a mere re-packaging of his favorite hits. While most of us weren’t aware of the flaws and deficiencies Lynne heard in his work, he apparently thought it was time to use new technology to spruce up some of the better-known songs from the ELO catalogue.

Joined by longtime ELO multi-instrumentalist Richard Tandy, a player widely regarded as being an indispensible component of the group’s sound, Lynne “re-recorded” 13 of the band’s hits He wanted to give a brightness and clarity not possible when they were first released. As of this writing, little has been revealed about how much of the material on the original tapes has been retained and how much was actually completely re-done. Are those Bev Bevan’s drums or an imitation? For most listeners, picking out the subtle changes will require very close listening. There’s nothing different about the arrangements or the parts. Instead, some of the background nuances are more distinct, some of the instrumentation buried in old mixes is now more present.

Clearly, Lynne wasn’t interested in presenting the tracks in a chronological order; it’s hard to determine just how this program was organized. But it isn’t difficult to know why these were the songs Lynne picked out. While fans may wish other favorites were included—there’s no “Sweet Talking Woman” nor the criminally neglected “Roll Over Beethoven”—most of the tunes were on the charts between 1973 (“Showdown”) and 1979 (“Don’t Bring Me Down”). In this package, “Showdown” is a good example of what Lynne was striving for with its pulsating synth bass line that wasn’t so evident before. 1974 is represented by “Can't Get It Out Of My Head,” ELO’s first U.S. Top 10 hit. From 1975, we get “Evil Woman” and “”Strange Magic,” songs that helped set the stage for ELO’s most popular era.

ELO ruled the world in 1976 when it issued the album A New World Record which included the hits “Livin' Thing",” "Telephone Line," and “Do Ya," the latter a re-make of a song from Lynne’s previous group, The Move. The following year, Out of the Blue yielded “Turn to Stone" and "Mr. Blue Sky." Of these, to my ears, “Do Ya” is the song with the most obvious changes. From the vocals to the ride cymbals to the separated guitar chords, this hard-rocker indeed sounds very fresh in its new incarnation.

Two tracks offer the best reasons for fans to pick up this collection. With overt nods to the Beatles, “10538 Overture” was the first ELo single in 1970 when the band was co-directed by Lynne and Roy Wood. It’s long been a neglected nugget and I can’t help but think this one benefited from major revamping for this collection. The bonus track, the previously unreleased “The Point Of No Return” is a nifty little rocker, although it’s more Traveling Wilburys than Elo.

I admit feeling a bit hampered here as my review copy was only a download. I wonder if fans really interested in the sonic changes will have a more in-depth experience with discs or connections between their computers and a full home system. I still don’t think audiophiles benefit from music played on laptop speakers, and these are the potential listeners who should most want this release. ELO aficionados should enjoy the new tune and concentrate on the new versions of old classics to determine for themselves what surprises they can discover. But Jeff, if you really want to be kind to us, the music of Electric Light Orchestra really cries out for a good 5.1 Surround Sound release. Please don’t wait for the 60th anniversary . . .

 

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