Artist: Jeff Lynne’s ELO
Album: Live In Hyde Park DVD and Alone in the Universe
Label: Eagle Vision/Columbia
Release Date: 09/11/2015
Like many outfits that have disbanded, ELO – Electric Light Orchestra if you will — has faced the fervor that comes with various principals fighting for the rights to its name. First there was ELO II, the group fronted by former drummer Bev Bevan, then came the Orchestra (Or, as it’s formally known, “The Orchestra Starring ELO Former Members”) featuring violinist Mik Kaminski and keyboard player Louis Clark, two tangential members of the ELO ensemble, but hardly the main players. Nevertheless, with so many factions clamoring for the name, it left Jeff Lynne, the man who transitioned Electric Light Orchestra into ELO following the departure of the band’s co-founder Roy Wood, to fall back on his individual options, which meant overseeing various Beatles projects, participating as part of the Travelling Wilburys and hoping that the world remembered that it was his vision to begin with.
Not that the world could ever forget. One of the more memorable sights at the last Grammy Awards ceremony was Paul McCartney dancing in the aisles while Lynne and company retraced some iconic ELO hits. Nevertheless, it took the spectacular setting of London’s Hyde Park to allow Lynne to reclaim his birthright on the larger stage he deserved. Consequently, when the moment came in September 2014 under the auspices of BBC Radio 2’s “Festival In A Day,” it was the ideal setting that celebratory occasion called for. Reunited with the band’s seminal keyboardist Richard Tandy, the newly reconstituted ELO — now re-dubbed Jeff Lynne’s ELO presumably to set the record straight — ran through a generous selection from both the band’s back catalogue and Lynne’s stint with the Wilburys. The titles alone say it all — “Evil Woman,” “Showdown,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Handle With Care” and the supremely sumptuous duo “Telephone Line” and “Can’t Get It Out of my Head,” all delivered with the verve and precision of the original recorded renditions. The obligatory documentary that accompanies the DVD — Mr. Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne and ELO — leaves little doubt as to who has real rights to the heritage.
Having repositioned himself at the helm, it seemed only natural that Lynne would opt to record all new material under that banner. Consequently Alone in the Universe, here again credited to Jeff Lynne’s ELO, ought to go a long way towards flattening the competition. There are few surprises, but it’s likely that was the intention. Consequently, standout songs like the autobiographical “When I Was a Boy,” “Dirty to the Bone,” “Alone in the Universe” and “I’m Leaving You” don’t wander far from the original template, but it’s no matter. They’re a gentle reminder of what it was like when radio ruled and that strange magic permeated the airwaves. Simply sublime.
– Lee Zimmerman