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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Electric Light Orchestra

On The Third Day

Review by John Pierpoint

After two reasonably successful albums for EMI Harvest, Jeff Lynne’s merry men moved over to Don Arden’s Jet records for their next release. On the Third Day built on the foundations laid on ELO2, with Lynne’s writing and production skills coming on leaps and bounds. Personnel changes included the return of Hugh McDowell on cello (he had been part of the original ELO touring ensemble) and Mik Kaminski assuming the violinist role.

As before, there are many classical quotations scattered throughout the music. The strings and electric instruments are in good balance, but the drift towards purely electric instruments can be detected, as the strings become relegated to background duties. Indeed, on the subsequent album Eldorado, the strings would be largely replaced by full orchestral arrangements, as Lynne settled into his role as pop songwriter and producer. For many fans, though, these early albums with their wild experimentation and biting, gritty (often messy) soundworlds are much more interesting than the “spray-on strings” that came later. The album has a seamless flow between tracks, some of which are linked by miniature instrumental pieces.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Ocean Breakup / King of the Universe

This begins with a dramatic overture (which - after all these years - I’ve only just realised is based on Bach’s famous organ Toccata in G), accompanied by a Morse code distress signal, very evocative of the title. There are some gorgeous strings here, albeit sounding a little out of tune in places. Bev Bevan’s drums sound quite odd and boxy, as though they had some mic problems (one of the joys of revisiting early ELO albums is to hear the improvement - album upon album - of Lynne’s production skills). The balance between electric and classical instruments is very effective. This leads directly into the short second piece, which for the most part hammers away on one chord, before taking off on the uplifting chorus. It’s possible to hear some control-room chat during the chorus, which didn’t get edited from the take. There’s a brief instrumental interlude of echoed pizzicato strings, leading straight into the next track.

Bluebird Is Dead
This has a lazy, laid-back, bluesy feel, with the strings effectively acting as backing “answer” vocals on the first verse, but switching to an ascending scale for the second verse. Bevan’s drums are very prominent in the mix. There’s an instrumental middle breakout section which features a Jimmy Page-like reverse guitar solo. The strings revert to playing the “answering” phrases for the final verse. A short, powerful instrumental sequence (which will reappear later) links this to the next track.
Oh No Not Susan
This song about a “poor little rich girl” follows in the same laid-back vein as the previous tracks, which is unfortunate, as some variation of mood would have helped here. The strings mostly play fill phrases on this song. The previous instrumental sequence makes a return at the end, to raise some excitement and prepare the scene for the side one closer.
New World Rising / Ocean Breakup Reprise
Now things start to pick up! A pulse of keyboards accompanies Lynne’s distant, distorted vocals, which sharpen into full clarity on a drum roll. As the pace picks up, the brief spoken “passer by” interruption on the second verse is a pre-echo of their later hit “Mr. Blue Sky.”  The drums hammer away behind some jubilant synth arpeggios, which sound amazing, raising goose-bumps – lovely! It drops back for the second verse, but returns again to this powerful theme, which descends into discord at one point, before emerging into a Kaminski violin solo. The sequence repeats for the third verse, with the jubilant theme giving way to a reprise of the “Ocean Breakup” theme that started the album. This device effectively bookends side one of the album.
Showdown
This was absent from my original vinyl copy, so I’m only guessing that it opened side two on some versions. A short Hungarian gypsy-like opening introduces a tight pop song with walking bass line performed on the keyboard that reminds me of “I Heard It through the Grapevine”. Mike de Albuquerque’s real bass, meanwhile, is free to do some tasty fills. This was released as a successful single, which is not surprising, as the quality of songwriting is head and shoulders over the rest of the album. The strings are less prominent, relegated to the odd fill, and a flanged intermission section.
Daybreaker
This instrumental is a great excuse for Richard Tandy to break out his Moog! It opens with a dramatic overture, before kicking into a straight guitar-led rock riff, with the keyboard arpeggios taking centre stage. The strings add some Wagner-like ornamentation phrases. There’s a romantic-sounding second theme (ripped off from a Tchaikovsky piano concerto), before Tandy switches to an electric harpsichord sound on the key-change to heighten the excitement. This is a stirring, feel-good track, but there’s an ominous threatening edge near the end from the strings. Some distant echoed piano and ambient noises prepare us for the next track.
Ma-Ma-Ma Belle
This was also released as a single. It’s a great rocker. It starts with a classic double-tracked distorted guitar riff (apparently played by Marc Bolan!). In fact there’s a real glam-rock feel to the whole track, with wailing multi-tracked guitars in much the same style as on T Rex songs. Lynne’s vocals are slightly distorted (a common problem with these early recordings), but this just adds to the grittiness of the song, in this case. I particularly like the way the strings fade in on the last verse. It fades out to just Lynne’s vocals, to be subsumed by echoey instrumental noodlings, which segue into the next song.
Dreaming Of 4000
A brief fanfare ushers in a section of frantic multi-tracked guitar picking, which levels out onto a slow beat. Lynne’s vocals reverse-echo in. This song drips atmosphere. The beat picks up on the second verse, then there’s a soul-like mellow bridge (balanced lightly on the drum and bass parts) before the pounding chorus comes in. The “too late, too late. . .” chorus tail has echoes of “Eleanor Rigby” in the string sound. On the next verse, Tandy uses a high, whistling “Good Vibrations” synth wail to add extra drama. At the end, the strings intensify and begin an instrumental section, which builds up, only to suddenly end on a violin phrase.
In the Hall of the Mountain King

Yes, this is a rocked-up version of the Grieg classic from his Peer Gynt suite. It begins with a brief quote on keyboards of his instantly-recognisable “Morning Mood” sunrise theme from the same suite. Then there is a melodramatic tremolo string background, while instruments emulate the howling wind, and an unsettling keyboard whistle ascends. Bevan is a monster on the drums here. It’s no wonder he was asked to join Black Sabbath many years later! There’s a drop down into a delightful violin solo, augmented by wah-pedal, with bass and drums marking time behind, before some chilling piano chords signal the return of the original theme (this time with creepy, tinkling keyboards). The tune accelerates in the run-up to the end (as does the original – only ELO take this to an extreme level). It ends on a final over the top flourish.

 
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