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Electric Light Orchestra

Secret Messages

Review by Gary Hill

Let me say upfront that this is not Electric Light Orchestra's best, not by a lot. Also, if I were judging just on this album, it wouldn't go under prog. Their catalog makes them a progressive rock artist. The other point is, even when Jeff Lynne is not firing on all cylinders, he's pretty darned good. That makes this a strong album, despite the things I've mentioned and some weaker material interspersed here. It also has some brightly shining moments here and there, too.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2022  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2022.

Track by Track Review
Secret Messages
Effects and stuff that sounds like sound samples bring this track in. The music rises up with a driving fast pace to it. It's decidedly ELO-like, but has a bit of the Discovery sound merged with the older elements. This is a fun song that makes for a good opener.
Loser Gone Wild
This is quite an interesting tune. It has some trademark ELO elements, but there are also some parts that have a bluesy, jazzy groove to them. While I wouldn't consider this an ELO classic, it has some classic things at play at times. It also takes things in some interesting directions at times.
Bluebird
A bouncy mainstream pop rock sound is on display here. It's still somewhat recognizable as ELO, and it has some Beatles and rock and roll vibes. It's not as strong as some of their music, but it's pretty cool nonetheless. It has some interesting changes. The "work, work" part is annoying and distracting, though.
Take Me On and On
There is some drama here. The cut has a soulful vibe, and not all that many ELO trappings. Still, Jeff Lynne's heartfelt vocal performance on this rather balladic piece work really well. They elevate the song.
Time After Time
With an electronic vibe and another annoying vocal loop, I'm not a big fan of this song. It has its charms, so I wouldn't consider it a "must skip," but it's far from the best thing the band ever did. The rocking section later that has hints of Cheap Trick is cool, though. So, are the Beatles-like parts of psychedelic meets symphonic weirdness.
Four Little Diamonds
This has a rock and roll element to it and lots of The Beatles. It’s also an example of a newer cut that does a great job of capturing the classic ELO sound.
Stranger
This piece doesn't really feel much like ELO.  It’s sort of a pretty standard AOR ballad. It definitely grows on you over time and repeated listenings.
Danger Ahead
Another that's not the most "ELO-like" thing here, this makes me think of Sweet to a large degree. Sure, there are trademark Jeff Lynne elements, too. I can hear some Beatles on this, as well. It's energetic, catchy and fun. It's another that also makes me think of Cheap Trick to some degree. There is a backwards tracked "secret message" on this. This does have some proggy moments at points.
Letter From Spain
Processed vocals and effects start this number. This coalesces into a slow moving, mellower arrangement from there. There is sort of an electronic pop music vibe to this. It's not ELO-like at all, really, and it doesn't work well for me. I wouldn't say that this is worthy of a "skip," but it's definitely not a great song.
Train of Gold
While the funk that shows up on this is uncharacteristic, there are some decidedly ELO-like elements at play. This is a fun tune. The bouncing, driving movement later is a little over-produced, but it's also very strong. I think this is one of my favorite tunes on this album, really. I love the harmonica that shows up here and there.
Rock 'n' Roll Is King
As the title suggests, this is ELO tackling a rock and roller, old school style. It’s a good tune and definitely a nod to the older period of the group. Thre is a cool little mellow freak-out after that song that is so cool.
 
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