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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Electric Light Orchestra

Out of the Blue

Review by Gary Hill

I know a lot of people dismiss ELO. Certainly their disco era had a lot to do with that. This disc was just at the edge of the start of that. There are hints of that sound in a couple places, but really what you have is some great pop rock that’s catchy and also prog oriented. Where many bands experimented with symphonic elements in their music, ELO fully integrated them into the band. The result is a stunning, lush arrangement of sound. Say what you will about ELO, but this is one of those discs you can enjoy beginning to end. Listening to it today there are some dated elements, but it’s still very entertaining.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Turn to Stone
This comes up with an electronic, space age feeling. As it moves into the song proper it’s got a classical music goes electronic pop. They drop it down to a straightforward central song structure. There are hints of disco on this, but not nearly to the point the group would wander later. This is a catchy track that still holds up quite well. It gets quite symphonic and powerful before it ends.
It's Over
An evocative and powerful piece of music this is very ballad-like, but it’s also got a serious classical motif to it. While perhaps not the most obvious choice for a highlight on the disc, this is nonetheless one of my favorites on show here. 
Sweet Talkin' Woman
Here’s another energetic number. This is catchy and fun. It’s got more of a “rock and roll” feeling to it, but still plenty of classical elements can be heard, too. 
Across the Border
The sounds of a train start things off here and then we get a classical Latin treatment that gives way to the verse as this builds out into a fast paced rocker. More Latin bits come in here and there as this track carries on. It’s also got a lot of The Beatles in it – along with plenty of symphonic bits. There’s a great mellow break in the middle of this, too.
Night in the City
A full on classical treatment (with the sounds of city traffic) leads off here. This gives way to another catchy jam. This has an almost Motown feel to it at times. It moves out later to a powerful jam with lots of city sounds as noise. Then we get an almost Cheap Trick-like passage. We get dropped back to the song proper after a while. There’s also a section or two here with Pete Townshend like guitar bit. I love the staccato vocal segment later, too.
Starlight
Keyboards lead this one off and in many ways its one of the most “normal” songs on show. It’s got a shuffling sort of rhythmic structure and an almost jazz meets Motown ballad construction. That said, it’s still a great tune. 
Jungle
With sound effects that include a “Tarzan yell,” it’s kind of hard to take this one seriously. Still, it’s a fun little number, despite having a bit of a “novelty song” feel to it. 
Believe Me Now
Here’s a ballad-like number that’s quite Beatles oriented. It sets the pace for the next number and is sort of like the verse to it. 
Steppin' Out
Feeling like the continuation of the last number, the same evocative elements are on display here. This is a pretty cut with definite Beatles musical references. As they intensify this one later it gets more powerful. This (along with the opening number that leads into it) is one of my favorite cuts on show here. The emotional classical section mid-track is a great touch.
Standin' in The Rain

This is probably the most blatantly progressive rock track on show here. It builds and shifts here and there. Keyboard dominated segments spin around more symphonic ones. There’s an almost operatic feeling to the some of the vocals. This is a wonderful piece of music that’s another highlight of the CD.


Big Wheels
Probably the most mellow ballad on show here, this is pretty. It’s perhaps one of the weak points of the disc. That doesn’t mean this is bad, though. It’s just not up to the level of the majority of the album. It does get a bit stronger as they power it up later, though. The classical strings swirling around one another here and there are a nice touch, too. 
Summer and Lightning
This is a more pure rock song. It’s based on an old school ballad approach, but ELO elevate into something that’s so much more. This is another powerful song on a disc with no real clunkers. Some of the acoustic guitar on this reminds me a bit of something Jon Anderson might have done and so does the world music section later in the track. 
Mr. Blue Sky
A bouncy pop rocker, this is the most Beatlesesque cut on show here. It’s fun and quite catchy. The outro on this is more symphonic and includes operatic vocals. This ends with some of the most orchestral music on the disc, but it’s also quite a Beatles-like closing segment.  
Sweet Is the Night
Here’s another that feels a lot like the Beatles, but with a more pure symphonic approach built into it. There are some Dylanesque vocals on this, too. The closing section on this is quite “Beatles meet progressive rock.”
The Whale
Although there are some vocals in the background, this is really an instrumental. It’s pretty and among the more progressive rock music on the set. There are some sections that sound like whale song – hence the title.
Birmingham Blues
This is one of the most straightforward rock songs on the disc, but they still pack enough changes and variants to keep it quite interesting.
Wild West Hero
A playful and fun track, this is a good one, but perhaps not the most powerful number for a disc closer. There are definitely some more Beatles-like moments on this.
 
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