This Week in Music, April 23, 2013: will.i.am? yes.we.will Page 2
Jeff Lynne: Armchair Theatre
When it was released in 1990, Jeff Lynne’s first solo album was largely overlooked. Which was inexplicable, considering that his old band, the Electric Light Orchestra, had been on top of the world not long before. “I love that ELO,” the average fan seemed to be saying, “but Jeff Lynne? Well, I don’t know.”
Too bad, because most of Armchair Theatre was, and is, excellent. Lynne had cleansed himself of ELO’s self-destruction — by focusing on producing (for the likes of George Harrison, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty) and also by becoming a member of the Traveling Wilburys. That done, Lynne finally regained the resolve to face his own music head-on, with heartening results.
True, the 37-minute playing time of the original album may seem slender, especially in light of the fact that two of the 11 tracks are covers of standards that, in Lynne’s hands, are rather poky (“September Song,” “Stormy Weather”). But never mind. Notice instead how a seemingly plain tune, “What Would It Take,” blossoms with even just a portion of a great chorus — and how a strong number, “Lift Me Up,” soars with a transcendent one.
Most delicious are the tracks whose writing and instrumentation recall ELO’s earlier days. “Every Little Thing” is Lynne at his multi-level best, with strings, guitars, saxophones, piano, and vocals bouncing off each other in gleeful support of several melodies. “Now You’re Gone” blends a host of sounds from India — percussion, violin, male/female solo voices — into a modal haunter. The one successful cover here, the ’50s classic “Don’t Let Go,” shows the same fondness for early American rock & roll that once gave us “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rockaria!,” only now it’s enhanced by that natural Wilbury sound. And listening today, I have a new fondness for the glib shaker “Nobody Home” and the stripped-down Early Warning on global warming, “Save Me Now.”
Still, the most vivid song here is “Blown Away,” a supreme ballad (co-written with Petty) in the tradition of “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.” The opening melody starts to build and, like the best moment of “Bluebird Is Dead,” opens into a rising chorus that you wish would never stop. When the song ultimately must end, Lynne leaves us with a round of vocal harmonies that tug and tug long after they’ve faded.
Every fan of ELO and Lynne (in any of his guises) should own this album. Completists will want the reissue for its two bonus tracks; one may be merely a simple pleasure (the smooth shuffle of “Borderline,” taken from the “Lift Me Up” CD single and 12-inch vinyl disc), but the other is a hidden gem (the sorrowful “Forecast,” previously unreleased).
Related releases also available this week:
— Zoom (Frontiers), a reissue of the 2001 studio album that was credited to ELO (but is really a Lynne solo affair). Although the album has its moments, it doesn’t approach the high quality of Armchair Theatre. Bonuses: “One Day” (an unreleased 1994 studio track) and “Turn to Stone” (from the DVD mentioned in the blurb below).
— Electric Light Orchestra Live (Frontiers), an archival CD sourced from the 2001 PBS taping at CBS Television City in Los Angeles. “Evil Woman,” “Showdown,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are from the so-called Zoom Tour Live DVD that was released at the time. (Trivia: The subsequent Zoom tour itself was actually canceled.) Four tracks — “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and the pre-show soundchecks of “Secret Messages,” “Twilight,” and “Confusion” — weren’t on the DVD but are included here. Two unreleased studio tracks round out the collection: “Cold Feet” (1992) and “Out of Luck” (2010).
For Mike Mettler’s interview with Lynne, on the occasion of last year’s Long Wave and Mr. Blue Sky, click here.
Bob Marley & the Wailers: Kaya
Reissue (Island/Tuff Gong/UMe)
Photo by Dan Asher
Bob Marley would have turned 68 next month. Here, his 1978 album with the Wailers gets an expanded, double-disc 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. The B-side “Smile Jamaica” is included, and the second CD has the unreleased Live at Ahoy Hallen, recorded in Rotterdam on July 7, 1978. In addition to extensive liner notes, the booklet offers lyrics and rare photos.
The Rolling Stones: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones, 1964–1971
Archival release (ABKCO; tour dates)
Photo by Gered Mankowitz
The dictum for record companies of the Rolling Stones: Leave no repackaging opportunity unreleased. Sixteen-song CD begins with “Time Is On My Side” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and ends with “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.” In other words, it’s a single-disc version of the original Hot Rocks.