For their first album in over 14 years, Jeff Lynne's ELO delivers a collection of nostalgic and sophisticated songs with Alone in The Universe. The album features many traits of the classic Electric Light Orchestra sound, but this time he modernizes the production and explores a breadth of styles, using chordal motives to tie the album together thematically in what could very well be Jeff Lynne's Swan Song.
The youthful freshness of Jeff Lynne's voice seems to have changed little since the '70s, but his songwriting craft sure has. While there are some great tracks on the album such as the opener, "When I was a Boy," by in large there is a great deal of filler.
One of the biggest faults in the album is that its tempo range is somewhat limited, causing the overall energy of the album to feel stagnant. Where's the driving, concentrated force of "Turn To Stone"? Or the captivating introduction of "Livin' Thing”?
"One Step At A Time" is probably the most exciting track on the album, fusing neo-disco dance elements with Beach Boys' style harmonies in a truly original way. It's a clever juxtaposition of lament and determination within the song's lyrics that makes this track really work.
And as far as cool introductions go, the most we get is pad synths with some basic sound design elements. The atmospheric orchestration in the opening of "The Sun Will Shine on You" is refreshing, but the track is ultimately ruined by the lame, quasi-country composition within. Not so daring for such a talented visionary of post-Beatles pop.
The overall aesthetic of Alone In The Universe reminds me of another Jeff Lynne production, Paul McCartney's 1997 album "Flaming Pie," which helped revive Paul's solo career following The Beatles Anthology Project. "Dirty to the Bone," for instance, is uncanilly similar to the sound of "Young Boy," but the synth elements and changes in the bridge make it different and somehow less awesome than its McCartney-penned predecessor. I swear, he even quotes Macca's "Too Many People" with regard to the combination of harmonies, falsetto vocals, and interlocking snare drum rolls towards the end of the album's titular song, "Alone in The Universe."
There are some really standout tracks on the album. As previously mentioned, the opening track is beautifully orchestrated and delivers the chordal motive that appears throughout the album in the song's chorus. For a quick reference, the motive is also heard in the classic Frank Churchill tune "Someday my Prince Will Come," a Jazz standard originating from Disney's 1937 "Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs." We hear the same motive appear in the tender, Roy Orbison-style tune "I'm Leaving You."
The Album also has two bonus tracks, the Rockabilly track "Fault Line", which is basically a reworking of Hank William's "My Bucket's Got A Hole in It," and "Blue" which is straight out of latin-influenced Early Beatles, but with elements of modern production such as echo-delay on the vocals and distorted guitar.
Despite some of the weaker tracks, Alone In The Universe is a welcome return for Jeff Lynne's ELO and their updated approach to classic pop songwriting.
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