One Track Mind: Jeff Lynne, "At Last" (2012)

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At last! Jeff Lynne, having most recently issued a solo album in 1990 with Armchair Theatre, will be returning with two new studio recordings. But … “At Last”? The Etta James number?

At first, I couldn’t get past the first two words on this advance track from Lynne’s Long Wave, the two words that James so completely owns — the two words that she has come to personify. I heard Lynne sing “at last,” and I turned it off.

Careful readers will remember my enthusiasm in this space for “Point of No Return” — a new song, recorded in his full-bodied 1970s style no less, that’s attached to Lynne’s tandem solo update of ELO songs. Long Wave, a set of reformulated standards, will appear on the same day as Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra — October 9, 2012 via Frontiers.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Even as Jeff Lynne prepares new solo versions of the Electric Light Orchestra’s greatest hits, he has reunited with former ELO member Richard Tandy.]

But this is different. While belatedly barging into the crowded roomful of grandpa rockers trying to breathe new life into songbook relics, Lynne perhaps couldn’t have selected a worse item to dust off. Unless, that is, he chose to try Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Or Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman.” Or Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” They roll off the lips as if attached — because they are.

These are songs that have become so inextricably linked to their singer, whether they actually wrote them or not, that it is impossible to hear someone else’s version without a jarring sense of reverse déjà vu (would that actually be “vu jàdé?”): The feeling that you’re hearing something that you should never have heard again.

Paul McCartney’s jazzy Kisses on the Bottom worked (and Rod Stewart’s still-born series of snoozers didn’t) for precisely this reason: By and large, McCartney picked music that had been lost to time, moments that were not connected in any meaningful way to someone in today’s popular consciousness. “At Last” is not that song — in particular in the wake of James’ passing earlier this very year, when the track was laid out like wall-to-wall carpeting during days of tributes.

Once I finally got past Etta’s first pair of utterances (no one will ever sing “at last” with such a damaged sense of triumph, so proud and yet so revealing), I belatedly discovered that Lynne actually does a passable job with the rest of it. He’s to be credited with sticking with the ELO-era pastiche of influences that helped forge his own legend — skiffle-ish beat? Check; whoosh of strings? Double check — rather than some washed-out studio orchestra. (We’re looking at you, Mr. Stewart.)

That said, at … least, can we have some new music next time?

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

SNEAK PEEK: JEFF LYNNE, “POINT OF NO RETURN” (2012): The track sounds, at least in the early going, like the typical solo Lynne production, dominated by his now familiar drum signature, propelled by a Byrdsy guitar, enveloped with a double-tracked vocal. Add in Roy Orbison, and it might have been a Traveling Wilburys outtake. Then, just as you’re getting comfy with it all, “Point of No Return” begins to elevate, as Lynne stirs in some billowing strings and a fabulously smeared, echoing guitar solo. Something starts to happen, something very 1970s. And I mean that in a good way.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: JEFF LYNNE AND THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA: News that Jeff Lynne is making a long-awaited return with both a studio album and a fresh examination of ELO’s greatest hits had us recalling some old favorites. Lynne will release both albums, titled Long Wave and Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra respectively, on October 9, 2012 through Frontiers Records. To get you ready, we took a spin through some of our favorite cuts from the Electric Light Orchestra.

JEFF LYNNE REUNITES WITH FORMER ELO BANDMATE RICHARD TANDY: Even as Jeff Lynne is set to issue new solo versions of his greatest hits with the Electric Light Orchestra, he has reunited with former ELO member Richard Tandy. Videos of the pair performing “Showdown” and “Evil Woman” have been posted to elo.biz. “Showdown” was originally a No. 12 hit single in the UK in 1973, while “Evil Woman” was went Top 10 both in America and in England in 1975. It’s unclear whether a full-length recorded reunion with Tandy is in the offing, or if the longtime ELO keyboardist is to be part of Lynne’s planned Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, though these new videos are posted under a heading that reads “sneak peeks.”

Here are the complete track listings for ‘Long Wave’ and ‘Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra’:

LONG WAVE
1. She
2. If I Loved You
3. So Sad
4. Mercy, Mercy
5. Running Scared
6. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
7. Smile
8. At Last
9. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing
10. Let It Rock
11. Beyond The Sea

MR. BLUE SKY-THE VERY BEST OF ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA:
1. Mr. Blue Sky
2. Evil Woman
3. Strange Magic
4. Don’t Bring Me Down
5. Turn To Stone
6. Showdown
7. Telephone Line
8. Livin’ Thing
9. Do Ya
10. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
11. 10538 Overture
12. The Point Of No Return

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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