Something Else! sneak peek: Jeff Lynne, "Mr. Blue Sky" (2012)

A new video gives us our most complete listen yet as Jeff Lynne seeks to reimagine a series of his classic moments with the Electric Light Orchestra.

“Mr. Blue Sky” is the title track from the upcoming Frontier Records release Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, a set of 11 ELO do-overs — and one new song, called “Point of No Return.” Lynne will issue a second album called Long Wave, featuring his versions of some childhood favorites, on October 9, 2012, as well.

Long-time audiophiles will notice the bright immediacy of this new take on “Mr. Blue Sky,” even as they thrill over the fact that the period-piece vocoder segment remains. At the same time, the painstaking process of re-recording these ELO favorites is also put into high relief: It’s obvious, at least to those who ran the grooves down on their vinyl copies of Out of the Blue back in ’77, that Lynne produced this update all by himself.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The first single from Jeff Lynne's oldies project 'Long Wave' is a soulful 1964 rocker called "Mercy, Mercy," originally issued by Don Covay.]

Though his voice is surprisingly limber, even after all of these years, it’s still just his voice — tracked, double-tracked and triple tracked. Like, where’s Kelly Groucutt? The billowing strings that once helped mark this as one of Lynne’s most loving tributes to the Beatles — well, that and the clanging anvil — sound thin, electronic.

In a way, perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. For all Lynne’s importance in masterminding moments like this as part of ELO, he was just that: Part of a larger ensemble, with talented players like Bev Bevan, Mik Kaminski, Richard Tandy, Hugh McDowell, Roy Wood and others making important, and unique, contributions along the way.

The worry that this new album might sound technically better but at the same time feel sterile seems to be made real. Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra was recorded alone, and for all of the eye-popping wonder of the video itself, this new “Mr. Blue Sky” sounds like it.

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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 …

SOMETHING ELSE! 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.

ONE TRACK MIND: JEFF LYNNE, “AT LAST” (2012): 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 on a set of ELO remakes that will be released in tandem with Long Wave. But this is different.

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.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Sol Misol

    “where’s Kelly Groucutt?”

    Are you kidding? He’s dead :-(

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      Guys like the late Mike Edwards are missed, too. That’s the point of the piece.

  • Richard Pachter

    (More to the point, where is Bev Bevan?)

    Clearly, this is more than a creative do-over. It’s a nice way to ensure that Jeff gets all the dough from any commercial use without having to split anything with the original record company, similar to Squeeze and Def Leppard.

    Surprised none of the reviews mentions this fact.

    • Nick DeRiso

      Sure, there’s a financial consideration. I don’t have a problem with anyone making money, as long as there’s something worth buying. Unfortunately, this doesn’t rise to that level.

  • Frank Martin

    The whole point of Jeff reworking any old ELO hits to release on an album wasn’t about money, it was clearly that he wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of the original recordings and wanted to rework them a bit or have a go as he would put it. Why does anyone really recut songs anyway unless they were weak demos. None of the recut versions are going to top what went into the originals, they had that natural magic that you only get from having a band’s input. All these recuts are more like the demos of what the songs would have sounded like when Jeff presented them to the band and before adding effects and cool stuff.

    I think Jeff had a falling out with Bev and Kelly. Bev wanted the ELO name and Jeff said hell no so Bev went with ELO Pt. 2 and Kelly sued Jeff back in the early 1980s stating he was only paid as a hired hand. The rest of the band except for Richard Tandy were just hired musicians. Richard Tandy is Jeff’s right hand man. Richard also played the Strange Magic acoustic intro.

    Kelly Groucutt had one solo album was back in 1981 -1982 which I did buy and he had a very ELO like song with Am I A Dreamer, which he also sang or synced on the Solid Gold music variety show. It’s a good little album and gives you a chance to hear how Kelly and Jeff’s harmonies worked in unison together. I think it would have been way cooler if Jeff had actually produced it or helped with it a little so it would have sounded like a lost ELO lp but at this time he was touring behind TIME and then working with Dave Edmunds and working on the Secret Messages album.

    I’m just glad Jeff has finally gotten out of the cave and decided to get back to business.