Album Review: Jeff Lynne's ELO - "Alone In The Universe"
By Andrew Lee
Is this a Beatles solo album? You’ll hear what I mean on the first song. Maybe it’s the chord changes or something. Maybe it’s the “when I was younger” memory lane motif reminiscent of McCartney’s “Early Days.” Or maybe it’s something familiar in the musical DNA. Oh wait, who is Jeff Lynne again anyway? Oops, looks like he’s one of the biggest names in popular music - singer, songwriter, musician, producer - two huge bands (Electric Light Orchestra and Traveling Wilburys) and millions of albums sold. Oh, and he has significant connections to a number of musical legends - The Beatles, Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty…and yet I simply wasn’t aware of Jeff Lynne until now, for some reason. I guess I just never got around to him. Or did I? He seems like he could be one of those artists where you might know him without knowing you know him.
Alone In The Universe, the first album of new music under the ELO name in 14 years, is, quite simply, a great little pop rock record and everyone who likes great little pop rock records should listen to it. “When I Was a Boy” captures childhood memories without turning mushy. “I’m Leaving You” seems to channel the the drama of classic Roy Orbison. “One Step At a Time” is a slice of '70s radio gold with a dancey, disco vein that sounds like a hit (and a surefire live concert classic). Lynne’s music possesses the confidence and subtle creativity of a master producer working within his genre. His singing serves the song and changes style and approach as needed. These songs are not in danger of “they all sound the same” syndrome.
Jeff Lynne is no Bob Dylan when it comes to lyrics but then again, who is, really? Lynne’s lyrics are simple and direct and they get the job done. “When I was a boy I had a dream” - boom, done. “When the night comes, that’s when I think of you” - perfect, got it. The message is conveyed, the listener has room to insert their own fluff if they want to, and the songwriter focuses instead on the “how" and the “why" of the music and performance instead of on the “what” of the lyrics.
Lyrical simplicity could seem like a stumbling block, with words like “she’s dirty to the bone” possibly coming across as cliched and corny at first. But throw in that song's variety of ear-candy guitar parts (love that opening ripple), and the surprising contrast between the sweet music and the sour lyrics, and the darn thing can start to grow on you. It’s a sort of tonal contrast that is used effectively multiple times on this album. Though perhaps we could say the album title itself is an exercise in contrast - the smallness of feeling alone vs. the vastness of the universe. It’s “Alone in the Universe,” after all, not “Alone in My Bedroom.”
And with Jeff Lynne as the man responsible for nearly every bit of the singing, songwriting, playing, and producing on this gem of an album I think it’s safe to say that being alone can have its benefits.