Out Of The Blue
Balance Of Power

Electric Light Orchestra

Like diamonds, basic black, and Jello, rock music goes with anything. And when Electric Light Orchestra co-founders Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood combined pop-rock with an orchestra, the innovation struck gold. The orchestra eventually gave way to synthesizers, but the magic—strange or not—remained. The expanded reissues of Out Of The Blue (1977) and Balance Of Power (1986) document the innovation, technical brilliance, stunning musical scope and underlying cohesiveness that forged lush, shimmering masterpieces that are still hypnotically captivating today.

From Out Of The Blue, Lynne’s accomplished songwriting spawned a staccato succession of hits: “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Mr. Blue Sky” and “It’s Over.” The effervescent songs melded ethereal symphonic flourishes with a Beatlesque eloquence that was simple, but never banal. Deeper cuts like the exquisite “Summer and Lightning” and “Wild West Hero” also radiate a mesmerizing otherworldliness that combines both charm and tender fragility. And Lynne’s vocals have melancholic hues that enrich even the bubbliest tunes with poignant shadings.

Balance Of Power was ELO’s swan song — the album that foreshadowed both the breakup of the band, and the breakdown of Lynne’s marriage. Synthesizers had replaced symphony, and several songs, like “So Serious,” lament a relationship in its twilight: “Can it really be so serious/To be all broken up and delirious/I guess we've really been out of touch/But can it really be so serious?” Yet neither of these factors diminished the quality of the album, replete with boisterous, impeccably crafted power pop. After all, it was the songwriting — not the orchestra — that was central to ELO’s style. And the band remained resolutely true to that style, regardless of the hair metal sprouting around them at the time. Standout cuts include the bright buoyancy of “Heaven Only Knows,” “Getting to the Point” (which even features a sax solo), the harmony-laden “Secret Lives,” and the feverishly rollicking “Calling America,” which only reached the Top 20, but should have shot into the Top 10. The expanded edition of Balance Of Power is also packed with a tantalizing seven bonus cuts, including five tracks of previously unreleased material. It’s not just any band that could have made both the Beatles and Beethoven equally proud. With these CDs, ELO proved they had the musical chops to do both.

~ Merryl Lentz

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