CD Review of Ticket to the Moon--The Very Best of ELO, Vol. 2 by Electric Light Orchestra
Recommended if you like
Traveling Wilburys, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Magical Mystery Tour
Label
Epic/Legacy
Electric Light Orchestra:
Ticket to the Moon
The Very Best of ELO, Vol. 2

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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I
n this age of disposable American gluttony, Al Gore certainly should put an Energy Star seal of approval on this baby, because Sony's clearly leading the way in recycling Jeff Lynne's old catalog for the umpteenth time. Most of the cuts on this disc -- the smash hits "Do Ya," "Twilight," "Calling America," as well as lesser singles/deeper cuts like "Last Train to London" and "Secret Messages" -- already appeared on the 3-CD Flashback box earlier this decade. ELO fans who don't already own the studio albums but did get Flashback might, in theory, want this disc, in order to get the half-dozen tracks the box didn't cover, such as the title track, "Surrender," and "Moment in Paradise.

But for the most part, this recycling project doesn't bring much new to the table.

It does, however, give us another chance to evaluate ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne's legacy, now that band archivist Rob Caiger and Lynne are looking back with extensive liner notes and track-by-track annotations. Fairly or unfairly, Lynne's clear adoration of the Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour, coupled with his ongoing efforts to integrate orchestral elements into his rawk, have long tagged ELO as being a "what could have been if the Beatles had stayed together during the 1970s" experiment. Stacked up against that impossible task, you know what? He did a pretty good job.  He had enough cheesy pop in him, and facility with melody, to have a little bit of McCartney in his swagger, but his lyrics and arrangements had enough Lennonesque darkness and irony that his ELO was actually a more substantial Beatles substitute than McCartney’s own Wings. No question about it. Just listen to the arrangements – it's "I Am the Walrus" over and over and over again, and it was actually a pretty great musical trick.

His music leaned a little toward the progressive, but didn't end up in the land of Emerson Lake & Palmer excess. ELO's instrumentation and 1970s synthesizers fit Lynne's typically driving pop songs. Memorable hooks and rock riffs were the first priority in Lynne's work; none of these songs were an excuse to showcase some new keyboard laser-beam effect that sounded cool for five minutes and annoying for the next infinity.

On the negative side of the ledger, ELO does sound a touch dated, especially during cuts created in the throes of the disco era like "Last Train to London." Many Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fans who adored them when they were a snarly Southern rock band but aren’t so fond of the way they sound today – a milquetoast, spineless, emasculated adult-alternative baby boomer pop group – can't forgive Lynne's influence, which began circa Traveling Wilburys (which included Lynne and Petty) and Full Moon Fever. Otherwise perfectly good Roy Orbison and George Harrison records were polluted with the Lynne mix, fat jinga-jinga acoustic-guitar rhythm hits on quarter-note beats and layered harmonies that make otherwise distinctive vocalists like good ol' Roy all sound like the same half-working 1960s chord organ.

But hey, the ELO material itself was pretty good. If you look at Jeff Lynne's additions to the world of 1970s rock against the backdrop of all the just plain horrible music that infested the pop charts during the decade, you can do a lot worse (Bee Gees, anyone? KC and the Sunshine band?). Lynne's legacy should focus on the good stuff – he took his oeuvre as far as he could. Now if we could just undo the damage he did to the likes of Orbison and Petty, we could upgrade his life’s work to "charming and cool."

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