Electric Light Orchestra

Epic, 1979

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Is it Discovery or the anagram equivalent Very Disco?  That must have been the question Electric Light Orchestra fans must have been asking themselves back in the K-Tel days of 1979.

Turns out that while this was a slight departure from the band’s typical formulaic sound, it was a gamble that proved to be successful. This is definitely one of the those albums that takes a few spins to fully sink in, which is pretty strange considering this is one of ELO’s most mainstream efforts. Each song is easy to digest on the surface, but when taken together, its probably the densest material the group has ever recorded. 

In fact, most of the singles released from Discovery are among the most forgotten in the band’s catalog - “Confusion?” “Last Train To London?” “Shine A Little Love?” Anyone? Bueller?

The one hit that more than made up for those lackluster songs is “Don’t Bring Me Down.”  Not only did it outperform the others on the charts (going all the way to #4), but it became their biggest hit of their career. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is the hardest-hitting rocker the band had attempted, seemingly sounding as if it was to be their greatest achievement;  the thunderous, foot-stomping track is where all the individual pieces of the band came together in the best possible way, showing the rock world what ELO was capable of. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For those uninitiated in the world of music (as I was back in 1979), Discovery can be seen as a very appropriate album title. Hell, back then I didn’t know that other groups existed beyond the Osmonds! While the Discovery album may have not set the world on fire by any means (barely cracking the Top 5), it did help Electric Light Orchestra to cement its position as one of the most popular acts of the decade. With the ever-present blend of strings and keyboards, Discovery was the most overt attempt to be as radio-friendly as possible.

Aside from the fact that “Shine A Little Love” and “Last Train To London” are virtual carbon copies of each other, the album captured the mainstream flavor of the disco era without causing their fans to scream “sell out!” in the process. If Tony Manero ever decided to ditch New York for London, “Last Train To London” would surely be his theme song.

Jeff Lynne’s distinctive and underrated voice is showcased best on the several ballads that can be found on Discovery: “Need Her Love,” “Midnight Blue” and “Wishing.”  These heartbreaking tunes provide a nice balance to songs like “Don’t Bring Me Down” and the delightful story song “Diary Of Horace Wimp,” which is about a hapless chap who doesn’t have much luck with the ladies. 

Wrongly dismissed as “synthetic schmaltz,” ELO has some of the strongest melodies you will ever lay your ears on.  Real songs (which are all but extinct in these underwhelming days of hip-hop) are what talented musicians like Jeff Lynne live for. If there is one album that says, “Look out 1980s, here we come,” this is it.

To paraphrase good ol’ Horace Wimp, “Don’t be afraid…just knock on the door.” The Electric Light Orchestra will always be there waiting for you.

Rating: B

User Rating: C-



© 2006 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.