Electric Light Orchestra

Jet Records, 1981


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


It is really quite fascinating to make one’s way through the Electric Light Orchestra discography, because they are truly one of the all time cases of a band where things kept building and building until it got to a point where there was little to no room left to grow. Jeff Lynne spent the majority of the ‘70s fine-tuning his approach to the ELO concept, with the best results appearing in the form of A New World Record and Out Of The Blue. From that point on, it was difficult to get a bead on just what Lynne had in mind for his group.

In some instances, it was clear that the musical trends of the time had too much of an influence on Lynne (Discovery being the prime example), and after a certain point, ELO’s formerly pristine sound was buried under muddled production and lacked those stellar hooks of their mid ‘70s prime. With that said, there are still worthwhile moments to explore in the ‘80s output from Lynne and Co., and 1981’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Time is the best of the lot.

To be perfectly honest, the fact that Time is the last concept album of the ELO discography doesn’t have a tremendous impact on the quality of the record in one direction or the other. The general premise is a man from the present day finding himself transported to the year 2095 and dealing with the struggles such a situation would create. The story itself is paper-thin, and prone to cliché ridden lyrics such as “Remember the good old 1980s, when things were so uncomplicated.” The Wall, this album is not.

While the concept component of the album fails to make a meaningful contribution, the music itself picks up the slack. From a song-by-song standpoint, Time is the last “complete” album from ELO until 2001’s Zoom. I would even argue that the best material on the record comes from the non-single performances; showing that Lynne was not yet running on empty; there was a little left in the tank. The rockabilly “Hold On Tight” made it into the top ten in both the US and UK, but the reggae-styled “The Lights Go Down” and New Wave attempts of “Yours Truly, 2095” are far more interesting choices.

Beyond the attempts at thinking outside the box, there are a few instances of Lynne doing what he does best: ripping off The Beatles. I say that with all due respect, because truthfully no one has been able to do that better than Lynne and his full on embrace of the Fab Four comes off as 100% genuine. “Rain Is Falling” and “21st Century Man” encapsulate the Lennon/McCartney partnership; the former with its Lennon-styled chord progressions and vocal phrasings and the latter with McCartney’s folksy whimsy. There’s a line from Duke Egbert’s review of Zoom that has stuck with me for many years: “If the Beatles had lasted, they would have become either ELO or the Alan Parsons Project.” Looking back, I think we can deduce it would have been the former.

Time is one of those pleasant surprises, in that it's an album that defies the expectations. It is most certainly not one of ELO’s central records that defined them as a group, but given the direction of the band post-Out Of The Blue, it is able to provide a handful of moments that reinforce their strengths. With ELO experiencing a small bit of cultural resonance yet again, Time is worth its title.

Rating: B

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