Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record (1976)
This is the story of a band that was ahead of their time. This is the story of a band that was never cool until their singles topped the Billboard Charts. This is the story of a breakthrough album that took five albums prior to its release to break the U.K. Top 10. This is the story of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra. Originally formed to be a bridge between pop, rock, and art rock genres, the band, comprised primarily of Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy, and Kelly Groucutt, was known for merging classical music with rock music by combining traditional western string instruments with guitars, drums, and keyboards to create an unmistakable sound that now drips 1970s nostalgia. A New World Record is the band’s fifth studio release and was the first album to break the U.K. Top 10, despite the success of the single Evil Woman on their previous release. This record spawned some of the band’s most recognizable work including Telephone Line, Livin’ Thing, and Do Ya. The band would go on to publish their sixth album, Out Of The Blue, which would be their most commercially successful.
A New World Record might be one of my favorite albums that I’ve reviewed this year. The whole record is lively, bright, uses experimental sounds and production techniques, and masterful instrumentation that meshes together so well. During a time when disco was so prevalent on the radio, ELO is a breath of fresh air that reinvented the genre in a more rock-focused direction. The disco influence is evident on this album, perhaps most strongly on So Fine, but the overall influence doesn’t detract from the album at all. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Tightrope: What I enjoy the most about Tightrope is that from the beginning of the track you know that you’re not going to be listening to a normal classic rock album. Opening on that full string orchestra is unique and sets the mood for the album. Musically, this song has everything that ELO is known for on more of a “deep cut” track. In this example, the strings are well-integrated in the accompaniment giving the song a bright sound that wouldn’t otherwise be achievable. The brightness is what scores this one so highly for me. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Telephone Line: The second track on the record is Telephone Line, released as one of the singles for the album. This is still one of those songs that is a stalwart in the band’s live sets, drawing heavily on vocal harmonies and interesting song arrangement to create depth in the song. The soft, relaxing sound of the song does the album justice considering that the majority of the songs on the record are up-tempo. Too boot, the use of an actual phone sound to separate the verses after each chorus is something that I’ve never heard done on any other song and plays spectacularly into the idea of the Telephone Line. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Rockaria!: Now this is a TRUE rock opera, or Rock Aria if you will. ELO wasn’t the only band to dabble in combining rock and opera music (Meat Loaf comes to mind immediately), but with the track coming in at just over three minutes in length I’m less inclined to call this a strict rock opera, but more so a song influenced by opera. Most of the traditional rock operas come closer to double-digit length tracks to tell their story. Having said that, the combination of rock and opera was done quite well on this song. The rock portion sounds to be influenced by classic rock and roll artists like Bill Haley (the guitar is reminiscent of early rock songs like Rock Around The Clock) and the arias interspersed throughout the song lend to an interesting song composition that keeps the rating up for me. Three 8’s in a row, the album is on a roll! Dad’s Rating 8/10
Mission (A World Record): Mission is the deep breath before we roll into four hard-charging songs. I wanted to rate this song one point lower originally because it didn’t initially strike me as particularly impressive, but on second and third listens, the spaced-out sound to the song intrigued me. The band’s decision to use a vocoder on the backing vocals to modulate them and make them sound more robotic contributes to the overall “out-of-this world” sound of the song. Dad’s Rating 7/10
So Fine: This song has been stuck in my head for 67 hours and counting and I haven’t been able to play it enough to successfully get it out. Everything just works well for me on this track; the interplay between the strings and how they almost act as the low-range for the song instead of the role a bass guitar would normally play, the heavy disco influence, and even the African drum solo in the middle! So Fine was also one of ELO’s first forays into using the new minimoog synthesizer, showcasing another instance of the progressive nature of the band. Despite the catchiness of the tune, I can’t give it full marks in good conscience because it does strike me as more pop-centric than rock-centric. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Livin’ Thing: Jeff Lynne has spoken out about the transition from So Fine into one of the band’s most well-known tracks, Livin’ Thing. To create the smooth transition, the band waited for So Fine to play into the first note of the key that Livin’ Thing is played in and then unplugged the tape machine and spliced the tape together. Livin’ Thing has audible middle-eastern influences at the end of each chorus and during the prelude that give the song a more interesting sound and juxtapose the African percussion section in So Fine. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Above The Clouds: There’s another strong transition from Livin Thing into Above The Clouds. I can’t confirm that the same technique was used on both transitions but it does sound the same. Lynne’s vocals on this track receive top marks on this, the shortest track on the album. He starts out sounding like a 1930’s bar crooner before ending the song sounding like he’s in a barbershop quartet. The spacey, ethereal synthesizer from Mission makes a return voyage on this song to make the listener really feel like they’re above the clouds. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Do Ya: With Do Ya, the band moved away from the experimental sound found elsewhere for a more traditional rock track. From the second the song opens on power chords, you know that we’re dealing with something different from the rest of the album. The string orchestra that is so forward in most of the album is relegated to a backing role in this song and I think that helps that album as a whole piece. To me, that move shows the band is capable of versatility and sharing the spotlight. There’s no abandoning of the “ELO Sound” with this track; there’s still vocal harmonies interspersed throughout the track and an odd drum break towards the end, but Do Ya acts as a great bookend on the last three songs that are the most experimental on the album. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Shangri-La: I really like Shangri-La as an example of everything I like about the band. The solos allow Tandy and Lynne to show off their musicianship on the guitar and the vocal harmonies allow Bevan to shine. No one instrument is particularly forward in a lead role on the front half of the track with the guitar and strings harmonizing well until about halfway through when the song becomes very experimental and operatic. The strings are placed as far forward as possible at this point in what may be the band’s truest “rockaria.” I can’t think of a better way to close out an album that put so much effort into combining sounds and production techniques than with a song that leads you in before surprising you right at the end. Dad’s Rating 8/10
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