ELO were the first band I truly loved. In 1978 I was 10 years old and Out Of The Blue was the album of the year. At the time it was seen as a magnum opus, not least because it was a double album (although not really much longer than an average CD these days), it came in blue vinyl, it had a gatefold sleeve, a free poster and a stencil kit of a spaceship. What more could a 10 year old want from a record?
36 years on, Out Of The Blue is still one hell of an album. Obviously there are flaws – Jeff Lynne was never the most profound of lyricists, and there are a couple of filler tracks you can’t help thinking were included to ensure there was enough to make it a double – but, along with the preceding LP A New World Record, Out Of The Blue marked a point for the band where the balance of orchestral pomp and catchy melody was perfectly judged (Mr Blue Sky, which it’s been lovely to hear increasingly frequently on the radio in recent years, is an object example). Earlier albums had been overly experimental, subsequent ones overly simplistic. Face The Music belongs in the former camp, opening with a near six minute instrumental, mistakenly giving two lead vocals to bass player Kelly Groucutt, and even including a practically country track. But there are signs of the greatness to come, notably in Evil Woman and Strange Magic.
The last time I saw Jeff Lynne was a couple of years back in a documentary about him on BBC4, which was followed by a half hour set of him singing old ELO songs with their original keyboard player Richard Tandy. The shaggy mane of hair was identical, and while the trademark sunglasses undoubtedly helped, he looked a good 15 years younger than his actual age. More remarkably, he sounded it too – his vocals were practically indistinguishable from ones he’d recorded decades earlier.