The return to credibility of Jeff Lynne’s ELO is proof that, with time, everything comes back into fashion. Through the ’70s, ELO’s sumptuously-assembled pop symphonies were derided as The Beatles on steroids – musically overwrought, excessively earnest in tone and lyrics and accompanied by ridiculous sci-fi sleeve art.
But tastes have changed and Lynne, for so long looked down upon as a crasser Paul McCartney, is increasingly lauded as a pop visionary. Whatever other factors may be at work, he certainly hasn’t clawed his way back into public affections through pandering – the first collection of new ELO material in 14 years cleaves rigorously to all of the band’s hallmarks (Lynne is the only original member to feature). These include troweled on string-sections, ballads that seem to last an age and – what a relief – a picture of a UFO on the cover.
Such trappings might have felt like window dressing had the project lacked the material to match Lynn’s outsized ambitions.
Yet Alone In The Universe delivers a perfect payload of big pop moments, with opener ‘When I Was A Boy’ calling to mind ‘Let It Be’-era Beatles spliced with Coldplay while the funky guitar line on ‘Love’ and ‘Rain’ suggests a Vulcan mind-melding of Eric Clapton and mid seventies funk (the biggest surprise that they go so well together).
Florid and free-wheeling, it is extraordinary to think that this collection was actually written and recorded in the 21st century. Everything screams “vintage”, from Lynne’s ragged, old school delivery to the air of whiskery excess that characterises the arrangements. Alone In The Universe glances endlessly over its shoulder and has absolutely no interest in the future. You suspect that Lynn – and an overwhelming majority of ELO fans – would not have it any other way.