More electric than orchestral, the Captain’s charmless revision of the mothership’s logbook.
That might well be a nadir of Jeff Lynne’s latter-day exploitation of his old band’s name: a re-recording of ELO’s well-known moments in a solo, with a minimal contribution from his sidekicks, mode. What he aimed at was to enhance the classics which, supposedly, didn’t reflect Lynne’s original sonic vision, even though they’re dear to the heart of those millions who made Jeff such a prominent figure and stuffed his bank account with figures big enough for fans to accept his new enterprise on purely creative terms as opposed to cashing in on the familiar stuff. Given the veteran’s slight stream of fresh material over the last decade, culminating in 2012’s oldies set "Long Wave", the artist’s attempt to change the past – one has to look under the hood to see “Mr. Blue Sky” holds no original tape – smells of laziness, yet at the same time it underlines the songs’ strength.
In the absence of violins and cellos, and with a toned-down choral coda, the title track becomes punchier, but “10538 Overture” gets flattened. More so, “Strange Magic” loses the gist of its title together with those little guitar curlicues that make it arrangement so special, as does “Don’t Bring Me Down” devoid of small swirls on organ and a tad hollow as a result, while no amount of drumming effort from Lynne can match Bev Bevan’s reserved beat. Jeff’s voice deeper now, the pieces become more soulful, though, whereas the same approach, with lead vocal to the fore and a four-string opulence embossed more than ever, drags “Showdown” back to its “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” origin. Sucking off ELO’s regular saccharine adds heaviness to the Dylanism of “Do Ya” and renders “Livin’ Thing” tight, if no less vaudeville-smoked, and the modernization works well for “Evil Woman” too, stripping it of disco glitz in synthesizer and bows departments in favor of driving piano, yet in “Telephone Line” changes are barely detectable which makes one question the point of it all.
The answer to it lies in the previously unreleased “Point Of No Return” from the late Noughties: that’s where the classic expanse comes back in. If only Jeff Lynne collected all the bits and pieces scattered around his recent releases as bonuses, he wouldn’t need to commit a crime of trying to undermine ELO’s canon. These songs are so good that even their creator shouldn’t meddle with them, although as starting point for today’s listener new cuts might be good.