Reprise 1990 / Frontiers 2013
ELO ringmaster’s humble attempt to escape from the orchestra pitfall, with another runaway and a Beatle for a company.
His band effectively over in 1986, Jeff Lynne swiftly found himself in a producer’s chair for George Harrison’s “Clound Nine” and, subsequently, a part of TRAVELING WILBURYS. The supergroup configuration might massage his ego yet left not a lot of creative space for the artist who used to write on his own. Cue this, Jeff’s solo debut, its title suggesting a different sort of show, even though Lynne’s artificial laziness didn’t veer beyond three covers, including autumnal warm perennials “Stormy Weather” and “September Song” that throw a bridge to the album’s follow-up, “Long Wave” from 2012, alongside pieces seemingly composed for his fellow travelers.
With “Blown Away” co-penned with Tom Petty and sounding, with Del Shannon’s support, not unlike the former’s ballad fare, Jeff also tries the guises of Bob Dylan on the insipid folk “Save Me Now,” and of Roy Orbison whose voice he imitates in the mellifluous flow of “Don’t Say Goodbye.” For the rest of it, Lynne adopts a rougher approach than usual adding vocal grit to opener “Every Little Thing” to contrast, together with Jim Horn’s sax, Michael Kamen’s strings arrangement and Harrison’s easily recognizable slide-kissed licks, also present on three other tracks, although the rockabilly of Jesse Stone’s “Don’t Let Go” is somehow marred by ELO’s typical choral tics. As a result, “Now You’re Gone” stands out thanks its Eastern texture, mesmerizing piano line and moving percussion, and the countrified bonus B-side “Borderline” feels more lively than most of the preceding songs, as does the previously unreleased anthem “Forecast” which perfectly reflects the album’s title and, judging by the coda, could serve as its alternative finale.
It wasn’t – inasmuch as “Armchair Theatre” failed to shape its original intent and still shows that Jeff Lynne’s talent works the best in the collective frame of mind, even if he’s in the army of one, snug in his plush place.