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New album by Jeff Lynne’s ELO has a sterling sound

The album “Alone in the Universe” features 10 sterling examples of the latter-day ELO sound, with each song sounding like a potential classic rock hit.

"Alone in the Universe"
Columbia (CD)


4 Stars

By John Borack

The music — and production style — of Jeff Lynne and ELO has long been something of a love/hate proposition for many, with not much of a middle ground. Fans laud his facility in crafting memorable melodies with a dense, thickly-layered sound, while detractors point to that same sound (particularly from the ‘80s onward), with its stacks of vocal harmonies and compressed snare drum sound, as being samey and annoying. Lynne’s had the last laugh, of course, successfully producing high profile artists such as Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson, The Beatles (their two “new” Anthology tracks from the mid-‘90s) and, most recently, Bryan Adams.

Now he’s back with his first album of original material since 2001, under the moniker Jeff Lynne’s ELO. “Alone in the Universe” features 10 sterling examples (12 on the deluxe version) of the latter-day ELO sound, with each song sounding like a potential classic rock hit, production style be damned. The days of “Fire on High” and “10538 Overture” are long gone, replaced by a sleek, get-to-the-point batch of pop ditties that Lynne performs all by his lonesome. It’s a wonderfully consistent DIY effort that proves without a shadow of a doubt that Jeff Lynne’s still got it; at 67-years-old, the man hasn’t lost a step.

The leadoff track, the sweetly nostalgic “When I Was a Boy,” begins with a quiet, “Imagine”-inspired keyboard figure and a longing lead vocal, then takes off into the stratosphere with one of Lynne’s patented delicious melodies supported by some subtle synth strings and a compact lead guitar solo. It’s definitely one of 2015’s greatest bits of ear candy. Other high water marks — and there are many, to be sure — include “Love and Rain” (a distinct “Showdown” vibe going on here), the peppy “Ain’t it a Drag” (with a little vocal nod to fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty in the first verse), and the loving, melodramatic Roy Orbison pastiche “I’m Leaving You” (which, in a bit of sequencing irony, is preceded by the heartfelt, beautifully sung love song “All My Life”). “Dirty to the Bone” is another ridiculously catchy radio-friendly number, while the bonus tracks on the deluxe version — the Everly Brothers/Ricky Nelson-like rockabilly bopper “Fault Line” and an early ‘60s-influenced charmer titled “Blue” — are both nearly as good as anything on the album proper. Welcome back, Jeff.