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On The Third Day
Electric Light Orchestra

United Artists 188
Released: December 1973
Chart Peak: #52
Weeks Charted: 24

Jeff LynneIf you liked ELO II for its weavings of familiar classical motifs through lengthy songs, On the Third Day will both please and disappoint you. If, on the other hand, you loved "Roll Over Beethoven" but thought the LP's other four songs overblown, you'll find about the same measure of pleasure here (if not more).

Although leader Jeff Lynne has said he doesn't consider ELO a singles group, their singles have outsold their albums and, like "Roll Over Beethoven," the strongest material on Third Day consists of the current single "Showdown" and the probable follow-up, "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle."

Electric Light Orchestra - On The Third Day
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"Showdown" applies their formula of thematic eclectism to pop music (instead of classical), pulling riffs from "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," an early John Mayall song called "All Your Love," and even Del Shannon's "Stranger In Town." It's a heavily produced, commerical record on a par with Stories' "Brother Louie," and the extra effort shows. It stands out here, like a refugee from some apocryphal ELO album containing ten such blockbuster tracks. It's approached only by "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle," a rather blatant plagiarism of Mott the Hoople's "Jerkin' Crocus" of recent vintage. Its pounding chords and heavy-metal blaze are somewhat out of character for ELO, although they come close to the power of the original. But they fall short, in both lyrics and delivery, in their total lack of humor about themselves and the music, a fault that may one day prove their downfall.

On the classical side, while we are spared the long minutes of exploratory riff-rock that made up more than half of ELO II, what we have is only arguably an improvement. Six-plus minutes of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" do little more to enliven side two than the song does for their live act. It's no more than the well-known Grieg theme, which has been no stranger to rock before.

"Dreaming of 4000" is, to my mind, the most effective fusion of rock and classics on the album, with a fine melody and plenty of instrumental finesse that could be trimmed to make a decent single.

The conceptual bulk of Third Day is found on side one where four songs are linked into a loose suite whose main source of inspiration seems to have been the Beatles' White Album. Beyond even the obvious resemblance of "Bluebird Is Dead" to "Dear Prudence," and "Oh No Not Susan" to "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," this entire set of songs has that same mood of wide-ranging introspective repose that characterized the latter album, and features the closest thing to delicate vocal harmonies we've heard from Jeff Lynne since his days with the Idle Race. That aside, however, we still have only a tenuously connected group of songs, as opposed to anything on the order of "Kuiama," on the last album, which used its length and the group's unique approach to music to achieve real emotional impact.

- Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone, 1-31-74.

Bonus Reviews!

Imagine someone trying to duplicate the feel of Sergeant Pepper by overdoing that album's orchestrations. Imagine further that this someone adds a touch of the eerie Manfred Mann sound of the late Sixties, and imagine still further that the someone -- named Jeff Lynne -- sings like Paul McCartney and writes as poorly as McCartney writes nowadays. That is mostly what the Electric Light Orchestra is about, but not all.

The musicians in the band are good. Three of them are excellent -- Richard Tandy (keyboards, moog), Mike Edwards (cello), and Mik Kaminski (violin). They are all at the beck and call of Lynne, who also plays guitar and produced the album. (And, by the way, I don't know whether it is to his credit or the studio engineers', but the technical sound of this album is astonishing -- it practically leaps out of the speakers.)

None of the material is memorable, but it's interesting to listen to the musicians try to prop up Lynne's wobbly songs. The best cut is ELO's version of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the second "Peer Gynt" Suite. After hearing so many rock groups play at classical music it is pleasing to hear one that actually plays it. If Lynne started writing some good material the band could be a killer.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 6/74.

The ELO's blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music. Take "New World Rising"; it's got strumming strings in tempo with the snare drum, swirling Moog effects, and a plunking cello that leads into the voices. There are sudden stops and other enervating keys to the arrangement. It's spectacular listening. There is a cogent blending of what sounds like classical oriented strings with the contemporary rhythm patterns. "Dreaming of 4000" is spectacular with its echo-framed vocal effect -- a gimmick that blends with the pizzicato and swirling strings. The musicianship is vastly superior to the vocals.

- Billboard, 1973.

ELO's sound came together here, hooked around rocked-up classics and Jeff Lynne's guitar. * * * *

- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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