Electric Light Orchestra
United Artists 339
Released: September 1974
Chart Peak: #16
Weeks Charted: 32
Certified Gold: 5/5/75
The Electric Light Orchestra has sometimes swamped itself in grandiose conceptions, and Eldorado (A Symphony) sounds like a prime opportunity to do it again. But thanks to strong original songs, Eldorado emerges as something of a triumph for the group.
ELO has its own amplified string section and is augmented here by full orchestra and chorus. The orchestral interludes are not oppressive (except for the pompous prologue), and generally range from mildly pleasant to merely irrelevant. The heavy strings and choral backings, though not to my personal taste, serve as effective filters, enhancing the dreamlike atmosphere of composer Jeff Lynne's story line.
The concept here is an updated "Miniver Cheevy" of sorts about your workaday dreamer longing for the stuff of legend. The tracks alternately depict Lynne's '74 Cheevy striving to escape his mundane existence, and dreaming heroic dreams. Nothing profound, but excellent grist for a strong suite of songs.
- Ken Barnes, Rolling Stone, 1-2-75.
Ah yes, the concept album. The sure sign that a band has its trip together, that all conflicts have been resolved and that only the highest artistic achievements will be released to those sensitive and perceptive enough to enjoy them.
Erk erk. Which is to say that if you'll swallow that, you're either Linda Lovelace or Ron Ziegler. Also to say that yes indeed, Eldorado is another of the dreaded species, a Symphony with a real Orchestra.
But how dreaded can it be, for ELO's fearless leader, Jeff Lynne, is first and foremost a master of pop; the classical nature of the band has, in the past, been of secondary importance. Surely he wouldn't reject previous glories for a new sound, all pomp and no stomp, would he?
Nope, but he really hasn't learned how to integrate them yet, either. The humorous, belly-button, oranged cello part of ELO exists side-by-side with the pseudo-profound verse and the oh-so-sincere vocals. Thus we get lines speaking of "the universal dreamer" and eternal life along with the delightfully ludicrous boast, "I have fought in the holiest wars/I have smashed some of the holiest jaws." It's like Lynne occasionally likes to puncture his pretensions but it makes you wonder which came first, the pin or the balloon.
The underlying concept for the album comes straight from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow": the main character spends most of his time either daydreaming or wishing he could. His fantasies are the usual ones -- Robin Hood, Lancelot, the Old West -- and they function to allow him to escape his "corridors of endless gloom."
A bit overdone, you might say, but that's mainly because the lyric sheet calls so much attention to the words. Using a little selective perception, you can ignore any of that and just enjoy Eldorado as a fine collection of skillfully orchestrated pop tunes.
And yes, the orchestrations are pretty amazing. Arrangements are credited to Lynne, keyboard player Richard Tandy, and conductor Louis Clark and the orchestral parts work mainly as extensions of the band; chugging cellos, swirling violins, and brass fanfares are the order of the day. The distance between group and orchestra which usually mars team-ups of this nature doesn't occur on Eldorado.
As you might have guessed, the album is heavy on ballads; Lynne displays a feel for melody in songs like "Mister Kingdom" and "Eldorado" that would make a Bee Gee blush in envy. On the other hand, he continues to ration his rock 'n' roll as if it were a scarce, precious commodity. Only "Illusions in G Major," in which the main character tells his analyst "It's all good entertainment and it doesn't cost a penny," really rocks out; "Poor Boy" and "Boy Blue" are both catchy, upbeat pop numbers but they ain't rock'n'roll.
I guess it all comes down (as it usually does) to accepting the music for what it is. If the idea of hearing ELO embellish its songs with tastily-done orchestrations appeals to you, then Eldorado may end up being one of your favorite albums. If, however, you'd prefer some extensions of "Do Ya," well, maybe next time.
- Michael Davis, Phonograph Record, 11-74.
One of the first bands to successfully combine the rock instrument/classical format formula is back again with another fine effort, this one a symphony penned by leader Jeff Lynne. ELO's strong point has always been the ability to match rock and classical without overstating either one. Taste has always been their forte, and here, with a soft, melodic sound reminiscent of some of the best of the Sgt. Pepper Beatles period, they have come up with what is probably the finest set of their careers. Vocals and instrumentals fit perfectly together, and the songs may be enjoyed equally as separate entities or as part of a total concept. Watch for immediate FM response. Best cuts: "Can't Get It Out Of My Head," "Laredo Tornado," "Mister Kingdom," "Illusions In G Major."
- Billboard, 1974.
Pretentious pseudo-concept rock with some hot old-style rock & roll grace notes. * * * *
- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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