Face the Music – Electric Light Orchestra

Face the Music

Electric Light Orchestra

United Artists Records / Jet Records / Columbia Records

1975

Electric Light Orchestra (which I think I’m going to abbreviate as the commonly accepted ELO from now on – because I’m lazy) is one of the numerous bands hailed as the next Beatles.  Of course, this never came true, and in fact, ELO doesn’t normally cross one’s mind when discussing great classic rock bands.  Jeff Lynne and company instead seem to be relegated to B-status in the history of classic rock.  Sorry, that was a mixed analogy.  Let me try again: they seem to be relegated to a footnote in the history of classic rock.

Whether this is deserved or not is entirely up to you, the reader.  They’ve created some amazing songs: “Do Ya,” “Mr. Blue Sky,” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.”  However, they’ve also produced some pure crap: mostly everything on No Review.  Luckily, Face the Music, the band’s fifth album falls under the first category.  Clocking in at only eight songs, the album is full of original, ear-catching songs.  Lynne uses the “Orchestra” part of his band fully, bringing their power onto songs; this pushes these tracks into their full potential.  Although it’s a quick album, each song is highly entertaining and will appeal to any listener with a sense of melody.

The album opener “Fire on High” is a strange, but awesome mainly instrumental.  I’ll admit that as a child this song scared the hell out of me.  The opening is creepy with random noises over quietish strings.  The backwards voice thrown in doesn’t help matters at all (OMG SPOILERZ ALERT: apparently when played backward, they’re saying “The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.”).  Not to mention “Hallelujah’s” being sung over chaotic neuroses.  Anytime religious undertones are used automatically adds another layer on intensity.  After building up this fear in my 12-year-old self (ok, even now it creeps me the hell out), the song finally begins – orchestra, drums, keyboards and all.  Without any words, it serves as an introduction to the album, and a fine one at that.  It’s very well put together, not boring at any part.

“Waterfall” is a delicate, beautiful piece.  The quiet opening gives way to a piano driven verse sung tenderly by Jeff Lynne.  The drum fills between parts are ecstasy-filled, yet Bev Bevan doesn’t overtake the song.  During the chorus, the strings and the background vocals serve as a countering to the lead vocals, creating an alluring effect.  Indeed, the song does sound very Beatleesque; a cross between McCartney and Harrison. 

The third song was one of the two singles off of the album.  “Evil Woman” of course, is one of ELO’s most well-known songs.  Again, the piano is a major instrument, being backed up by funk / disco guitar chords.  It’s a very recognizable song that was a perfect choice as a single.  And how can I not mention how cool the guitar licks between the repetition “E-e-vil woman” are?  Despite all of this, the song lacks something to make it great; maybe it’s just because I’ve heard the song a thousand times, but it grows boring after a while.

“Nightrider” on the other hand has always piqued my interest.  The orchestra below Lynne’s voice in the verse always sounds interesting; each instrument has its own separate part.  Then, when the song jumps into the bridge – and again into the chorus – it’s as if a whole new song has started.  That’s one reason I love this song.  It’s so peculiar, almost as if it were several different ideas thrown into one.

“Poker” for some reason has never stuck out for me.  Listening to it at the moment that I type this sentence, I don’t remember how it goes at all.  It’s an uptempo rocker with guitars bashing out as loud as possible.  The keyboard is going at an insane speed, which is really impressive.  The verse doesn’t sound very melodic, however.  That’s probably why I don’t remember the song.  I always associate charming, singable tunes with ELO.  When a song like this creeps into their repertoire, it’s easily forgettable because of that reason.  Even the slower part that’s introduced does nothing for the song.  It’s not like the song is unlistenable, just kind of lame.

However, the brilliant “Strange Magic” comes in next.  It’s a highly repetitive song, but so amazing.  It’s another beautifully rendered track.  Lynne barely exhales his lead singing, opting for a reserved vocal.  This lends more power to the track, rather than having him belt the song out.  The music uses a phasing effect, which normally is a hit-or-miss cheesy idea.  But it works here.  The ending involves numerous vocal lines over one another, each one fantastic: “Strange magic, oh what a […],” the “la-la” part, and the female “Stra-a-ange magic.”  The chorus is so catchy, one can have this song stuck in their head just thinking about the title.  Try it.  You can thank me or hate me later.

The last two songs don’t live up to the standard set up by “Strange Magic” and the first four songs on the album.  “Down Home Town” is a countryish tune, featuring an annoying twang during the verses.  And, sorry, but if you’re gonna try country, don’t add an orchestra into the song.  It doesn’t work.  At all.  Maybe like one fiddle or violin or cello.  But not the whole string-section you have backing you up.  It turns out to be more annoying than a falsified twang that you added on to your voice.  And just as annoying as the fake “Dixie” part you throw in.  Really, I’m disappointed.  Some of the song is kind of catchy, but you’ll feel guilty by even thinking too hard about this dreadful drudge.  So, I’ll gladly move on now.

The last song is “One Summer Dream.”  You know, I don’t remember this song too much, and I’m not sure why.  It doesn’t sound horrible.  I think it may solely be the fact that it isn’t as good as most of the rest of the album.  The drums are very powerful, and the twelve-string acoustic guitar is a nice touch.  However, it’s an unintersting, flat piece.  As the last song, it doesn’t have the competency needed to conclude the record.  It’s focus is never really acknowledged.  That being said, it would’ve been better in the middle of the album, for it’s not a bad song by any means.  And coming after “Down Home Town” it’s a breath of fresh air.

Yes, there are three songs on Face the Music that aren’t great.  However, the rest of the album has songs that are so amazing, that they make up for those that are lacking.  The idea of an orchestra within the confines of a rock band has always appealed to me.  I’m not sure that Electric Light Orchestra uses this aspect to its full potential; certainly many other bands have done more with this idea.  But ELO was one of the firsts to try the idea, and for the most part Face the Music allows the strings to develop these songs even further.  Despite a few setbacks, it’s an album wholly deserving of at least one listen.  Some of these songs will creep into your favorites easily.

Buy This Album

Official Site

Last.fm Page

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