ELO: Time (1981)

“Remember the good old 1980s.”

That is the first lyric in “21st Century Man.”  Not my most favorite time, certainly not for music.

Someone asked me about this album and I had to dig it out of my collection to take a listen. The 1980s sound of ELO (the Electric Light Orchestra for the purists) is not my favorite, it is a bit mechanical, plastic-sounding and void of feeling.  Time is also not much of a guitar album;ELO is more a synthesizer band now.  Time sounds more like a soundtrack to something, not an organic collection of songs.  Yes, Time is a concept album about time-travel, but is feels disjointed and synthetic.

Time is less New World Record or Out of the Blue and more like Xanadu.



From left: Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Kelly Groucutt and Richard Tandy.

So, you probably think, “This guy hates the album.”  Hate is a strong word; my feeling is more disappointed.  ELO in 1981 has embraced the current sound, heavily processed sounds, more techie synthesizers and way less guitar. Hand it to Jeff Lynne for incorporating the new synthesizer technologies into his songwriting.  Many of his songs still have the lush string sound in the background, but they are synthetic strings and do not sound like the real thing.

Rolling Stone did not like the album: “If ELO’s not careful, they’re going to end up becoming the kind of cheese that squirts out of an aerosol can.”

Allmusic. com said: “Sure, all the electronic whirrs and bleeps are present and accounted for, and Time did spawn hit singles in “Hold on Tight” and “Twilight,” but on the average, ELO had begun to get too stuck on the same structure and content of their releases.”

The point Allmusic.com made that is worth repeating, Time sounds vaguely like better songs from previous albums, just dressed up in the British synth-pop sound of the moment.

Time reached number 16 in the U.S. but did not sell in the millions like past albums.  Jeff Lynne again produced the album and wrote all the songs.

The songs

“Prologue” is a sliver of synthesized sound as a lead-in to “Twilight” with vocorder.

“Twilight” is a very ELO-like song, but I miss the strings.  It is a smartly written and produced song, an obvious single and great way to start the album.  Released as a single, but barely cracked the Top 40.

“Yours Truly, 2095” has a driving, synth-textured sound.  The processed vocals are okay.  Give it to Jeff Lynne for a skillfully programming this song, like it was built in a laboratory.

“Ticket to the Moon”  The song begins softly and changes time signature several times before settling into a mid tempo poignant song.  The vocals are quite nice, something you would expect on an ELO song.

“The Way Life’s Meant to Be” The beat of the song is a pseudo-Spanish style with acoustic guitars and castanets.  I’m not sure of the overall style, style-wise it is an odd fit with the rest of the album.

“Another Heart Breaks”  Heavy synthesized beat and texture.  I presume there are guitars in the song, but they are so processed that they do not sound like guitars.  Frankly, this song sounds like an unfinished demo.

“Rain is Falling”  This is a return to ELO melodies, as nice as anything Lynne has written.  The mix puts the instruments and layers too tightly together to really enjoy the instruments, which are mostly just processed synthesized sounds.  Technically, this song is skillfully constructed, but it feels too plastic.

“From the End of the World”  Interesting beat. The arrangement is packed with many synthesized sounds.  The vocals are almost too shrill to enjoy.

“The Lights Go Down”  A syncopated beat is nice.  The arrangement doesn’t work, especially decades later.  There is a very nice song underneath all of the synthesizer frosting.

“Here is the News”  Another heavy synthesized song.  Very early 80s.

“21st Century Man” Lynne writes some very nice melodies but he buries them in too much sound.  This song has elements of old ELO, descending scales and melancholy  vocals.  A different arrangement would have made this song a classic.  One of the better songs on the album.

“Hold On Tight”  One of ELO’s best known songs, top ten in the U.S.  I’m not crazy about most of the arrangement, but the melodic qualities of the song rise above the vamping.

“Epilogue”  A bookend to the opening of the album.

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