When this album came out I was 7 years old, and my favorite bands (in order) were The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Bee Gees, Styx, and yes, the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). And you know what? I still love this album. After all, group leader Jeff Lynne (a Beatles fanatic) writes extremely catchy, strings-drenched melodies that are matched to his equally pleasant voice and drummer Bev Bevan's big beat. And though I really like several of their other albums as well, most of them through 1981's Time in fact (if to varying degrees), to me this is the one that best showcased Lynne’s genius ability to dress up supremely catchy pop rock melodies with elaborate “symphonic” arrangements (gone are the more “prog” tendencies of their earlier albums though not to the music’s detriment). The album begins with probably my two favorite ELO songs, in fact two of my all-time favorite songs, period. "Tightrope" is one of those special album tracks that makes this band much more than the great singles band they're often touted as being (they are that, but they're more than just that). This tune starts with a synth swoosh and then comes some of the band’s trademark dramatic strings. After that not-so-ominous buildup and some operatic chants, the song starts in earnest with hooky guitar riffs and a galloping groove. As usual the simplistic lyrics aren’t really the point, the point is how Jeff Lynne piles hooks on top of hooks; I mean, how can you not love those catchy “hey hey hey” vocals? Some of the song's attributes repeat themselves: futuristic synths, scratchy strings, operatic chants, and Lynne’s smooth lead vocals, for example, but the end result is never less than utterly delightful despite the datedness of the track (few bands scream 1970s! quite like prime ELO, but their cheesiness doesn't bother me because they're so much fun). "Telephone Line" is simply one of my favorite ballads ever, as it's so sad, affecting, and relatable yet so catchy and singable. "Rockaria!" effectively combines opera, classical music, and (mostly) Chuck Berry inspired rock n' roll, while the mellow title track (actually titled "Mission (A New World Record)") is less memorable and a bit funky but also quite lovely. "So Fine" is another catchy album track with ridiculously catchy if somewhat cartoonish backing vocals, streamlined riffs, strings (of course), and an almost disco-y groove, while "Livin' Thing" was the album's biggest hit along with "Telephone Line" and for good reason; this song simply delivers more great pop rock with classical elements. "Above The Clouds" is merely a pleasantly short filler, before "Do Ya" updates and in my opinion improves upon an old Move song (Lynne's excellent prior band with Roy Wood). It's easy to see why this one became another hit and popular classic rock radio track, as I like Lynne's gruffer vocals (which had also appeared on "Rockaria!") here, the vocal hooks are undeniable, and the riffs rule and the song simply ROCKS. Finally, the stellar "Shangri-La" is a big singable ballad whose lyrics make me nostalgic for The Beatles, which isn't surprising given that ELO were so Beatles-influenced in the first place (more McCartney than Lennon). This is an (almost) all killer, no filler album that at the very least is a minor classic of its type.
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