[Review] Electric Light Orchestra (No Answer) (1971)

Goo goo g’joob, it’s The Move!

Kronomyth 1.0: The walrus and the electrician.

Roy Wood was a true rock ‘n roll eccentric. Jeff Lynne had an uncanny ability to replicate The Beatles at their most baroque. When the pair with fellow Move mate Bev Bevan decided to reincarnate as The Electric Light Orchestra, the result was, well, electrifying. Had the group not released another album after Wood’s departure the following year, The Electric Light Orchestra (titled No Answer in the US) would be regarded as a brilliant experiment in baroque pop that picked up where “I Am The Walrus” left off. Instead, Lynne eventually retooled the band into a hit-making machine with strings, synthesizers and just a touch of disco.

Some thought seems to have gone into the track order of the album. It opens with Jeff Lynne’s 10538 Overture, which could best be described today as a cross between “I Am The Walrus” and Cheap Trick’s “Downed” (the parallels between the two bands are sometimes striking). “10538 Overture” would go on to become the first of many hit singles for the band. Alternating between the band’s two songwriters, Wood’s Look At Me Now follows, a neat replication of “Eleanor Rigby” but with more instruments, most of which Wood played himself. The painstaking detail of multitracked strings and horns on this album has few if any precedent; The Moody Blues come to mind, but they never tried anything so sophisticated on their own. Nellie Takes Her Bow marks the formal introduction of Lynne’s Beatles fantasies, a sort of “Sexy Sadie” with an orchestral interlude. Lynne’s decision to heavily mask his vocals is something I’ve never understood, but you need to take the bad with the good I suppose, like spending a full minute peeling a mango or sucking a mango pit to get more than a palmful of fruit from it or throwing a half-eaten mango in the garbage out of frustration. The Battle of Marston Moor is bizarre even by Wood’s standards: a musical/historical re-enactment that sketches out a variety of classical themes in six minutes. It’s too bad Roy Wood and Rick Wakeman never joined forces.

Wood returns with another classically based instrumental, First Movement (Jumpin’ Biz), which sounds like a cross between Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” and, in the horn/clarinet section, The Mothers. Long before “Mr. Blue Sky” appeared, there was Mr. Radio. Merging strings, synthesizers and piano flourishes with a wonderful pop melody, “Mr. Radio” is a catchy advertisement of things to come. Bev Bevan does a great Ringo Starr impersonation on this song, too. Lynne’s Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre) is his response to Wood’s classical creations, perhaps inspired by Richard Rodgers’ “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” Queen of the Hours is the album’s hidden gem, a wonderful cross between The Kinks and The Beatles with some sweet country fiddling from Steve Woolam. (Woolam, who appears on most of the Lynne tracks, sadly committed suicide before The Electric Light Orchestra was released.) The album closes with Whisper in the Night, a strange ending that suggests Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” hijacked by an English anthem.

The Electric Light Orchestra remains a bright light in the constellation of classical rock. Neither Wood nor Lynne have ever made another album quite like it, although Lynne never completely abandoned the approach. Unfortunately, the group more or less split after this, with Wood (with Bill Hunt) forming Wizzard, while Lynne and Bevan expanded the band into a real-life (or at least real-time) orchestra. Of minor interest, you can read about the amusing origins of the album’s US title, No Answer, by visiting 10538overture.dk, a wonderful resource for ELO fans.

Original elpee version

A1. 10538 Overture (Jeff Lynne) (5:30)
A2. Look At Me Now (Roy Wood) (3:16)
A3. Nellie Takes Her Bow (Jeff Lynne) (5:58)
A4. The Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd, 1644) (Roy Wood) (6:02)
B1. First Movement (Jumpin’ Biz) (Roy Wood) (2:58)
B2. Mr. Radio (Jeff Lynne) (5:02)
B3. Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre) (Jeff Lynne) (4:21)
B4. Queen of the Hours (Jeff Lynne) (3:21)
B5. Whisper in the Night (Roy Wood) (4:48)

The Players

Bev Bevan (drums and percussion), Jeff Lynne (vocals, piano, electric guitar, percussion and bass), Roy Wood (vocals, cello, oboe, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, string bass, bassoon, clarinet, recorders, slide guitar and percussion) with Bill Hunt (French horn and hunting horn), Steve Woolam (violin). Produced by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne; engineered by Roger and Pete.

The Pictures

Sleeve by Hipgnosis. Lamp by Ingo Maurer from Habitat London.

The Product

Released on elpee on December 3, 1971 in the UK (Harvest, SHVL 797), Germany (Harvest, 1C 062-92 970), Italy (Harvest, 3C 064-92970) and Sweden (EMI/Harvest, 7C 062-92970) and in March 1972 in the US (United Artists, UAS 5573) with gatefold cover and lyrics insert; reached #32 on the UK charts and #196 on the US charts. Also released on quadraphonic elpee in 1972 in Brazil (Harvest, QHVL-1014) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-packaged with ELO II on 2-for-1 2LP in 1977 in the Netherlands (Harvest, 5C 138-52658/9).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in the Netherlands (Jet, JET LP 901) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in November 1983 in the UK (Fame, FA 4130841) and in 1983 in Mexico (EMI, SLEM-1157).
  4. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in June 1978 in the US (Jet, JZ/JZT-35524) wo. gatefold or insert.
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Jet, ZK 35524).
  6. Re-packaged with Face the Music on 2-for-1 compact disc in Russia (CD-Maximum, CDM898-163).
  7. Re-released on 40th anniversary edition elpee on March 9, 2012 in Europe (Harvest, VSHVL 797) with gatefold cover and lyrics innersleeve.

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