Review Summary: And the beat goes on. Someone should make it stop.
It's not unusual for once-successful rock musicians to fizzle out over time. A good idea or two catapults them to the top, after which they recycle that idea as best as they can with decreasing degrees of success until their audiences grow tired of it and move on. But that wasn't good enough for ELO's leader and creative center Jeff Lynne: He decided to burn out instead of fading away, swan diving off of a cliff into a musical cesspool entitled Discovery
. This eighth ELO studio release is so breathtakingly cynical and unabashedly lightweight that it's almost offensive to listen to it.
, as it is often nicknamed, isn't shy about its formulaic approach to songcraft. More like manufacturing than art, this album could have been concocted in a laboratory or industrial kitchen with the use of a standard recipe:
- Begin with a vat of chemical artificial sweetener. Add shimmering keyboards and other toxic substances to create a large quantity of offensive goo. Stir goo until bland.
- Set aside a few portions of the goo. To these, add uptempo disco beat, disco strings and disco effects to prepare servings of "Shine a Little Love", "Last Train to London" and "On the Run"
- Blend another portion of the goo with a heavily-diluted bucket of pre-packaged Beatles/ Wings/Admiral Halsey Mixture™, then half-bake to create "The Diary of Horace Wimp"
- Reduce tempo of two more portions of goo, triple the recipe of the chemical sweetener and add painfully sappy vocals and lyrics to yield sluggish batches of "Need Her Love" and "Midnight Blue"
- Add mid-tempo sickly sugary pop beat to another portion of the goo to produce one serving of "Confusion"
- Dump remaining goo onto floor, add large obnoxious beat and redundant guitar riff to make "Don't Bring Me Down" (Gruss!)
To add insult to insult, Discovery
also made it official that the Electric Light Orchestra was no longer an orchestra: ELO had been reduced to a four-piece conventional band without a string section. (In practice, the string trio had been largely relegated to live tour duty since Eldorado
, but the players had been given full credit on the previous recordings.) The vision of a band that could emulate "I Am the Walrus" was dead and buried, with the new ELO having more in common with Olivia Newton-John than the Fab Four.
would also contribute an intrusive, persistent and redundant beat to Jeff Lynne's musical vocabulary. This monotonous device that is most notable here on "Don't Bring Me Down" has since become a ubiquitous part of Lynne's repertoire, permeating virtually everything that he has written or produced ever since. The big drum track would even find its way onto the Beatles Anthology
reunion tracks "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love", as well as to the Traveling Wilburys. Bad habits really are hard to break.
But in some respects, it may be unfair to indict this record as some kind of disco abomination, for Discovery
also does not compare well to disco albums of this period. This reviewer does not claim to be a fan or scholar of the disco genre, but Michael Jackson's Off the Wall
, Chic's Risque
and Donna Summer's Bad Girls
are a few examples of albums released around this time that serve as far superior representations of this style of music. Just as Jeff Lynne's previous attempts at hard rock were unconvincing and plastic, his interpretations of disco are likewise limited to a redundant beat and effete vocals while he misses whatever soul and funk influences that had shaped the genre.
That makes Discovery
a rather special record, for it borrows from both disco and pop while managing to dredge up the very worst of both. The discovery here is that Jeff Lynne had reached the end of his creative run -- the band that had been capable of producing the monument to pop music that was Out of the Blue
just two years earlier had disappeared without a trace. As it turns out, this was not a momentary lapse of reason, as more of the same sort of bubblegum was destined to appear on the Xanadu
movie soundtrack, while ELO's next full album Time
would offer only a modest improvement.
Author's note/ shameless plug: This is one part of my ongoing series of reviews of most of ELO's original studio releases, with albums reviewed in chronological order. If you found this commentary to be somewhat informative, interesting, intriguing, intelligent, indefensible, insufferable, infuriating, incoherent, inane, incomprehensible or insulting, or if you just want to take pity on a guy who is masochistic enough to write these things, then please take a look at the other reviews and add your own thoughts. Thanks.