Review Summary: A superb breakthrough album that transformed the band and remains its magnum opus
From the opening notes of the "Eldorado Overture," it is apparent that this fourth ELO release is going places where the first three had not. Foregoing the cello assaults and muddy deluges that began the previous records, Eldorado
starts the proceedings with an orchestral ensemble that floats out of the speakers in a vivid Technicolor film score, evoking the kind of cinematic Wizard of Oz imagery that adorns the album cover. The overture segues neatly into "Can't Get It Out of My Head," an absolute gem of a single that would have made Paul McCartney proud. Along with "Mr. Blue Sky," this may be the most well-constructed A-side that guitarist/vocalist Jeff Lynne has ever recorded and is certainly one of the most compelling singles of the 1970s.
But wait, there's more. Next on the roster is "Boy Blue," which is also at its core a fairly straightforward mid-tempo rock song, yet the addition of strings to what is otherwise a basic piano rock arrangement makes all the difference between the mundane and the memorable. However, it's in the middle of the record where we find the pièce de résistance: "Mister Kingdom" begins as a basic melancholy ballad on electric piano but then ascends to a soaring crescendo, paying its respects to the Sgt. Pepper
god on the way up yet with a style that is distinctly ELO. Strange magic, indeed.
All told, Eldorado
was a dramatic leap forward for the Electric Light Orchestra, one that is all the more impressive when one compares it to the group's output from just a year earlier: The vocals are more confident, the lyrics more concise, the excesses reined in. If there had been a Most Improved Artist award for 1974, Jeff Lynne would have certainly won it hands down.
ELO took considerable risks in combining a large string section with a rock band. All too often, such orchestral-rock marriages are guilty of producing electric Muzak that is best suited for dental chairs and doctors offices. (Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra
, Yes' Time and a Word
and, for that matter, just about every album that ever paired a live rock group with an orchestral backup band show how regrettable and overbearing that these rock-symphonic combos can be.) But conductor Louis Clark, who makes his debut as an ELO sideman on this album, does a commendable job of arranging the choral and orchestral sections on Eldorado
so that they improve upon the band's work rather than diminish it.
Similarly, few rock groups have a gift for storytelling or the attention spans needed to construct a proper concept album, but ELO was able to do an acceptable job with the Eldorado
plot line. This tale of a middle-class working stiff who dreams of swapping his day job as a bank clerk for a gig with Robin Hood and his mates is not exactly primed to knock Bill Shakespeare off of his perch, but Jeff Lynne still deserves some credit for not allowing the theme to derail the music.
That isn't to say that everything works here. One of Jeff Lynne's persistent weaknesses is his adoration of 50s music. It's a style that he rarely does well, yet his insistence on revisiting (and butchering) the genre again and again would prove to be an ongoing source of dreck for both ELO and that late-80s supergroup abomination otherwise known as the Traveling Wilburys. As for Eldorado
, the best thing that can be said about the hackneyed 50s-ish "Illusions in G Major" is that it's over in less than three minutes. Lynne also flirts with aspects of traditional vocal jazz on "Nobody's Child," which is more deserving of consideration than his fifties fixation but still isn't quite good enough to avoid the "skip" button on the MP3 player.
According to ELO folklore, Jeff Lynne's earlier work was criticized by his father for its supposed lack of tunefulness, a stinging admonishment that would provoke his son to compose "Can't Get It Out of My Head" in order to prove the old man wrong. There may be something to be said for tough love, after all: Eldorado
concludes with our disenchanted bank clerk coming to terms with his fate while a choir and orchestra soar in the backdrop, a stirring homage to "The Long and Winding Road" that leaves us looking for more instead of thankful that it's finished. On the next album Face the Music
, Lynne would prove that this new and improved ELO was no fluke. (Well done, Dad!)
"Can't Get It Out of My Head", "Mister Kingdom", "Boy Blue", "Laredo Tornado", "Eldorado"
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.