Electric Light Orchestra: Flashback

Electric Light Orchestra: Flashback

On paper, Electric Light Orchestra reads like one of the worst ideas in music history: Combine brazenly copped Beatles-esque pop with bombastic orchestration, then unify the concept with a science-fiction theme. In practice, ELO is almost magically more palatable. Always more of a singles band than a consistent album artist, the group generally benefits from the compilation treatment, but the new three-disc Flashback box holds up well for the work of a '70s relic. The incentive for any formula is continued success, and for a while, ELO's formula couldn't have worked better. Over the course of about a decade, the band racked up a whopping 20 Top 40 hits that established leader Jeff Lynne as a multifaceted creative and commercial force, especially as sanctioned by his post-ELO work with the likes of Traveling Wilburys, George Harrison, and eventually (and improbably) the reunited Beatles. Flashback's liner notes are quick to point out that even Randy Newman, who famously ribbed the group in his sarcastic "The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band," eventually enlisted Lynne as a producer. The box set collects the usual ephemera, including unreleased demos and alternate versions of songs such as "Mama" and "Xanadu," respectively, but the real fun is in all those key singles and album tracks. The ubiquitous classic-rock staples ("Strange Magic," "Can't Get It Out Of My Head," "Evil Woman," "Mr. Blue Sky," "Telephone Line," "Sweet Talkin' Woman," and the cheesy pop utopia of "Don't Bring Me Down"), for better or worse, sound like what The Beatles probably would have come up with had the group lasted longer. Throw in key album tracks ("10538 Overture," "Showdown," "Do Ya," "It's Over"), and there's almost enough quality to carry the whole collection. Admittedly, once the '80s roll around, ELO's dated material sounds more shameful than shameless, despite the occasional ringer like "Hold On Tight" or "Xanadu." But by and large, Flashback feels definitive, its good-natured and high-spirited AOR, in true '70s fashion, offering immediate gratification.

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