Like many other successful rock bands of the seventies, ELO found that the eighties were not particularly kind to them. When Time was released in 1981, its unconventional (by ELO standards) and simplistic album cover design suggested a different ELO experience awaited the faithful follower.
Indeed, the first thought that probably came to mind was—“Where’s the orchestra?”
Whilst it is true to state that the string section was already excised from the group with the last album, Discovery, Jeff Lynne sought to take matters a step further with Time and replaced the orchestra with electronics. Not that the use of electronics was something new to ELO—witness the vocoders on Out of the Blue and Discovery—but Time was an altogether different proposition. Taking his cue from the burgeoning synth-pop scene in the UK (e.g. Gary Numan, OMD, Human League, etc.), Lynne joined the cause with such intense enthusiasm that most diehard ELO fans were shocked by the results. In essence though, Time remained a quintessential ELO album. After the fracas of the much-maligned Xanadu film (to which ELO contributed the title track sung by Olivia Newton-John and half of the soundtrack LP), the band sought to set the record straight with Time.
It did so by presenting to the rock world its second concept album, modelled structurally after its breakthrough LP, 1974’s Eldorado. This time around, the theme focused on time travel. Like Eldorado, Time contained a prologue and an epilogue, but this time the narrator was ostensibly a computer. Although there is hardly any plot to thread the various songs together, the theme remains largely intact. Futuristic references abound in “Yours Truly, 2095”, “Ticket to the Moon” ,“Here Is the News” and “21st Century Man”, but they merely embellish rather than engage. But lyrical acuity has never been Lynne’s strength.
Once again, Lynne’s melodic craft, technical expertise, production skills and encyclopaedic pop authority made Time a treasure for all true connoisseurs of classic pop music. Surprisingly, this re-issue reveals an artist ahead of his time as Time stands head-and-shoulders above the hip electro-pop records of the day. Songs like “Twilight”, “The Way Life’s Meant to Be”, “Rain Is Falling” and “21st Century Man” have indeed stood the test of time. The latter track, despite its obvious melodic debt to Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London”, finds ELO at its most gorgeously Beatlesque and has often been thought of as a tribute to John Lennon.
The three bonus tracks viz. “Bouncer”, “When Time Stood Still” and “Julie Don’t Live Here” have been previously released either as b-sides or on the earlier ELO boxset Afterglow (which Lynne despised) and it still remains a mystery why songs which were obviously written within the Time context were never on the album proper the first time out.
Suffice to say, their inclusion on this expanded version of Time only strengthens the continuing rehabilitation of this album as one of the finest of the eighties.
// Notes from the Road
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