By 1978, riding on the back of two successive multi-platinum-selling albums viz. A New World Record and the double-platter Out of the Blue, the Electric Light Orchestra was the biggest rock band on the planet. The epic, orchestral pop sound that had earned the band its phenomenal success was in the process of being remade and remodeled by leader Jeff Lynne.
Scaling back somewhat from the heavy, multi-layered, over-produced Out of the Blue, the band would deliver perhaps their poppiest, most overtly commercial album, Discovery. This new direction was immediately evident in the fact that the strings section had been dispensed with, leaving the core of ELO quartet down to Lynne (vocals, guitars); Bev Bevan (drums), Richard Tandy (keyboards) and Kelly Groucutt (bass).
Lynne also elected to lead off each side of the album with his own attempts at the much maligned disco music (hence the wordplay on the title, Disco very!). Lynne treated these songs (“Shine a Little Love” and “Last Train to London”) as a challenge to write his familiar hook laden songs within the restrictive disco rhythm format. Lynne and the band achieve this with aplomb—Beatlesque ditties set to the sound of the times and perhaps apart from the Bee Gees’ own material, the only listenable songs from this risible genre.
However, these songs have tainted Discovery with the backlash that inevitably followed disco in the years following. This is a gross injustice. Discovery is probably one of the finest examples of making a commercial record without compromising artistic pop values. A brilliant amalgam of sixties pop craft, cutting edge technology, compelling melodies and Spectoresque production flair, Discovery succeeds further by its sheer economy and acuity. Nothing is redundant or superfluous or unnecessary to the enjoyment of the material. Apart from the above mentioned disco-fied workouts, the sophisticated albeit heartfelt ballads “Need Her Love” and “Midnight Blue” prove that banality need not be part of the equation, especially with the latter’s uncanny evocation of Roy Orbison. Elsewhere, the light-hearted vitality of “Wishing”, “On the Run”, and “Confusion” do what great pop does best—put a smile on one’s face whilst “The Diary of Horace Wimp” is essentially a improved rewrite of the previous album’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and the unambiguous rockout of “Don’t Bring Me Down” distill the intense relevance of the Beatles influence better than a million Oasises.
Unfortunately, due probably to the high quality of the album itself, good outtakes were difficult to come by, hence the rather inferior nature of this reissue’s ‘bonus’ tracks. As if the inconsequential demo of “On the Run” and unremarkable cover of Del Shannon’s “Little Town Flirt” are not disappointing enough, a demo of the unfinished “Second Time Around” is included, a sparkling piece that ends all too soon. Surely, Lynne should consider completing this tune in the way he did similar cases on the Flashback set.
A pop classic whichever way you look at it, it is about time that Discovery gets its due recognition.
// Notes from the Road
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