PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Jeff Lynne: Armchair Theatre (Deluxe Re-Issue)

Adam Bonich

A true testament to his musicianship and longevity in the business, Jeff Lynne's forgotten classic, Armchair Theatre, returns -- and it sounds better than ever.

Jeff Lynne

Armchair Theatre (Deluxe Re-Issue)

Label: Frontiers
US Release Date: 2013-04-23
UK Release Date: 2013-04-23

Undeniably, the '70s were a fantastic time to be Jeff Lynne. Having scored a string of well-placed chart hits (most Billboard top 40 hits in history) with the fabled “mustache gang”, aka the Electric Light Orchestra -- Lynne was practically galloping on unicorn’s. Enter the '80s and ELO’s perception by some as over-wrought and over-produced barons of disco-cheese (thanks for nothing, Xanadu) galvanized the band’s greatest critics. Of course, that didn’t stop them from churning out the hindsight-hipster-classic, 1981's Time, or the atypically tuneful (if not relatively underwhelming by ELO standards) swan song, 1986s Balance of Power (Lynne allegedly conceded to a half-hearted '80s output, though I don’t totally buy that).

As it turned out, piloting ELO’s mother ship into the ground wouldn’t exactly stall Jeff Lynne’s musical career -- not even for a second. From 1987-1989, Lynne would go on to produce big-time albums for the likes of George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison -- not to mention his secret-starring role on the Traveling Wilbury records. I mean, behind the scenes, here was a man almost literally catching fire, hair-mane and all -- he was just that hot. And sure, while it was true that he put his pants on much like the rest of us, one leg at a time -- once they were on, he made gold records.

By that measure, one might have anticipated a fairly strong response to 1990's Armchair Theatre, Lynne’s first outing as a solo artist. Yet strangely, almost no one took the bearded-bait. Chalk it up to his relative lack of star-power, an over-saturation of “Lynne” in the market, or maybe it was the world’s collective unconscious mucking things up -- millions of people secretly praying for their decade of Grunge and Mariah Carey.

Whatever the reason, Armchair Theatre seemed destined for out of print obscurity. Except it wasn’t… Set for re-release (Frontiers) in April of 2013, the long-lost disc is back and sounding better than ever. Surprised? Of course not, this is Jeff Lynne we’re talking about! Not some average human with arguably too much facial hair. While this release had no business approaching the “penultimate” Jeff Lynne music collection, that it does is a true testament to his craft and effortless longevity.

Aiming in the general direction of that which inspired him as a child, the core of Armchair comfortably rests in classic rock 'n' roll -- though not without dabbling into the effervescent pop sounds of his former band. Tracks like “Every Little Thing” and “Lift Me Up” embody the essence of ELO -- just stripped of the excess fat. These are the designs of a sonically less ambitious Lynne, opting not for indulgence, but for the (now signature) “dry” and “punchy” natural-room-sounds of his later works.

Yes, he’s altered his aesthetic from rock to symphonic, symphonic to synthetic, and even spent years perfecting that reverb-less vocal vs. boxy snare drum effect (some people love to complain about this). By any standard, his productions are always vital -- always relevant to the present moment.

Preeminence of the two aforementioned tracks aside, the insisting “What Would it Take?” and folky sing-a-long bonus cut, “Borderline” only further affirm Lynne’s insistence of Armchair Theatre as his latest bastion of joy. Elsewhere, the wistful, “Don’t Say Goodbye” hits right in the sweet spot, with Lynne channeling his inner-Orbison for the operatic refrain. Likewise, on the beautiful “Blown Away”, we stumble across his airtight ballad-game. Co-written by Tom Petty and featuring Ringo Starr on drums -- this song really had no chance of being bad. Quite the contrary. The soaring chorus and nuance of Starr’s drumming help to elevate this track over the bulk of songs here.

Bookending the LP is “Save Me Now, a song at once heckled for it’s trite lyricism, “One day the Earth woke up / and said boy I feel half dead / somebody’s churning up the poison / and it’s getting in my head” -- and praised (by me) for it’s trancelike melody. Either way, he’s basically right here… about the Earth and all. Ugh, just enjoy the song!

Though ignored in its day, Armchair Theatre (the deluxe version sounding better than ever) is a must-hear for fans of the classic-pop sound, or for say, your average human. Incredibly, despite a career that began in the '60s, Lynne swaggered his way into the '90s (and is still swagging in the 2010s) and was able to release an album that, although not appreciated in its day, will ultimately ride off into that figurative golden sunset (on a unicorn) with the rest of his mind-spinning catalogue.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.