It could have been better, but it’s not all that bad, really, when it comes down to it. The only problem is the album is just not that memorable. Then again, ELO probably wasn’t really all that memorable in the first place, but they were almost always nice to listen to, and the Jeff Lynne album, Armchair Theatre, seems like Jeff Lynne, contrary to expectations, is the real survivor of the Move — an English rock band that did some highly regarded material (”Fire Brigade” springs to mind as does “Flowers in the Rain”) and then did a side project called the Electric Light Orchestra (a reference to the BBC’s Light Program, featuring, of course, the BBC Light Orchestra.
The original ELO sprang from Move leader Roy Wood’s brow; in time he became disenchanted, the Move became history, and Roy Wood became Wizzard, while Jeff Lynne took the reigns of ELO. Since then, Move drummer Bev Bevan has vanished almost completely, Roy Wood surfaces once in a while with something else new and strange, and Jeff Lynne has managed to resurrect the careers of several of his heroes (George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan), as well as more recent arrivals (Tom Petty) and somehow managed to start the Supergroup for Fun Under Silly Names trend with the Traveling Wilburys. Armchair Theatre, then, is a collection of 11 songs, including several covers, and influences run rampant, from the upbeat Beatlesque “Every Little Thing” to the closing eco/peace anthem “Save Me Now,” a touching acoustic number that reflects, of all things, Peter, Paul and Mary when they were blowin’ with Bob Dylan’s wind. Along the way, there are several cover songs, including “September Song” and “Stormy Weather,” both of which are such wonky choices and played with such delighted syrupy lounge-lizard panache that you can’t help but like them. It isn’t a great album, but it is a good, affectionate, subdued recording. It deserves to be heard because it manages to be appealing without sounding overproduced, glossy, or outlandishly mindless. It was something Lynne did because he wanted to do it, not because he wanted to sell millions of records. That makes all the difference in the world. It would have been even better if they could have squeezed out a few more minutes — 37 minutes is too short for the price.