Here are just a few of the fun facts to be picked up from the innersleeve credits on Out of the Blue, ELO’s double-LP set: Jeff Lynne’s Marshall amps are custom-made by Tony Frank; all ELO road cases are made by Anvil; no less than fourteen special-effects mechanisms were utilized in the creation of this work; engineer Mack “slaved over a hot mixer for 1127 hours.” Here’s my favorite, though: Bev Bevan uses Slingerland “Bev Bevan” drumsticks. One could say that ELO is more than a bit smitten with itself.
One could say it, and one would be right, though self-absorption is not any grounds for attacking a rock band; it’s almost impossible to think of a band or an artist that isn’t mainly ego.
When one crosses over into self-indulgence, however, it’s a different story completely. I didn’t read the credits until after I had waded through the four sides of this totally uninteresting and horrifyingly sterile package. What I heard was a meticulously produced and performed set of songs, with subtle nods to the Beach Boys (”Across the Border” has a melodic passage identical to “Heroes & Villains”), the Bee Gees (”Starlight” and “Steppin’ Out” both feature Jeff Lynne as Robin Gibb) and, of course, the Beatles (clearly Lynne’s biggest influence). And without any noticeable passion or emotion. All method and no madness: perfectly hollow and bland rock Muzak. Solos are virtually nonexistent, which makes perfect sense because an individual statement by any one instrument would set the ELO ship jaggedly off course by injecting some heart into the proceedings. Group commander Lynne obviously is consumed by his vision of the totality of the ELO sound, floating slowly through the void.
Most ELO fans, I think, will read the credits before they listen to the records, and to them all I can say is, forewarned if forearmed. Entertainment without pretense is fine, but if you’re going to imply that what you’re giving us is something special, Captain Lynne, you had better make sure that we’re reserving seats for an adventure, and not just a walking tour of the industrial works.