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ELO: Secret Messages (Extended Version)

Electric Light Orchestra
Secret Messages (Extended Version)
(Epic)

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Electric Light Orchestra’s 1983 album Secret Messages is being rereleased with so much new material, the original two-sided, single record is now a four-sided vinyl release.

The band’s bassist, Kelly Groucutt left after recording, but the band here consists of him, Bev Bevan on drums, Richard Tandy on keyboards, and of course Jeff Lynne on vocals and guitar. Ex-ELO violinist, Mik Kaminski also makes an appearance, but even though there are plenty of strings here, the classic ELO style is pretty much gone by this point.

Side one features an overly long title track, opening with a descending melody line, the usual mix of high strings and Lynne managing machine-effect style vocals. “Bluebird” features a wonderful Richard Tandy piano and “Take Me On and On” features Lynne’s guitar leading (as does “Train of Gold” later and the heavier rocker, “Danger Ahead.”

“No Way Out” (side 2) features a finger-snapping beat and acoustic on a country blues number with a spacey sway. This is one of Lynne’s best vocals here. Sorry to say Bevan gets over taken by too much across this record with that disco quick beat (“Buildings Have Eyes,” is one of the prime examples). The band gets into their “Don’t Bring Me Down” rockabilly thang on other weak ones like “Rock ‘N’ Roll is King” and “Four Little Diamonds.”

“Letter from Spain,” is a soft, key-lilting ballad. Not that the tune goes anyplace, it’s more like a tone poem, but it’s a study in restraint and finds Lynne with some of his best vocals. “Mandalay,” starting side 4, is an epic prog slogger, again showcasing Lynne’s greatness.

“Hello My Old Friend” with its sweeping strings, Richard Tandy key horn strikes, and a drum machine beat that actually works, and Lynne mimicking John Lennon, ends Secret Messages. It starts real strong but loses its way as it overstays and develops into a pale homage to “A Day in the Life.”

Overall, this extended Secret Messages will be a gem for ELO/Jeff Lynne completists, and there are some solid tunes here. But 4 album side’s worth? Probably not.

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