A new album bearing the ELO moniker - the first since 2001’s Zoom - is being released by Columbia on November 13. Attributed to Jeff Lynne’s ELO, it’s titled Alone In The Universe and features 10 brand new compositions, while the sleeve bears the ELO spaceship as unveiled on the front of 1976’s A New World Record and seen on the cover of 1977’s classic double Out Of The Blue.
Last night - Thursday September 24 - a lucky few journalists were granted a playback of the album in a central London hotel, followed by a Q&A session with the man himself. The assembled hacks have been politely requested to abstain from reviewing the album till nearer the time; suffice to say that it is full of succinct melodic pop of the sort you don’t normally get from 67-year-old music biz veterans who last had a Top 40 hit in 1986.
All written and performed by Lynne - who handled, as well as vocals, production and arrangements, the drum, bass, guitar, keyboard and synth duties - Alone In The Universe is a veritable late-period tour de force from a musician who started out over half a century ago with bands such as The Andicaps, The Nightriders and The Idle Race.
The album took 18 months to record, Lynne encouraged by the reaction he received at 2014’s Hyde Park concert, where 50,000 ELO lovers sang along with every song.
“It just blew me away,” the self-effacing Brummie - with his trademark shades and curly perm in place - told the Charlotte Street Hotel audience of his first live performance for 28 years. He joked that he “didn’t know anybody would be left” by the time he took to the stage. “It was magnificent. I couldn’t believe it. They knew all the words. I knew most of them, although not necessarily in that order.” More seriously, he added: “It was absolutely astonishing, and so thrilling. It was beyond anything I could have imagined. I could feel the love and the pleasure they were having, clapping along to every song. It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling.”
Mark Ellen, hosting the Q&A session, mentioned to Lynne that Chris Evans, to name but one, considered ELO the Beatles of his generation, and cited his recent duets with Ed Sheeran and Dave Grohl, and Daft Punk’s sampling of Evil Woman, as examples of ELO’s continued relevancy. Asked what his own musical influences were growing up, Lynne unexpectedly admitted that it was - along with the obvious Beatles, Del Shannon and Roy Orbison - a certain George Formby.
He proceeded to reminisce about working with Orbison, as well as Dylan (“He’s a nice chap,” he deadpanned, to much laughter) and the surviving Beatles for Free As A Bird and Real Love (“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do”).
Then it was time for questions from the floor. There was a query about Paul Weller’s The Changingman, which the journalist deemed “a rip-off” of Lynne, although the latter claimed never to have heard it; another wondered what he had been doing since Zoom: “I have no idea,” he replied, evincing more of that droll, dry Midlands humour. “I like a drink. I did lots of things. I just can’t think what it was.”
There was much excitement at the announcement that Lynne would be touring in Spring 2016, after which the massed ranks of the most cynical profession on earth were reduced to quivering fan-boys, timidly requesting photos with their hero and feverishly proclaiming Mr Blue Sky “the unofficial national anthem”. And the album’s not even out yet.