Alone in the Universe is the first album of new material released by Jeff Lynne under the ELO banner since 2001’s Zoom. The opening track When I Was a Boy sets the stall out straight away. The descending bassline and strings let you know that you are listening to the classic ELO sound.
Love and Rain lifts the tempo, and along with the majority of this album, would not have sounded out-of-place blasting out of your FM radio back in 1977/78. And that’s fine by me – I wouldn’t expect a 2015 ELO album to sound like its of the here and now. That would be just plain odd.
Alone in the Universe works well as it delivers what you would expect – well-crafted pop songs that last around the 3 minute mark.
When the Night Comes serves up the albums first classic Lynne chorus, and the song is underpinned by a late 70s / early 80s reggae infused bass and guitar line.
The Sun Will Shine on You is one of the album’s strongest songs. It packs in more hooks in the first minute than the majority of current albums. The bass and synth are especially effective on this stand-out track.
Lynne likes to throw 50s rockers onto most of his albums, and Ain’t It a Drag has its roots in the era of Buddy Holly and Duane Eddy. But whilst the arrangement of Ain’t It a Drag pays homage to Lynne’s youth, the song is more Tom Petty than Roy Orbison, and it is not locked into just one era.
However the bossa-nova beat of I’m Leaving You IS pure Roy Orbison, and feels more Travelling Wilbury’s than ELO, and is the only slight misstep for me on the album.
Earworm alert! You will probably think that you have already heard One Step at a Time, even if you haven’t heard the song on Spotify, as it draws heavily from the classic ELO sound and feels instantly familiar. As you would expect, the production values are high on Alone in the Universe.
Alone in the Universe feels like a early to mid-70s track, and whilst lyrically Lynne goes all Ground control to Major Tom on us, I really think the arrangement on this final track is a notch above the other tracks and makes you return to the song more than others on the album.
Alone in the Universe does not break new ground by any means, but thankfully its not one of those returns that makes you wish the artist had remained away from the recording studio. Its an album full of very good pop songs, and it sounds just like you would expect an ELO album to sound. It’s also free of excess – coming in at under 40 minutes and so leaves you wanting more.
So if you were a fan back in the 70s and 80s, there is plenty for you to enjoy on Alone in the Universe. Welcome back ELO.