The Scotsman’s music critics review the best of this week’s releases, including Jeff Lynne’s ELO Alone In The Universe and a new album by Ellie Goulding
Jeff Lynne’s ELO: Alone In The Universe | Rating: *** | Columbia
Although their glorious Beatles surrogate power pop songs are never off heritage radio stations these days, it’s easy enough to take for granted just how huge the Electric Light Orchestra were in the 1970s. Beyond their faithful fanbase, is anyone that excited today about the first new ELO music in 15 years? Maybe not. But should they be? Perhaps “excited” would be overstating the case...
As the current band name suggests, this is essentially a solo effort from ELO auteur and production ace Jeff Lynne, who wrote, arranged, played and recorded the album over 18 months in his bespoke home studio. For one who pays homage so faithfully to Lennon and McCartney, he has such a rock solid signature sound that it seems almost impossible for him to do anything which doesn’t sound like Jeff Lynne.
So there are zero audacious surprises on Alone In The Universe, just a satisfyingly trim 32 minutes of meticulously crafted pop music. Even the 70s prog rock-styled album cover is classic ELO. But what is more prevalent is a certain aging rock star wistfulness – not the outright nostalgic sentiment of Rod Stewart’s new album but a touch of world-weariness, as if Lynne is crumbling away in his mansion, remembering what it was to be alive.
When I Was A Boy opens the album with those very words and some mournful Imaginesque piano, takes up a steady mid-pace, layers on the gently weeping guitar and the affecting falsetto but summons some genuine sadness in the memory that “radio waves kept me company”.
That melancholy returns, but not before the efficient bluesy pop of Love and Rain and Dirty to the Bone, a beseeching warning about an evil woman, have first been dispensed with.
When The Night Comes sings the “midnight blues” with a soulful yearning, subtly wrought reggae-tinged rhythm, swooping strings and a choir of Lynnes sympathising with his plight. The Sun Will Shine On You is a compassionate pop prayer delivered more in hope than conviction. Paradoxically, Ain’t It A Drag sounds positively perky with its souped up 60s beat pop references, while the hangdog All My Life is actually a schmaltzy tale of redemptive love.
The romantic sentiments are reversed on I’m Leaving You – not a triumphalist take-that, but one of the album’s most beautiful, plaintive melodies swathed in stately strings.
Lynne makes up for the general lack of pop fun with One Step at a Time. Though the lyrics are downbeat (“talk to me, though the damage done is so bad”), he busts out a classic blithe ELO chorus and some burnished guitar soloing before retreating to lick his wounds on the somewhat leaden, indulgent title track, which ends the album on a bit of a bum note. What has gone before, however, happily keeps faith with the ELO legacy. Fiona Shepherd
POP: Ellie Goulding: Delirium | Rating: ** | Polydor
Wispy, winsome Ellie Goulding obviously hits the spot for some – Delirium’s lead single Love Me Like You Do, soundtrack to 50 Shades of Grey, went to Number One in a whopping 70 countries (an argument against globalisation if ever there was one).
A middle eastern mantra atmospherically sets the scene, but for what? The usual tried-and-tested pop songwriting suspects – Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder – contributing varying degrees of vanilla dance pop blah for Goulding to suck the character and attitude out of. At least her puny vocals suit the demure folk melody of Lost and Found. Otherwise, virtually indistinguishable from fellow plasticky pop practitioners from Robyn to Charlie XCX. FS
POP: Wreckless Eric: amERICa | Rating: *** | Fire Records
See what he did there? One-man lo-fi punk band Wreckless Eric celebrates his adopted home with his first album of new material in over a decade. amERICa is home recorded and sounds great for it, weaving a web of dynamic, distorted guitars under his customary semi-snarl, as he takes on stultifying cookie cutter culture on White Bread and recalls his years of touring the States with a certain no-nonsense nostalgia and some droning guitar on Transitory Thing. His tunes have a timeless quality – Days of My Life, for example, blending Ray Davies whimsy with Byrds jangle to winning effect. FS
JAZZ: Tigran Hamasyan & Yerevan State Choir: Luys I Luso | Rating: **** | ECM
Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan has long nurtured a love of his country’s sacred music traditions and in Luys i Luso – “Light from Light” – he joins with the Yerevan State Choir to perform hymns, cantos and other forms of liturgical music, some of which are ancient indeed. Rather than emulating Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s much feted collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble, in which the saxophone effectively added a fifth liturgical voice, here Hamasyan improvises around beautiful vocal lines to beguilingly luminous effect.
Armenian church music is an ongoing tradition, so material ranges from Hamasyan’s delicate elaborations over the booming
vocal drones and chants of Ankanim araji Qo, by the fourth century composer Mesrop Mashtots, to early 20th-century works by Komitas, including his mass setting Orhnyal e Astvats, here movingly opened by a recording of an Armenian tenor singing it in 1912 – not long before the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman regime silenced so many Armenian voices a century ago this year. Jim Gilchrist
CLASSICAL: Berg, Schoenberg & Webern: Chamber Music | Rating: **** | Alpha Classics
Don’t be put off by the combined serialist triumvirate of Berg, Schoenberg and Webern on the one Belcea Quartet disc. Webern’s gorgeous Langsamersatz, from his pre-serial days, its language late Romantic, forms a perfect pairing with his more astringent Five Pieces, Op5, which are every bit as intimate in these heavenly Belcea performances.
Berg’s Lyric Suite – the passionate musical child of a once secret love affair – is both touching and iridescent. Schoenberg’s heart-wringing string sextet Verklärte Nacht, a steamy realisation of Richard Dehmel’s transfigurative poem, provides a luscious coda to a sensuous musical feast. Ken Walton
FOLK: Moishe’s Bagel: Salt For Svanetia | Rating: **** | Eachday Music
Flamboyant masters of klezmer, tango, Balkana and much else, Moishe’s Bagel were commissioned by Boness’s Hippodrome Festival
of Silent Cinema to come up with a live score to accompany the classic 1930 Soviet realist film Salt for Svanetia.
The film dramatically portrayed the hardships of the isolated community and fanfared its modernisation by the indomitable legion of Soviet workers.
The band responds in suitably vivid style, from the plaintively lyrical playing on the opening theme from violinist Greg Lawson and pianist Phil Alexander, through gentle interludes such as Stone Beds, to the high drama of sequences such as the darkening skies of Stormy Day, and the ominous riffing of bassist Mario Caribe’s composition, The Towers of Svanetia.
There’s also the urgent fiddle whine of Salt!, the accordion-led swirl of The Spinning Walrus, and the strikingly Scottish sounding Shepherd’s Song. It’s impressive stuff and, of course highly filmic, and while it makes engaging listening on its own, a DVD edition would have been just perfect. Jim Gilchrist