TRACK BY TRACK: Time by ELO

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Yeah. I renamed ‘Full album reviews’. It needed a refresh for 2015.This is the first ELO album I’ve actually covered. Today we are covering an album called Time.

Released in 1981, it was preceded by the film soundtrack to an abysmal 80’s film called ‘Xanadu’, for which ELO contributed 5 songs to the soundtrack for (the film being one of two which inspired the creation of the Razzies) and the non film soundtrack album Discovery (Which didn’t inspire the razzies). Incidentally, this album is a first for ‘If you Ask Me…’ as it our first Concept album, and while I’ll save my conclusion for the end, I consider it one of the best.

TRACK ONE: PROLOGUE

Starting off this album is the prologue. A 1 minute 16 second synthesiser heavy piece, which sets the album off to a mystical and quite emotionally overwhelming start. The vocoded monologue from Richard Tandy, the keyboard man, is really very chilling. It is It sends chills down my spine, and is truly more dramatic than it ought to be. It is also a segue to the next song (and I love segues). There will be quite a few, so I won’t list them all. But to say this isn’t the most awesome start to an album ever would be a crime against music…

TRACK TWO: TWILIGHT

Twilight appears, and then as the drums kick in, you begin to hear the recurring sound of this album. While heavily synthesised, there are still instruments here. The drums and the guitars still rock through this frankly beautiful song, as does the piano, which flourishes through the first proper song of this album. We listen as the protagonist is taken from 1981 to 2095, where he is seemingly stuck for the rest of his life. And boy, does this album do it in a dramatic fashion, saying that he only meant to ‘stay a while’. You feel the dilemma of this character already this early in, and I like that.

TRACK THREE: YOURS TRULY, 2095

This track delves into the life of our protagonist (unnamed, but I am going to call him Jeff, after Jeff Lynne) as he struggles to get used to 2095. He lets the listener know of his life in the mid 2090’s, driving the very latest hover car, with a robotic girlfriend who has no emotion and cannot please him emotionally, and likely sexually. Probably the catchiest song on the whole album, ELO is known for it’s catchy tunes. Thisis no exception, with the repetitive drum beats and repitition. Its a good song.

TRACK FOUR: TICKET TO THE MOON

An example of how the album is brilliant. While largely repeating the same themes, each song does so in a unique enough way that doesn’t make it bland, as many albums these days. Ticket to the Moon is a stunning. A very piano centric song, and it shows how the protagonist ‘Jeff’ feels about being stuck in the future. Obviously amazed by the world he has entered, but he misses ‘the good ‘ol 1980’s’ and his girlfriend/wife. I like how he relates his ticket to go to the moon to being stuck in 2095. Emotional, and beautiful is how i’d describe this song. As the track ends, it segues into Track 5, which shows the continuation of the story…

TRACK 5: IS THIS THE WAY LIFE’S MEANT TO BE

We reach my personal favourite song of the album. Going back to what I said about how it continues the story and it’s recurring themes, this song is perfect. Having made it to the moon, ‘Jeff’ sings about how fast things have moved, how much has changed since he left, and how he is ashamed. He accepts it’s too late to cry for those who died over 100 years ago. No synthesisers were used in this song. The inclusion of the acoustic guitar just makes it for me. This song really makes me sympathise for Jeff, in an alien world with different customs. He finds himself in a place that was home, but is no longer, and with no way of returning, he laments on how he’s stuck here. Perhaps he accepts it, which is seen in the major chords of the song. I dunno. Good song, and I recommend this one over all the others.

TRACK 6: ANOTHER HEART BREAKS

Atmospheric, moody, synthetic. I don’t like this song much. It really does seem like filler to me. Which for an album this good so far is surprising. I was underwhelmed by this piece. It does well in what the other songs did, but I don’t like it. Maybe it’s the ordering of the tracks, I feel this would have been better as the track before track 5. That’s just my view. I’d skip it.

TRACK 7: RAIN IS FALLING

Jeff Lynne has an obsession with rain. Seriously though, this song is a return to form. An electro ballad, which sounds more positive than it’s predecessor track. ‘Jeff” remains depressed that he is not with his partner, and he sings about the rain falling. Simple, but effective in conveying his emotions. Washing away those lonely tears. He has cried all his tears, and he is now trying to return home, though it would seem that his efforts are not yet successful. Good track, continues the albums tale, gives development to ‘Jeff’s’ efforts, I like it.

TRACK 8: FROM THE END OF THE WORLD

Another catchy tune, with a great riff behind, and catchy repetitive lyrics. Trying to communicate with his partner through his dreams. I feel that this gets his need to return home perfectly, by perfectly encapsulating his frustration, through the quick nature of the song. I love the funky bass in this track to, it isn’t too fast, and keeps the song in line, and just adds to the catchiness.

TRACK 9: THE LIGHTS GO DOWN

The lights go down…first we had funky bass, and now we have funky guitar. Repeating his need to come home and ‘get out of here’. This song is directly talking to his partner, and how he is working all through the night in order to get his transport sorted. He will not have the daylight return until he’s home. A romantic, laid back piece, at a slower pace than most of the songs on this list. One of the more refreshing pieces. I like the need for trying different tempos and not making it all techno and electronic. You need a bit of variety here and there.

TRACK 10: HERE IS THE NEWS

Starting with a great synth solo, reminding me of an old moog, before getting back to the strange electronic wails of the mid 2090’s. We are watching the news ‘Coming to you every hour, upon the hour’. I like this track, as it gets into the world of the 2090’s in a way the other tracks haven’t done. It also relates to ‘Jeff’ who makes his own news report, again showing his isolation and loneliness. I admire this creativity, as it shows more to the character than just missing his partner. It helps us sympathise with a man who we spent almost a whole album following his attempts to return home. I like that, and this is one of my favourite tracks on the album.

TRACK 11: 21ST CENTURY MAN

Now this is the true emotional backbone to this album. The song is other worldly, the synth being smooth and crisp, yet despite having a synthetic sound, it sounds kind of natural. It shows how the people of this time are different to ‘Jeff’. It would seem they do not understand his plight. Though they sympathise, it would seem these people are socialised differently to ‘Jeff’. They see his efforts to return home and see a man obsessed, perhaps unwilling to accept that he may never return home, therefore never really being a ’21st Century Man’.

TRACK 12: HOLD ON TIGHT

A proper 50’s style rock ‘n roll jam. This differs from the bittersweet ’21st Century Man’. The song is self explanatory, it tells ‘Jeff’ to hold on tight to his dreams- to keep that passion to return to 1981. This song reminds Jeff, as well as th listener, to keep positive in the face of adversity. A good message, sung in English AND French. I love the guitar work in this song, no solos, just a nice, tight song with a good sound and great moral, not only for Jeff, but for you.

TRACK 13: EPILOGUE

A short reprise of 21st Century man, with a final goodbye from Jeff to the audience. And this is the bittersweet ending to the album. By this point, Jeff isn’t home, still stuck in 2095, but he remains positive he will return home one day, because ‘the world is still young’. Though sad, he seems to have a new lease on life, which is how I’d like to see him. I’d love him to return home, but I feel the bittersweet ending is fitting for him. And as the album ends, it ends with the same noises that started it, bringing it all full circle.

BONUS TRACKS

Briefly covering the Bonus tracks:

Julie Don’t live here anymore is a good piece which gives the name of his partner. Which I like, except the protagonist doesn’t have a name, so naming one character and not the other would be weird, and I like not knowing, because it gives a sense that this could happen to anyone.

When Time Stood still is a good song and my favourite bonus track, another melancholy song, I could put it anywhere on the album, I’d replace track 6 with this, as it gets across the message of that song, while being the perfect twin song for track 5.

And finally, The Bouncer. A good piece which would fit nicely at the end of the album, giving ‘Jeff’ a happy ending. A good track, like that of track 12. While that would be good, I do feel that it would have made Track 11, the biggest song in the album, redundant. Also, I do feel Hold on Tight works better, and I like the bittersweet ending more.

CONCLUSION

‘Time’ is simply Timeless. Beautiful songs, great instrumentation. Excellent variety, with a little bit of everything for the average Audiophile. I don’t do it justice writing about it. I consider this album to be up there as one of, if not, the best concept albums in the history of music. Any flaws can be overlooked, as it is a great album, at the peak of ELO’s fame.

TRACKS TO RECOMMEND

Twilight, Is this the Way life’s meant to be, Here is the News, 21st Century Man, When Time Stood Still

FINAL RANKING: A B C D

About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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