The beginning of the end
William M. Feagin | Upstate New York, USA | 05/30/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In the fall of 1979, I had just turned 11 years old, and had not only just been given one record for my birthday, but also had received money which I then used to buy the first vinyl LP I ever bought. (I had only seriously begun to pay attention to the top 40 that spring, and had only bought 45s up to that point; I owned a grand total of 3 LPs, all of which had been given to me as presents, and maybe a couple of cassettes.) It was the very beginning of my long history (27 years now) as a collector.
That first LP was ELO's Discovery. All that spring and summer, I had been hearing the various singles from that album ("Shine a Little Love," "Confusion," "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Last Train to London") on my favourite radio station of the time (WIGY 105.9 FM, in the Bath/Brunswick area in Maine), and so when the opportunity came to purchase this record, I jumped on it. Needless to say, I knew nothing at the time of Jeff Lynne's Beatles influence, although I was a huge Beatles fan--still am to this day; they will always be the Gods of Rock 'n' Roll in my heart--and it probably would have raised his stock considerably for me. In the months to come, I would buy copies of ELO's Greatest Hits and Out of the Blue (mine being a cutout copy on United Artists that cost me just $4.99; this was a bargain for a double LP in early 1980). In the meantime, I played Discovery as often as I could, and I loved it all.
Fast forward to 2001. Sony made their first attempts at catalogue remasters of ELO's albums; along with the classic Eldorado, their three albums from 1979-83 (Discovery, Time, and Secret Messages) were also remastered and reissued. Wishing to rediscover a favourite of my 'tweenie years, I bought the remastered Discovery on CD. 22 years on, I realised that Thomas Wolfe was right--you can't go home again...and even if you could, nothing would be the same. Your tastes change, and mine certainly had. Here's my adult synopsis of Discovery:
Only 3 of this album's 9 tracks are truly essential--"Shine a Little Love," "Last Train to London" (which is *not* instrumental, by the way--there are vocals and lyrics) and "Don't Bring Me Down" all keep things moving along nicely, even if "Shine a Little Love's" bridge rings a bit twee these days. Three more tracks--"Confusion," "The Diary of Horace Wimp" and "On the Run"--are entertaining and move alone nicely, but I wouldn't rate them among this album's best tracks, just a little less painful than the other 3--"Need Her Love," "Midnight Blue" and "Wishing." Of the final 3, "Need Her Love" is embarrassing in its twinkly saccharine-ness, which include unbearable naive-sounding lyrics and sweet synth arrangements (sweet enough to raise your blood sugar to dangerous levels!), thus making it the worst offender of the lot. The other two are saccharine throwaways, just bad enough to be memorable. What was forgivable at 11 isn't so at 37, when your perceptions have sharpened and your inner self hardened a bit against the depredations of the world.
On the whole, this was truly the beginning of the end for ELO. They had pared themselves down to just a quartet--Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy and Kelly Groucutt--having dropped the string players after Out of the Blue (on which you can, of course, see trouble just over the horizon). It makes some sense that Bev would sub on the drums for Black Sabbath on a couple of tours a few years later; perhaps even he needed some meat after this bit of cotton candy."