Birmingham pop supergroup ELO release their first new album in 12 years this week – but fans will find familiar faces few and far between.
Electric Light Orchestra Live boasts many of the band’s hallmark hits recorded live during filming of a US TV special in Los Angeles.
But only frontman Jeff Lynne and keyboards player Richard Tandy remain from the group’s heyday, during which they sold more than 50 million albums, played stadia around the world, and notched up 27 hits in the UK and US.
The rest of the band comprises session pals of Lynne, who has chosen to release the album to celebrate ELO’s 40th anniversary.
The 65-year-old guitarist and singer from Shard End now lives in Beverly Hills, where he has carved out a reputation as a top producer, memorably working on Beatles reunion sessions before the death of close friend George Harrison.
And the ELO live album, which was recorded for a 2001 television show and DVD but has never been released as an album before, is one of six band and solo CDs he has released in the past six months.
Rock critic David Wild, a friend of the reclusive rocker, says: “Back in 2001 Jeff had just returned to the studio to create a new ELO album titled Zoom, which brought the classic Electric Light Orchestra sound back to vivid life.
“To support its release our rather reluctant road warrior agreed to return to live performance and put together a line-up of musicians which included Richard Tandy that, thanks to breakthroughs in live production and sound in the intervening years, sounded better than ever.
“After the TV special a further live tour was announced but ultimately cancelled. Instead Jeff returned, no doubt happily, to the comfort of the recording studio.”
Although fans will welcome the release of previously unheard ELO material, they are likely to be divided on its merits. Many hanker for a full reunion tour by the surviving members of the group’s classic line-up.
Drummer Bev Bevan still lives in the Midlands and is currently on tour with his own band as part of a ‘Made In Brum’ package also featuring his lifelong friend, funnyman and Sunday Mercury columnist Jasper Carrott.
Cello player Hugh McDowell still plays sessions, and is involved in dance, film and theatre projects. He has also been instrumental in the development of music composing computer software.
Violinist Mik Kaminski has his own band, Blue Violin, and was most recently heard playing on tracks by acoustic duo Fay & Latta. Keyboardsman Louis Clark has just revived his Hooked On Classics brand.
Cellist Melvyn Gale has become a music teacher after running a CD and vinyl record manufacturing company for 18 years. Bassist Kelly Groucutt sadly died in February 2009 following a sudden heart attack.
But what of the album?
The 11-song setlist includes hallmark hits such as Evil Woman, Mr Blue Sky and Showdown, alongside live favourites Don’t Bring Me Down and Roll Over Beethoven and lesser-known Secret Messages.
The sound is leaner than before, with fewer strings attached, although Lynne's guitar and vocal sound stronger and more confident than ever.
Two new bonus tracks are forgettable, a shortcoming made all the more glaringly obvious by the pop classics in the live set.