When it comes to bloated and pompous 70s pop / rock not many matched Electric Light Orchestra for ridiculously overwrought statements, and 1977’s Out Of The Blue is their most overwrought album by some distance. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that Out Of The Blue is my (as long as many others’) favourite ELO album, narrowly shading A New World Record as their best combination of progressive rock and pop. The thing I like most about Out Of The Blue is the fact that following the 1976/77 Punk explosion, a double album of pop-rock hits by a bunch of hairy men and an accompanying string section really should not have existed. Yet there it was, a massive monument to the musical excesses of the recent past, a double vinyl raspberry to the current youth musical trend, and it was all the more utterly wonderful for it. Combine this with the fact that prior to a couple of years ago, at no point in the band’s history have they ever been considered ‘cool’, then you start to get a reasonable impression of the sheer audacity of band leader Jeff Lynne, and just why it was such a tragedy when he chose to embrace the synthetic production techniques of the 80s just a few short years later.
Okay, so with a double album there’s bound to be some filler, but on Out of the Blue it is generally kept to a minimum, with only “The Whale” being the one track that you skip every time you play the album (though while you’re at it, you may as well skip “Birmingham Blues” as well). On the whole then, Out of the Blue is ELO at the top of their game, with Jeff Lynne having managed to find a production technique that suited both the pop-rock elements of the band and the string section. With no less than five hit singles to be found over the four sides of vinyl, and the much celebrated “Concerto For A Rainy Day” suite, Out Of The Blue does everything that you want an ELO album to do, and as it closes with the cinematic and slightly silly “Wild West Hero”, you are left feeling as if you’ve had a great night out every time you play the album in full.
While Out Of The Blue might be a bit too much for the newcomer to take in, it’s probably the definitive ELO album, and will be the one held up as their absolute masterpiece.