The clue is in the name. Electric Light Orchestra. The brainchild of Jeff Lynne and fellow Brummie and future Wizzard Roy Wood, they had initially started out as sideshoot of Sixties popsters The Move. They got off to a good start too, with debut single “10538 Overture” becoming a top ten single, however their self-titled debut album didn’t sell so well. Lynne and Wood indulged in time-honoured creative differences, with Wood wandering off to fulfil his face-painted glitter-dusted Spector-esque ambitions, with half of ELO. This left Lynne with drummer (and fellow Move man) Bev Bevan and the remains of ELO. The unimaginatively titled ELO 2 was an album of stodgy prog, but had the saving grace of featuring a spectacular cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”, while On the Third Day was more palatable, but failed to chart in the UK, despite it boasting the marvellous “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”.
Despite their singles success in the UK, and increasing album sales across the Atlantic, fourth album, Eldorado, was effectively make or break time for ELO. Lynne had previously recruited a small string section to supplement himself, Bevan, along with keyboard player and fellow band mainstay Richard Tandy, however for Eldorado he went all out and went for a full orchestra sound, with arrangements assisted by Louis Clarke. This makes Eldorado the first ELO album on which a full orchestra is utilised instead of leaning heavily on Lynne’s enthusiasm for overdubbing. As a result the whole album benefits from a more fully-rounded sound, while it simultaneuosly nods to a more accessible future for the band.
While Eldorado may not be a thrilling rock and roll statement, it is a classy, listenable and ambitious slice of pop, which peaks early with “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”. True, the luxurious orchestrations get a little bit over-wrought here and there, and from time to time you just wish Lynne and his bandmates would just simplify and rock out, but on the whole, you can’t help but be impressed at Lynne’s dedication to the original idea behind ELO and willingness to potentially put his career on the line to prove a point.
The trouble was, for all the effort that went into it, Eldorado still didn’t find ELO cracking the album charts in the UK, though it did well enough in the USA to keep the wolves from the door and ensure that they weren’t dropped by their record label. Years later, it would eventually chart as part of the Three Light Years: On the Third Day / Eldorado / Face the Music boxed set, which was released effectively to cash in on the mega-success of double album Out of the Blue, but it meant that it got a second lease of life, which meant that it was reassesed as one of their career highlights.
Now that Lynne has once again resurrected the ELO name, they’re about to go out on a UK tour and are scheduled to appear at Glastonbury’s much anticipated ‘legends slot’ on Sunday afternoon, it seems that Eldorado isn’t the only ELO album enjoying reassessment. While it may not have the heavyweight reputation of A New World Record or Out of the Blue, Eldorado is probably the purest synthesis of the original concept behind the band – the careful blending of chart-bound pop music and orchestral sounds for the masses, which ranks among their most definitive.