Fifteen years after the last release from Electric Light Orchestra, the name is finally being revived for another album. Despite being billed as Jeff Lynne’s ELO, however, Alone in the Universe is quite clearly a solo effort: It’s produced and written entirely by Lynne and recorded in his home studio, which makes the billing under the Electric Light Orchestra name initially confusing. In truth it plays more like a love letter to ELO, taking extreme influence from their sound back in the day and creating something nostalgic for both fans and newcomers alike to enjoy.
Alone in the Universe largely remains in more grounded territory, opting for a more modern take on the ELO formula. Rock ballads appear throughout the album, with The Sun Will Shine and All My Life’s lush sounds and cello accompaniment hearkening back to the likes of Telephone Line. Upbeat tracks vary from the even-tempo rock drawl of Ain’t It A Drag to the cowbell-driven guitar heavy One Step At A Time, even going closer to funk territory on Love And Rain. There’s a solid mixture of tempos and moods on the album, which keeps it interesting.
If there’s anything that makes Alone In The Universe less powerful in the long run, it’s the limited use of strings and synths, which helps to create the modern feel it has but detracts from the ELO factor of the album. The title track does the best job of capturing the bands’ spirit, with its dreamy, space-like collection of strings, synths and piano channeling the title and concept perfectly. Strings also appear as the backbone of the rock ballads The Sun Will Shine and All My Life. Elsewhere, especially on the upbeat numbers, they tend to merely appear as a part of the mix of a song rather than a defining element. Given the unique feel strings have offered to ELO’s music in the past, especially their more bombastic and upbeat tracks, this absence does affect the album somewhat.
Even if Alone In The Universe doesn’t throw back to classic ELO as much as it could, the album feels stronger than a lot of other rock releases from long dormant bands. Lynne has created something that remains substantial when viewed as its own entity, yet channels the band just enough to fit into their discography. There’s a straight half hour of highly enjoyable material here that any rock fan, classic or modern, could easily find themselves getting into.