Monday, June 24, 2013
Electric Light Orchestra - Secret Messages
This album would mark a time of change for the band. It was the last ELO album with Kelly Groucutt on bass; it was also the last of their albums to use real stringed instruments and conductor Louis Clark.
Secret Messages was planned to be a double-album, but CBS Records said it would refuse to distribute one given the added expenses. As such, a number of tracks were cut; they would be released as part of 1990’s Afterglow box set. A later CD re-release of the album also added four of the tracks back in. Today, we'll look at the original ten song vinyl configuration (just because I like to do things old school here at Martin's View).
Side one starts with the title track. As the second single, “Secret Messages” in charted at number 48 in the UK and number 14 in Ireland. It opens the first of a number of backward-masked messages on the album, this one saying “welcome to the show”. It also closes with a bit of Morse code that spells out the letters E, L and O. In between is a bouncy number about streams of information weaved through broadcasts.
“Loser Gone Wild” plays around with musical styles quite a bit. It starts with a slow, dark jazzy beat, complete with saxophone, and then moves to a dance rhythm on the chorus (heralded in by a barking dog - what?). I think the constant change up in rhythms is something that would require multiple listens to process.
“Bluebird” settles in with a more breezy kind of tempo while dealing with a state of depression and monotony after a love has gone.
“Take Me On and On” slows the pace down even further, ending the side a very mellow note.
Side two begins with “Four Little Diamonds”. Released as the third single, it stalled at number 86 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 84 in the UK. The lyrics of this rousing rocker tell of a search for a cheating lover who conned the man out of a ring that had four diamonds set in it. This is the first track on the album, for me, which has that earlier ELO sound to it.
“Stranger”, the fourth single, only charted in the US (at number 105 on the main Billboard chart and number 33 on the Adult Contemporary chart). The synth part of this one has a gentle, almost hypnotic, sway to it. The backward-masked message on this one says “you’re playing me backwards”.
“Danger Ahead” warns of a woman who is trouble. Even the neighborhood kids know to get out of her way.
The B-side to the third single was “Letter from Spain”, a very placid song about hearing from someone from your past. Honestly, it did not do much for me on first listen.
“Train of Gold” was selected for the B-side to the fourth single. I like the slinky, funky groove to this one. It puts me in a 60’s espionage kind of mood.
The closing track “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” was also the first single released. This high-energy celebration of classic rock went all the way to number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 17 in Germany, number 16 in Austria, number 13 in Australia and the UK, and number 4 in Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands. The violin solo was done my Mik Kaminski. This one makes me want to get up and dance, singing along to with Lynne.
As a long time Electric Light Orchestra fan, I was familiar with the singles though from radio back in 1983. However, this is the first time I have heard all of the tracks from Secret Messages together from start to finish. For me, the second side is much stronger and, for the most part, sounds more like the ELO I grew up on.
Interested in more of my ELO reviews? Check out the links below:
- For 1977’s Out of the Blue, click here.
- For 1979’s Discovery, click here.
- For the 1980 soundtrack for Xanadu for which ELO contributed a number of tracks, click here.