Monday, June 24, 2013

Electric Light Orchestra - Secret Messages

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Secret Messages, the eleventh studio album from the Electric Light Orchestra. Released in June of 1983, it charted at number 36 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 35 in Japan, number 19 in Australia, number 13 in New Zealand, number 11 in Austria and Sweden, number 7 in the Netherlands, number 6 in Germany, number 5 in Norway and number 4 in the UK.

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.


HERC said...

Glad to see you're an ELO fan as well although I have to admit Jeff Lynne nearly lost me with both Time (1981) and Secret Messages (1983). The rockabilly throwback tracks on each album - "Hold On Tight" and "Rock And Roll Is King" respectively - were cute and catchy but certainly not the sound I loved from ELO up to that point.

The track "Four Little Diamonds" didn't appeal to me the first few times I heard it but a friend put it on a mixtape we listened to on a road trip about five years after the album had been released and all of a sudden, it clicked with me and now it easily ranks among my five favorite ELO songs.

Definitely agree that Side Two is the stronger side on Secret Messages. My attempts to reconstruct the planned double album using the released tracks you mentioned really didn't change my opinion of the album so this has to be one of those extremely rare times I actually agree with record company execs.

Three questions for you:

Have you ever watched the live Zoom DVD?

What are your thoughts on Lynne's going back and re-recording his group's greatest hits last year on Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best Of Electric Light Orchestra?

What is your favorite album and/or song by ELO?

Martin Maenza said...

Answers in order: no, I have not watched the Zoom DVD. I have not heard the re-recording of the greatest hits - I have a 1995 double-disk compilation from the band. Favorite album is likely Out of the Blue, though I am partical to their work on Xanadu.