No Answer (1971)


 
1. 10538 Overture 2. Look at Me Now 3. Nellie Takes Her Bow 4. The Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd, 1644) 5. 1st Movement (Jumping Biz) 6. Mr. Radio 7. Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre) 8. Queen of the Hours 9. Whisper in the Night

 

Listening to the first Electric Light Orchestra album is a bit like watching home movies that Steven Speilberg made as a kid. You knew you weren't watching anything too "professional", but you could see hints of genius. Although this record lacks in professionalism and finesse, it makes up with it with creativity and ambition. It would take the band several years (and several more lineup shuffles) before leader Jeff Lynne could figure out exactly the sound and the direction that he wanted from "rock and roll's first orchestra".

This band had a peculiar beginning. This is the only instance (that I know of) where an existing, successful band (The Move - they were more popular in England than the U.S.) decided to basically stay intact, change its name and go in a completely different direction. True, members Bev Bevan and Roy Wood were journeymen of the band The Move, and when they recruited Lynne in the late sixties to join the lineup, he signed on only with the understanding that they would move on to his orchestra experiment. Although The Move "stayed together" during the early seventies, it was mainly used to finance this interesting, if somewhat uneven, debut.

For starters, this was the only ELO album that was not dominated by Jeff Lynne. Roy Wood was the "co-pilot" of this first endeavor, and upon completion of this album, Wood left to form his own band, Wizzard. There simply wasn't room enough for both of these dominating egos within one group. So basically half the album is penned by Lynne and the other half Wood, which is one of the reasons the tunes sound a bit different than on future releases. The two most recognizable tunes are indeed Lynne's - 10538 Overture and Mr. Radio. They're the most listener friendly, and once you get past the crudeness of the freshmen recording effort, the songs are quite nice and have a similar flavor to what we would all recognize years later.

Since they were still experimenting with their sound, other tracks sound out of place. Even though they were a so-called "orchestra", their famous sound of later years would only include a string section that served as its "orchestra". On this album, they're a bit more ambitious. They use a French horn through most of the songs that doesn't sound too unwelcome, and Lynne's Manhattan Rumble actually sounds like he's incorporating an entire (albeit sparse) orchestra. This song is an instance of wishing they would have continued a bit more in this particular direction since it's rather interesting.

Roy Wood has one true masterpiece here. The closing song, Whisper in the Night, sounds just as good as anything that ELO had ever done and has remnants of the band's classic sound. Since Wood left right after the album was released, it's easy (but sad) to see why this song basically disappeared from all subsequent “best of” collections the band would release. Wood's other songs could be classified from "so-so" to "downright awful". Witness, for example The Battle of Marston Moor. What exactly were they trying to do here? This isn't really a song, yet a harrowing narrative of a 17th century battle with Wood narrating throughout the piece. Drummer Bev Bevan claimed in his biography that he hated this song so much, that he refused to play on the song. Good for you, Bev.

So give the guys credit for accomplishing this ambitious feat. No, it didn't sell well and things were so haphazard in the early days, that even the title of the album is screwed up. When the U.S. record company that was distributing the album called the band's management in England to ask what the the album was going to be titled, no one answered the phone. So a secretary wrote on the pad "No Answer" and the rest was, well, history.


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