Tom Petty sadly passed away this week, aged 66. He was prolific, both as a solo artist and within groups. One notable side project of his was the Travelling Wilburys, a late eighties supergroup with a stellar line up of Petty, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. Some years earlier, however, Jeff Lynne was doing his own thing as the frontman and lead songwriter of symphonic pop group Electric Light Orchestra.
Picture the scene: it’s 1981, Lynne has just heard that people are making music using computers now, and he wants in. With all this new-fangled, futuristic technology at their fingertips, the natural thing to do, of course, is to write a concept album about a man plucked from the 80s and forcibly dropped in the year 2095 with no way of getting back.
With this comes a new space-age sound; taking inspiration from the likes of OMD and Human League, this album sees ELO dropping their distinctive orchestral whimsicalities in favour of synth-pop, robot voices and strange intermittent bleep-blops. Goodbye, Mr Blue Sky.
What’s stranger still is that, somehow, it really works. From the thunderous wonderment of ‘Twilight’ to the aches and longing of ‘Ticket to the Moon’, the narrative is strong, endearing, and full of comically dated descriptions of tomorrow’s world. In ‘Yours Truly, 2095’, our protagonist says of his new robotic girlfriend “I met someone who looks a lot like you / she does the things you do / but she is an IBM”. Welcome to the future, ladies and gentleman.
And despite the stylistic sidestep, the sound is still glazed with the beautiful layers of intricate Beatlesque pop for which ELO are known and loved. A sonic delight and lyrically quaint, this is an LP that’s sure to make you smile.