Tag Archives: music

Tony Awards: 1962, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

21 Mar

HT$

 

If you want the original version of Mad Men, here you go.  How To Succeed…was the pinnacle of the late fifties/early sixties satirical musical, and this one has the most bite of all of them (not that it’s very much in the end, but I digress.)  This sort of musical had a simplistic plot (climbing the corporate ladder), an overall theme (corporations), and very soft satire, more like gentle cultural critique towards an American institution.  Earlier examples of this are Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, and Bye Bye Birdie.   Unlike a book musical (like Oklahoma) the story and the music are secondary to the satire shown, and this grew more and more prominent in the early sixties.   The theme would always drift into the music and dancing, so you’d get songs like A Secretary is Not a Toy, and Coffee Break.  Unlike star vehicles (like anything Merman was in) there wasn’t usually a showstopper song either.

So as it stands, How to Succeed is rather clever, sometimes schticky, sometimes a little too clever for its own good.   I don’t think it has anything really significant to say about corporate culture other than how silly it all can be sometimes.    The music is mostly good, some of it having a little bit of a throwaway feel.   It doesn’t date too well, but this was the last big hit of this kind of musical for awhile.   This was the big hit of the season with nothing else coming close to its success on Broadway, so there’s that.

The Best of 2013–The Music

28 Dec

2013

 

After a bit of a break, this year I’m going to make a best of list–this time I’m focusing on music, later we’ll get to music and books (and more!)  To be clear, this is the best music that I encountered in 2013, not all the music was made or released this year.   In fact some years most of the music that really hit my world was from other eras.  So here we go:

1.  Mother Mother, The Sticks:  I already reviewed this album, but since then I have returned to it again and again.  Something about its post-apocalyptic melancholy really puts its hooks in me.  Buy it now!

2:  Cast Album, A New Brain:  As this soundtrack is at least 15 years old how does it sound so fresh?  If you listen to this album, half the songs will embed themselves into your brain until you have to listen to them again.   Also, the story here is so forward thinking–a gay couple that isn’t tortured, the struggle of making good art–it’s all here.  Plus it’s a hoot.

3:   Ben  Harper, By My Side:  This best-of album just shows how damn cool Ben Harper is.   His laid-back vibe echoes a sort of music that hasn’t been around for decades.   Take this along for your next slow ride.

4:  Rebecca Karijord, We Become Ourselves:  Again I already reviewed this one, but if music was therapy this is what it would sound like.

5:  Vienna Teng, Aims:  Off-beat, up-beat, intelligent.   It’s almost impossible to have these three traits exist at once in any piece of art.   Vienna Teng makes it look easy.

6:  Rene Aubry, Steppe:  This year I found Rene Aubry becoming my studying/reading music.   Honestly I should put all his albums on here, but this one sticks in my head the most.  Relaxing, atmospheric music that takes shape just beyond the consciousness.

7:  Bach for Relaxation and Meditation:  I found this album on spotify–most albums like this do not call to me, but this one shows Bach in such a strong light that you could bring this on and dream in cathedral stained glass.

8:   Caravan, In the Land of Grey and Pink:  I went through a progressive phase earlier this year–this is the album that stuck.   Caravan is so charming here, and while taking up the good sides of prog, there’s playfulness without the pretension.  “Golf Girl” will just pop into my head as I’m walking around the city.

9.   Adam Guettel, Myths and Hymns:  This album is everything that art music should be, a huge scope, intimate moments, inventiveness galore.   This album is a storytelling epic, and well worth many listens.

10.  Galt MacDermott, The Human Comedy:  Of course I already knew Hair, but Galt’s kooky genius just spills out over all he touches.  He takes some getting used to, but I can honestly say there’s nobody like him.  The Human Comedy has the most going for it out of all his post Hair works.   Dozens of 1-2 minute songs rushing one after another, touching nearly every pre-rock music style, moving from touching to hilarious back to touching again in a lickety-split.   I ended up making a playlist of the best of the music on this, but the whole thing is well worth the experience.

11.  The Soundtrack to All That Jazz:  There’s nothing like this movie, and the re-imaginings of old classic songs (Bye Bye Love, Who’s Sorry Now, You’re Gonna Miss Me When You’re Gone) are mushed together to make an entirely new story.

Songs that mattered:  While these artists didn’t have albums that sucked me in, these songs were heavily played.   Some of these songs I already knew, but they gained importance this year.  You might call this my honorable mention list.

Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven” (it grew on me), Lady Gaga “Applause,”  “We Beseech Thee” from Godspell, “Magic to Do” from Pippen, Don Henley “The Boys of Summer,” Billy Joel “Laura,”  Miriam Mikeba “Pata Pata,” Drake & Rihanna “Take Care,” Bob Dylan “Duquesne Whistle,”  Ellie Goulding, “Lights” Joan Armatrading, “Me, Myself, and I”  A Flock Of Seagulls, “(I Ran) So Far Away, Visage “Fade to Grey”

Well that’s it!  I’m sure I forgot many other things and I’ll hit myself in the head later, but I’ve got to stop this list before 2014 comes!  Happy New Year and Happy Listening!

One Hit Wonders

15 Nov

One hit wonders are an interesting phenomenon.   To be clear, I am not including bands that are well established groups that happened to have a crossover single.  Jimi Hendrix might have had one top 40 hit, but that doesn’t make him a one hit wonder in my book–his music had more influence than most of the top 40 combined.  The groups I count are ones where they are known only for one very significant song.

Take the group Steam.  You don’t know them by their name unless you’re a music nerd, but if I started singing “Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” you know that song as if you were born with it in your head.   That song has a place in our cultural landscape to this day, though I could pass the band on the street and never recognize them.   They will always be the band that wrote that song, even if they had five more albums to their name.

In general I can place one hit wonders into three groups.

Novelty Songs–I include holiday ones here too.  Things like “The Monster Mash,” “It’s Raining Men,” “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”  There’s a million of these things.  Most of these songs are funny at first, but right on the verge of annoying.  Whether it’s “I’m Too Sexy” or “I Touch Myself” nobody was wondering why these groups didn’t have follow-ups.  Their scope was too small.

Trend Followers–For example “Winchester Cathedral.”  When this song came out the British Invasion was very trendy, so they made a generic British Invasiony sounding song.  It was catchy, but because the band never got an image beyond that, they had no place to go.  “Green Tambourine” did that with psychedelic pop.  There’s a million disco songs that go with this, and in the late eighties-early nineties–generic soul songs.

Songs so good that they’re impossible to follow–These are the songs I love.  Songs that could come from some no-name band and have an impact because they were so good, but the band either had terrible marketing, were actually not that talented and tripped over a great song, or could make great songs but not great albums.   “I ran (so far away),” “Black Velvet” “Stay.”   However, I could argue that these songs are better than many of the “hits” because they are popular because of the music, and not because the band had an image or anything.

 

Albums Worth Listening to: Morcheeba, Blood Like Lemonade

2 Nov

Lately I’ve been in a more low-key, quiet place, but with some edges, and Morcheeba is the perfect accompaniment to this.   There’s a sort of dark glamour to their music, and it’s exactly the sort that is terrific as aural wallpaper, but still rewards close listening.

The themes here, under sleepy lyrics, are based on horror, vampirism, self destructiveness, and having waited too long.   Through the meandering lines, under a pepper moon, the words slowly sink into the music like things in the water.   Slowly the music moves from being about myths to being about finding your place in this world even though we’re all a bit older, all a bit less connected.

Funnily enough, the album has a happy ending, sort of like after going through all your fears and inadequacies, you’re really going through a trial by fire, and at the end, you’ll be prepared to go where you want.   Even though I’m not sure this is true, I want it to be true, and this album is extremely hopeful, even by acknowledging the darker edges of our experiences.

The sound is luxuriant–way deeper than most downtempo music–instead of going towards minimalism, we still have a layered sound under a husky whispered vocal.  Subtle, dreamlike, hypnotic–this music is perfect for late night reading or just laying in bed and thinking.   Lovely.

Albums Worth Listening to: Rene Aubry, Steppe

12 Oct

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Rene Aubry is a soundtrack composer that I’ve found very interesting lately.   Soundtrack composer isn’t the best description for him, for he also writes music for puppet shows and modern dance as well as other projects.  However, he’s too accessible to be called art music, and he’s certainly trying to do more than be a modern classical composer.   There’s a lot of composers I don’t like–because their music is always hung on the hook of another work, and while I think it’s perfectly adequate for that purpose, it’s not very interesting to listen to without the movie/dance/whatever that goes along with it.

Aubry manages to get beyond that so that his albums are complete works in themselves.   Steppe comes of as a theme album focusing on horses–even though it’s called steppe–which gives it a grasslandsy vibe.   He has an interesting combination of synthesized and organic instrumentation which gives an “everything but the kitchen sink” sort of feel, while still being melodic.   Each song is 5 minutes or less, and he plays heavily with counterpoint layering theme after theme on top of each other, setting up a horsehoof rhythm in all the songs but a couple of slower numbers.   Since quite a few of the songs fade in and fade out, we’re left with an impression of different things passing us by, ideas running, walking, gliding like dream horses.   He also uses the sounds of waves, running water, a whip, whispers, banjo, piano, mandolin, accordion, guitar and nearly every other instrument imaginable.

These soundscapes are luxurious and exotic, each bringing you to a new imaginary place–the effect is very much like Air with less singing, a fantasia of slow still places.    More interesting than ambient, less flaky than new age, less structured than classical–Aubry find a nice balance for a relaxing soundtrack.

Pop Culture: Lady Gaga, “Applause”

22 Sep

lady-gaga-applause-1

 

Ok, so I just did Katy Perry, and I have to follow-up with Lady Gaga’s single which came out at the same time.   Hell, I should have started with this one because love it or loathe it, Lady Gaga’s single is far more interesting than Katy Perry’s bland Chicken Soup from the Soul lyrics.

Now I’m not a diehard Lady Gaga fan, but I really like her because she managed to make something interesting out of pop culture at a time where it was a teenage wasteland.    She also doesn’t cater to teenagers or frat boys.   On top of that she really knows how to use internet culture better than just about anybody in the entertainment industry.   Also, your tolerance for Lady Gaga depends on how self-aware you think she is.  I think she’s incredibly self-aware, but if you think she’s some pop star who just gets off by acting weird, you’ll find her irritating in a hurry.

People complain that she’s pretentious and narcissistic, and I respond with that by saying, of course she is.  It’s not as if she’s been hiding these facets of herself, in fact she’s putting them right in center stage in “applause” sort of to get it out of the way.  (For heaven’s sake, she emerges from a magic hat with a peacock tail.)  She’s pretentious and narcissistic because she’s human, and most humans have aspects of this other than saints and masochists.  When healthily directed these things can create good art, and that’s what she’s encouraging.  She’s speaking to the inner drama geek that lives inside us, not the inner drama queen.

Also, I question the narcissism when seeing the video.  The applause here isn’t exactly comfortable.  We see people mechanically clapping, we see Lady Gaga in a cage in rags, alone on a mattress shaking like a junkie, with her head on a bird, holding a giant bouquet that’s about to crush her while dragging her leg behind her, her grabbing onto the edge of a stage to hang on rather than be blown away…in fact I think this video shows how difficult to remain artistically credible with an audience while keeping yourself together.  (The abundance of celebrity meltdowns would attest to this.)

Also what she’s going for is a Warholesque show for those who feel alienated by pop culture where she is the art.   I think she succeeds–this song has more energy than anything I have heard in months and also it doesn’t sound like a bunch of processed product.  She’s not interested in trying to talk to those who aren’t already predisposed to listen, and she makes people to go to her space to appreciate her.   Also, need I mention how hard this woman works?  This video is her trying to make something significant, not sell hamburgers.  She certainly isn’t going to allow you to feel comfortable, maybe that’s why she has so many haters, while roar panders to what audiences want to hear, Lady Gaga–no.  She won’t do that.   She respects you too much to do that, and respects herself too much too.

I’m actually thrilled she’s back, even though the song sounds very gaga-esque, it sounds like a blast of fresh air, it’s fun.   I’d better go before I morph into a fanboy.

Music Worth Listening To: Galt MacDermot

28 Jul

Galt MacDermot is best known for his musical Hair, which was definitely a pop cultural watershed, however it also was very zeitgeisty and is something of a relic from its own time.  He never had anything that approached the success of Hair, and had a few big flops on broadway which made just about anything else he ever made completely obscure.

That being said, MacDermot is completely worth exploring–I certainly don’t think that everything he’s ever done is worth listening to, however he’s  perfect to wander through his backlog and pick out songs to make a marvelous playlist from.   He does a little of everything–art songs, blaxpoitation soundtracks, jazz-fusion instrumental, and a series of the weirdest shows ever staged.   While his instrumentals aren’t to my taste, every album that has vocals on it has a couple of gems hidden in the dross.

MacDermot’s music style is to be a blender of every sort of music pastiching them together.  Sometimes this results in a mess, occasionally the songs are brilliant.  There’s a handful of songs that are enjoyable and terrible and interesting at the same time.

So what would I recommend?  Let’s skip Hair–because that’s a classic that you can suss through yourself, and lets start with The Karl Marx play soundtrack–the music is very twenties influenced and early 20th century operetta. many of the songs are surprisingly tender.  All the songs are very short (MacDermot rarely goes over 3 minutes in whatever form he takes), but the best song from this one is the gospel influenced Holy Mystery.

Then there’s The Many Faces of Song–the odd song set set to synths.  It doesn’t really hurt MacDermot’s music any, and there’s several numbers here worth your listen.  The best is the very first–Fortune and Men’s Eyes, MacDermot has this quirky talent for taking formal poetry and making it into wonderful music (partially because his weak spot is lyrics in general).  This song is just gorgeous and expansive.)   Then we get to Paul Lawrence Dunbar in Song, where four songs particularly take the cake:  He Had His Dream, A Negro Love Song, Whip-poor-whill and Katy-Did, and Invitation to Love–the whole soundtrack is lovely though.

Corporation is a bizarre soundtrack (?) which I can’t tell if it’s against Corporations or making fun of plays that are against corporations.  More than not the lyrics here are particularly strange, but still there’s Robash Tree, a wise little song that sounds like a children’s lullaby.  Then we get to The Human Comedy which has about 80 songlets so picking is difficult here–it shows MacDermot in his wide glory, just about every style he plays with is here, and more often than not it’s good (though I hate the child’s voice, a bit too piercing.)  The songs I really like me is the 50’s influenced I Let Him Kiss me Once, and the aptly titled Beautiful Music.

Then there’s the Thomas Hardy works, very interesting having these poems set to music–they’re all pretty, but my favorite is the selfsame song.

He’s got dozens of more albums, but he’s well worth dredging through–honestly if I were a band I would do a Macdermot tribute album, it would be danged good.

Albums Worth Listening To: The Sticks by Mother Mother

18 May

the sticks

 

Usually I avoid reviewing albums that are too recent–it’s too easy to get sucked into the zeitgeist rather than looking at what is good and will last.  However I am confident that this little gem has legs under it.

Ryan Guildemond, the lead singer and main music writer for this band is a crazy-smart virtuoso–honestly this album is the sort that a younger me would pore over the lyrics and send little bits of them to people I know.  That’s the other reason this album may last–it’s a true album, with a theme, where the songs–all very good–add up to a whole imagined landscape.  The theme is leaving the modern world behind, going off to the wild–literally and figuratively.

The influence are wide and ranging–you’ll hear some Pixies, Depression music, psycho hillbilly, indie dance, OK Computer era Radiohead, Cole Porter, My Bloody Valentine, Elvis Costello–I could go on forever, the point is this is greater than the sum of influences–they truly make their own world–not always a fun world, mind you, but a real place, and there’s so many times while listening to it where I say to myself yes, yes, this is how it is.

This is the pop-on-the-headphones, just-broke-up-with-your-boyfriend, pace-and-write-bad-poetry album to have on your playlist on repeat.  You’ll memorize the lines which will  pop up in your days as perfect descriptions of many of the ridiculous situations we all get in this plastic modern world.

The reason I can wholeheartedly recommend this is because it isn’t just that it’s musically sophisticated, but that it seems to be about real feelings, thought out–thoughts about significance and clashing values and the anger that lies latent in modern life.  They are so much more than many indie bands which are more about fashion than substance.

Embrace your wild side–not the self destructive one, but the one that does not want to pay attention to everybody’s rules anymore and hide away in some rough section of the forest.  Let the archipalegos take you places.  It’s just the medicine you need, trust me.

Albums Worth Listening To: Jefferson Airplane, Crown of Creation

2 Feb

Jefferson Airplane is an interesting band that tells a little morality story to every hipster band that has existed since them.  They warrant a close look because their trajectory from hip outsider band, to hip insider band, to mainstream band, to corporate band followed not only the trajectory for most musical artists out there, but for baby boomers in general.

When Crown of Creation came out, Jefferson Airplane was dealing with success.  They were extremely stylish, being considered the first wave of the San Francisco Sound, and even had a couple of top 40 hits under their belt.  They brought in the hippie style, and their music exemplified a sort of idealism mixed with a lack of barriers.  However, from the beginning they also were extremely commercial, there’s no doubt that their albums were designed to make money, and they became more known as a pop culture phenomenon than musicians towards the end of this stage, doing outrageous TV spots and generally calling attention to themselves.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think that they weren’t artistically credible, but it does make their eventual evolution into Starship less surprising in the end.

So we get the cover, which is the band split into doubles standing in the middle of a nuclear blast.  Surprisingly there’s little being said about the world in this album and much more said about their world.  So we open with Lather, a song about a man who drops out and gets left behind (actually the song makes him seem infantile).   Grace Slick’s intonations are creepy, as are the voice clips of this man-child calling for mommy in the background.  In the end, dropping out did not make him free, but left him completely alone.

Then we get “In time” a very pretty ballad, but coming after Lather, it’s the same sort of, let’s get away from everything philosophy that causes a sort of emotional stunting.   The tune is also melancholy, like a wish for leaving it all behind even though it’s impossible.

“Triad” a David Crosby penned song, is about a three-way relationship, which of course is on its way out.  Grace Slick asks “why can’t we go on as three” but of course the answer is evident, with all the jealousy and such that goes along with that sort of situation.  Partially this song is here just to push the envelope, but also continues the failed social experiment theme  of this album.

“Star Track” is a bluesy tune about a man whose emotions have all gone out of him, leaving him in a numb state.  He talks about knowing the difference between moving fast and going somewhere.  It’s incredibly nihlistic, expressing how everything is gone in the end no matter what you do.  It includes a prescient line that I think is a prophesy of Jefferson Airplane’s future “You’ll wander round from place to place/disappear without a trace/and someone else will take your place/in line.”

Chushingura is a one minute dollop of electronic experimentalism that ends the first side in an electric feedback of creepiness.   At the end of this first side, it’s so interesting that Jefferson Airplane is casting a critical eye at the very subculture that brought them about in the first place, while also acknowledging that it’s an artificial subculture that young America had bought into at that time.  Whatever their intentions were, the reason their albums were pushed and they were on the top 40 was to get Americans to buy things.    There’s a definite sense of this commercialism, as well as the drugs and the scene, being destructive forces that simply make people disappear in their wake.

We start the next side with “If You Feel” which has a good tune but the words sound ok on a casual listen end up making no sense whatever at a closer listen.  “If you feel like china breaking if you feel like laughing, break china laughing.”  I suppose the song is a vague expression of do what you feel and express yourself, but it doesn’t sound positive with the tune it’s with.  And the weirdest part, after all these Yoko Onoish word games where if you feel like A and you feel like B do AB seems to be the rule, we end the song with the singer saying he got down, and he got up to go, like he tired of this game.

“Crown of Creation” brings to mind the nuclear explosion of the cover, partially because it looks like a crown.  The song sounds apocalyptic, and the lyrics come from an us vs. them point of view, we are changing, they are fossils, but their voices sound like a robotic chorus.  If you look only at the lyrics it sounds like a young vs. old generation gap rant, but in the singing, there’s a strong sense of irony as the band has already acknowledged that they are taking their first steps into turning into “them” at the very beginning of this album.    It’s like this band was a robot where the idealism of youth and the reality of aging cannot compute so it’s starting to go on the fritz.  No wonder the two faced pictures on the cover.

“Ice Cream Phoenix”  I honestly have no idea what the title refers to, other than heat and cold.  The lyrics seem to combine all the themes that we’ve gotten through to this point.  The end of the world and life, retreating into happy memories, having all past and no future.  The big question it asks “tell me why, if you think you know why, do people love if there’s no tomorrow, and still not cry when it’s time to go.”

“Greasy Heart”  is Grace Slick unleashing scorn on the other type of monster that came out of the hippie thing, the image-seeking scenesters.  Everything about the couple is fake, with tans that wash off in the bath, long hair wigs, drug addiction, art-selling, paper dresses that catch on fire.  The greasy heart is feelings sold out like hamburgers in a restaurant designed and engineered as a hip posture.  However much Grace Slick rants, she’s ironically ranting at herself as well (after all, a Slick heart isn’t that much different than a Greasy heart.)

“House at Pooneil Corners” is the apocalypse at the end of this album.   Some don’t like this song, it’s over the top for sure, and the lyrics are stream-of-conciousness-silly, but it’s the end that is referenced in every song up through now, and the ambulance sounds and gloomy atmosphere certainly feels like the end of the world.  However, they’re really talking about the end of their world, their idealism, their youth.  After this album the band would turn away from personal expression and towards political statements (Volunteers), art attempts (Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome nun) and shameless commercialism (Jefferson Starship on forward.)  Where I find Crown of Creation fascinating is there’s a definite consciousness about the whole thing, like they’re deliberately assassinating their real selves to the public and replacing them all with public images (which is why all the robot images), and also acknowledging that whatever music they may make, they ultimately will not change the world.    Part of one thing that makes it interesting now is how dated it sounds, and how that datedness plays into it because anything trendy will be the most dated in years gone by.

The funny thing is that the whole hippie thing in the late sixties started a corporate cycle that continues to this day, where underground bands and trends get picked up by the mainstream by attaching them to a specific image, which fades quickly.  Rather than making people happier, what ends up happening is companies make more money in this cycle through all the things people buy because of it.  Of course as soon as they have the whole “lifestyle collection” people are expected to begin a new collection because the old one no longer says anything.

And FYI, I’m not against people buying and selling things–that’s certainly better than other ways of dealing, where it gets me nervous is how people’s identities get caught up in what they buy and sell, the line between “I own this thing” and “I am this thing” gets very fuzzy, partially because I think people feel insecure about their undefined personalities.   That is why Crown of Creation is special, I think it’s honest about commercial music.

 

Albums Worth Listening to: Electric Light Orchestra, New World Record

27 Jan

This was an album that was huge at the time (1976) that I don’t hear many people talking about anymore.  Pity really, because this album is one of the prime examples of where an album is more than the sum of the songs that make it up.  I can imagine this album wandering through the outer fringes of space, wandering across the radio ether, and somehow making sense.    It just sounds like something transmitted from a satellite.

We start out with Tightrope–A symphonic theme (that continues on and off through the whole record) introduces a sort of mid-tempo tune about falling off a tightrope and wanting someone to through him down a line.  The tune being interrupted at several points by the orchestra making sounds like toppling off a tightrope.  He says he’s saved at the end.

Then we segue into Telephone Line, a song that deserves the title “prettiest song this side of heaven.”  Lynne’s voice sounds pure, and the symphony arpeggios behind him giving the impression of a night full of stars, and the soft crooning of “oh oh Telephone line, give me some time, I’m living in twilight” just floating over it all, like someone who has just learned how to fly.

“Rockaria” sounds pretty stupid, teaching an opera singer how to rock n roll, but it somehow fits into the space jukebox theme we’ve wandered around, a blues song with an opera singer and an orchestra behind it.   Lynn has a good time with it, and he gives a knowing wink to the audience, it’s kind of like a Doctor Who episode that’s set in the past, the cheesiness is somehow part of it so it’s not a problem.

We end the first half with Mission (A New World Record).  A space song that starts with the sounds of ambulances–basically an alien has been sent to earth to watch things.  “On a dirty worn-out sidewalk, sits a mother with a baby, In her vale of tears she sees no rainbow and someone’s singing from a window In the mission of the sacred heart.”  Considering that this is the title track, it kind of explains the sad atmosphere, beautiful moodiness, and emphasis on space and the sky through this whole album.

“So Fine” opens up the next bit, a sort of Beach Boys influenced happy romp of a song–the singer talking about how he wants things, a well done light-weight pop song, until in the middle we get this bridge which sounds like a microwave oven playing the maracas that builds up into a dance beat.    Idealism just jumps out of this song with its ooh-la las and woo!  Then the song fades like a slowing handcranked record player.

“Livin’ Thing”  A sort of gypsy violin introduces this one.  Lynn sings about being in love, but also how he’s taking a dive, and soon the song focuses more on the dive than the love.  (It’s interesting how the back up singers at times seem to be commenting on this “don’t you do it, don’t you do it.” )  The theme of climbing high and inevitably falling comes to a peak here.  It’s funny how in this album things seem happy, but sad behind it, or sad but beautiful.

“Above the Clouds” More climbing themed lyrics to a sort of space doo-wop with a vibratophone.  This song is extremely short,but the lyrics   “It’s like a mountain side, You’ve got to climb it to the top, Floating in a sea of dreams, The only thing that you can see, Is the view above the clouds.”  There’s a struggle with finding significance after getting some of the things you want.  It’s the difference between being really young and having nothing yet but the future, and a little older and having some stuff and losing the purity of your vision.

“Do Ya” is the hardest rocking song here.  Basically talking to a woman about how he’s seen everything but she is the best thing he’s ever seen.  It’s funny how this song feels a little tacked on in a way, sort of like how Lynne couldn’t really make a song about the struggle in finding significance and not have the answer being love from some woman.  I believe that tacked on bit is on purpose, because this is basically a blind alley for him.

“Shangri-La”  Follow up “Do Ya” and closes the album with a sort of symphonic lullaby, about how love has gone away.   He talks about getting out of love and waiting again for something to give meaning.  It’s not completely sad, but just another set of emotions that drift away as quickly as they started.

We return to the symphonic theme at the beginning with Jeff Lynne’s voice sort of echoing underneath the symphony and choir saying he will return to “Shangri-La.”    It really sounds like he is getting lost in all the noise around him.

What makes this album really pop besides the incredible production, is how tight it is in every way.  All the songs are really short, the symphonic bits are alluded throughout the whole album (and seem to represent the greater cosmos, and how small an individual can be it.)  Themes come back again and again both in sound and in lyrics: the line–being both a connection with others, and also a distancing mechanism, climbing and falling, sort of like icarus, not being able to see.  The tone is one of longing, but the sort of longing for something different, something to give some purpose, it’s the sort of longing a person could have if they first had a goal to succeed at something, but succeeding isn’t enough anymore.  Also of waiting, as if this album was made when Jeff Lynn was waiting for something to capture his interest.

Honestly, I could listen to this cycle on loop (and I really hate the expanded editions of the album that don’t let you do this).  I have yet to find a more perfect peon to disenchantment and yearning, and in my opinion E.L.O. never topped themselves after this album.