For the last three years, ELO mastermind and uber producer Jeff Lynne has been holed up in his natural environment, the recording studio. He hasn’t been producing records for other superstars, which is how Lynne has predominantly spent his time following ELO’s 1986 disbanding. Painstakingly, he’s been re-recording his biggest hits track by track, taking on instrument duties for every single part besides the orchestra that puts the “O” in “ELO.”
For a guy who’s deemed a control freak in his new documentary (Mr. Blue Sky), this doesn’t sound like the worst way to spend a couple of years. (Simultaneously, Lynne was recording his second solo album, an American Songbook-esque covers album called Long Wave, which will be released the same day as his re-recorded ELO hits.)
“I’ve finally been convinced by enough people that I should be doing more music,” Lynne tells CBS Local. “I’m actually enjoying it this time around because I got to play all the instruments and did all the background vocals, with the exception of my daughter, who did four sets of background vocals. It was a treat in itself just to be able to do that. It’s not that easy – it just means you have to practice and practice on all these instruments, which to me, is the best fun you can have. No bother at all.”
To be released October 9th as Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of ELO, the results are akin to a “super remaster.” Hits like “Evil Woman,” “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Telephone Line” sound not only remastered in pristine quality, but modernly refreshed with even sleeker production and synth work. For the most part, they just sound better. But why would someone with as much musical creativity as Jeff Lynne want to spend all this time rehashing old songs?
“It’s a simple reason, really,” he says. “I used to hear my songs on the radio and they never sounded like I thought they sounded when I first did them. I thought, ‘I must try this.’ So I laid down the track of ‘Mr. Blue Sky,’ starting with a brand new track. I started with a click and went from there. It sounded so much better than the old one, so I thought, ‘I’m gonna do another one.’ I did ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Strange Magic.’ Talking to my manager, he was saying, ‘Why don’t you just keep going and see how many you can do?’ And I’m really glad I did. I firmly believe these sound much cleaner and fresher, and more clarity.”
Included on the 12-song collection is a reworked “40th anniversary” version of 1972’s “10538 Overture,” as well as a previously unreleased song, “Point of No Return.” That’s all the new material there is for now – but Lynne is not completely ruling out the possibility of a new ELO album, the first since he briefly re-booted the group with original keyboardist Richard Tandy in 2000 and released Zoom in 2001. With Lynne on acoustic guitar and Tandy on piano, the two recently reunited for a jam session at Lynne’s home studio, the results of which were filmed (watch below) but yet to be released in full. Lynne, never a fan of trying to recreate his pop opuses on the road, is even entertaining the notion of a tour, perhaps with Tandy.
“I haven’t got any plans at all to tour, but I’ve been trying to figure out ways that I can do it and do it very, very simply,” he says. “Maybe it’s just me and Richard. I never was really all that into the touring thing, it never was that much fun – but I’m thinking about it.”
– Jillian Mapes, CBS Local