Together with its direct successor, Out of the Blue, this is probably the album that forever defines the sound of the Electric Light Orchestra in the minds of most people. From this point, the rough-edged rock 'n' roll of earlier works like Ma Ma Ma Belle or the rather more reined back strings and whimsy of songs like Mr Radio would make way for these bigger, lusher and more 'cinematic' arrangements. This seemed to be a nod to the softer string sound in US soul, as the album's title and even its cityscape artwork suggests. It's rather like the difference between watching a film on TV at home, them going to see the same thing on a big screen in surround sound in a cinema. Neither is bad (quite the contrary), they are just different types of experience.
It's also around this time that Jeff Lynne SERIOUSLY found his songwriting boots. There is not one (full length) song on here that couldn't have hit the UK singles chart top 10 if they'd been released. Indeed, several of them did. In amongst the well known hits like the operatic Rockaria! and the tender and melancholic Telephone Line, not to mention the now legendary Livin' Thing are other lesser konwn gems: Tightrope (possibly my favorite ELO song ever), that begins with a fanfare of dramatic swooping strings before romping off into a rollocking rock number; So Fine with its funky middle eight and congas; the heartfelt and beautiful ballads The Mission and Shangri-La. The other nice surprise is the inclusion of a storming cover of Do Ya (from The Move's rather wonderful Message from the Country). As good as the orignial version is, this version is actually a little bit better. Basically, in production terms, Lynne gives it the kitchen sink. And it could have sounded a dreadful mess, but doesn't: it's sublime.
It's perhaps strange to think now, at this remove that punk wasn't really the sound of 1976-77. Music like this and the Eagles' Hotel California was what many people were actually listening to and buying. The later revisionism of a certain type of music wonk would have you believe this music was reviled and irrelevant. It wasn't. And while lots of the prevailing commercial music of that part of the 1970's was becoming overblown and self-indulgent, this didn't: this is a perfect example of how to write and record fabulous, memorable pop songs. And by Lynne's own admission, it really didn't get much better than this for him.
Lucky for us that he got this good.
If I was forced to declare that any one release was Jeff Lynne's masterpiece, it would probably be The Electric Light Orchestra's sixth album, "A New World Record". Although "Out Of The Blue" receives more critical accolades, this particular album is as near to perfect as can be, with every single track a fully accomplished piece of inspired craft. From a personal perspective, this was also the first ELO studio album I bought when I was in my mid-teens, once I decided to venture past the couple of "greatest hits" compilations I owned, so it also has a rather special, sentimental quality. "A New World Record" (a title suggested by Richard Tandy, as the album was being recorded in Munich during the 1976 Olympics) is the beginning of an exceedingly prolific songwriting era for Jeff when nearly everything he composed during this time became classic ELO songs which remain well loved and played to this day.
The classy "Tightrope" provides a superb introduction to the album, with the dramatic orchestral beginning giving way to a hook-laden, bright, infectious pop song; it was never a single but probably should have been. The first huge hit of the album, "Telephone Line" begins with a Moog impersonating the tones of a 'phone when dialling which then leads to an unanswered ringing and Jeff's desolate, emotional vocals. As one of the band's best known songs, this big ballad needs no further enthusing about it from me, but it really is one of those perfect moments in rock when a superb composition meets a brilliant performance and arrangement. The maddeningly catchy "Rockaria!" starts with the operatic voice of Mary Thomas (mistake and all) and explodes into a hard, orchestral rock song with strong classical influences, both lyrically and musically. The final moments of the track also builds to a beautifully intense finish to provide the icing on the cake of a flawless three minute pop-rock song.
One of my very favourite compositions on "A New World Record" is "Mission (A World Record)" which relates the perspective of an alien observing life on Earth. It is a sublimely dreamy, drifting, lightly philosophical song, complete with some funky bass-work from Groucutt and has the most wonderful Louis Clark string arrangements. Side two of the original vinyl would have begun with the breezy, upbeat "So Fine", an infectious track with a Latin edge which then segues effortlessly into one of the Electric Light Orchestra's biggest selling and most loved hits, "Livin' Thing", three-and-a-half minutes of pure pop genius, resplendent with magical, soaring vocals, flamboyant violin arpeggios and a chorus that will refuse to leave your head long after you've finished listening to the song. As a lesser-known track and overshadowed by the bigger compositions, "Above The Clouds" is rather gentle underrated and beautiful piece and is just over two minutes of sheer loveliness. Jeff's decision to re-record The Move's "Do Ya" (one of his own songs) is utterly vindicated by ELO's brilliantly overblown version and the string arrangements, as well as a more melodic vocal line, give the already excellent rocker a few extra dimensions.
Perhaps the most precious jewel in the crown of "A New World Record" is the final track, "Shangri-la". A soul-melting Jeff Lynne vocal guides us through this account of heartbreak and jaded, faded love, with the dramatic, emotional orchestral false ending adding just an extra touch of genius to an already magnificent song. As ever, Jeff's love of that rather popular sixties group from Liverpool leads to another lyrical reference ("My Shangri-la has gone away, faded like The Beatles on 'Hey Jude'") which, to me, is a superb line, but I can grudgingly understand if others find it clumsy. Simply put, "Shangri-la" is a perfect end to a flawless album and this is why I consider ELO's 1976 album to be their masterpiece, because there isn't a weak track to be found here, there are nine excellent tracks, some of which are amongst the most remarkable rock/pop songs ever written. "Out Of The Blue", Jeff's next album, was to be even more ambitious, but, as a double album, it simply doesn't have the punch of "A New World Record" and the quality on the record most people consider to be Lynne's magnum opus is spread out a little further than this intoxicating serving of Lynne's unique brand of orchestral-fused rock.
The 2006 remaster of the album sees a rather generous six bonus tracks added to this title, the most interesting of which is "Surrender", an out-take which was originally written for an unspecified film which never came to fruition. Lynne finished the track especially for the re-release of "A New World Record" and it proves to be a likeable, minor key toe-tapper but certainly not anywhere near the same kind of quality found on the nine songs which make up "A New World Record". An alternative vocal take of "Telephone Line" which is interesting but inferior to the version chosen to be released as well as instrumental takes of "Tightrope", "Above The Clouds", "So Fine" and, again, "Telephone Line" give a worthy insight into the excellent Louis Clark arrangements which gave the songs that distinctive ELO character, but they are more musical curios than truly essential material.
on 9 August 2005
There were three albums which best define ELO in the 70's (and probably beyond that). Face the Music (Evil Woman), Out of the Blue (Turn to Stone, Sweet Talking Woman, Mr Blue Sky and Wild West Hero) and New World Record. NWR is one of the most inspired pieces of work which Jeff Lynne has written. "Tightrope" is my favourite track from the album - but probably considered not commercial enough for release as a single. I have the album in black (could have had the red version) vinyl and CD and both are well worn. The album has Telephone Line, Rockaria and Do Ya but the whole album is a gem. Just do yourself a favour and buy this, your ears will love you forever.
on 30 January 2010
Although ELO had reasonable success prior to this album, this is the one that made them huge. This is my third purchase of this album; LP, first issue CD and now the wonderfully remastered version. I recently played some of the first issue ELO CD's and found that they sounded a bit flat, in this day and age of remastering. So I thought I would cherry pick my favourites of which this is one and to convince me to part with further cash, they're all currently at good prices. I am not disappointed as the songs all sound fresh and bright. The bonus tracks are worth a listen if you're a keen ELO fan, as four of them are instumental versions, in other words the backing tracks without the lead vocals. They do give you a greater insight into Jeff Lynne's genius. There is also a slightly different version of Telephone Line, which makes for an interesting listen. There are many stunning songs on this album, but I think the first and last of the original nine tracks are my favourites, those being Tightrope and Shangri-La. Classic!
on 1 January 2016
The Electric Light Orchestra were my first 'favourite' band, and Wild West Hero was the first record I bought, so I admit to having a very soft spot for ELO. In my opinion, this is their most commercial album, in terms of production values and melody, and it features some notable singles (Livin' Thing, Rockaria!, Do Ya and Telephone Line) alongside some great album tracks (Tightrope and Mission). The bonus tracks include a new addition (Surrender), a handful of alternate mixes and a glossy 12-page booklet, but the original album stands up on its own without these extras. The sound is much brighter than my old vinyl copy, and the remastering has brought out sounds I hadn't appreciated before. Recorded with ample studio time during the height of their 'string section' period, it's a classic.
on 24 February 2015
ELO's A New World Record is a lovely piece of rock opera from the era that gave us rock such a theatrical scale, such as Queen's A Night at the Opera album. For novices to ELO's albums, particularly those that maybe aware of such stand-out songs as hit singles (Mr Blue Sky; Don't Bring Me Down; and the excellent featured track, Livin' Thing) then listening to an album maybe a bit of a musical challenge, as things blend well into to one another. This probably means for those that have the CD, or digital version, may wish to not play this album on shuffle to achieve that effect of a sequential concept album, with that theatrical sound production that made rock music from the 1970s such a technical breakthrough from its previous decades.
A New World Record is a fine slice of ELO's work at their musical peak in terms of scale. Whilst the thought of getting your head around all of that vintage flourishes may alienate a few newcomers to the group, those curious of investing in ELO's back catalogue, beyond their hit singles, may be pleasantly surprised at what this 1976 album has to offer.