The buzz about what may be on the horizon just got a lot louder in the past few days. It started with this, an article by Adam Sherwin in a UK-based media-oriented news website, followed by this video sent to Nicolas at ELO Discovery. Apparently, Neil Hannon blurted out during a gig that an ELO album (not a Jeff Lynne solo album) is coming out soon... and then he was abruptly shushed.
Here's my unsolicited take on it and take from it what you will: Of course, only Jeff knows what's happening and over years, we've learned that he announces nothing until it's totally set in stone. For the record, I'm not totally convinced it'll be a new ELO album. And this is just an opinion, but frankly I don't think it should be. (The remakes collection, of which I'm just assuming there is one, could be a different story.)
Why? Take what happened 10 years ago. The timing seemed to be right, Jeff had the sheer joy of playing with a new Pro-Tools suite in his house and came up a nice collection of new tunes. Nostalgia for other bands of ELO's genre seemed quite high. Then came the box set, which seemed to usher in the classic stuff again fairly well. Then, the new album was released with some fanfare. And because it was labeled as Electric Light Orchestra, the critics (and indeed some fans) automatically approached it with raised expectations. The result: the critics shrugged their shoulders and the album sadly went nowhere fast.
Oh, and the tour. Take, for instance, the tour stop closest to where I am, the First Union (now Wachovia) Center in Philadelphia, a 20,000 seat arena. Look, I love ELO, I grew up listening to them, I'd be ecstatic to think they can pull it off. But, even I knew there was no way a band who hadn't had a hit single in 15 years would fill a 20,000 seat arena as the headlining act. No way. As it turned out, the tour was called off before it even launched, clearly because ticket sales barely made a sound. And $80 tickets didn't help.
I think it might be good to try a different approach. Let the guy take a crack at a solo career again; you can still drive home the point that this was the guy who brought us ELO. But try to gear it away from the classic rock genre. There is a huge case to be made for approaching non-commercial radio stations (ie WXPN, World Cafe-carrying stations, etc) for promoting and spreading the word about the album, not to mention using Facebook and MySpace. Treat it as a new beginning for Jeff instead of resurrecting the past again. Regina Spektor's Folding Chair (produced by Jeff Lynne) got steady airplay on these stations (at least here in Philly) and the track fit perfectly in their playlist. A Jeff Lynne solo record, I think, would accomplish that before an ELO record would. It's too difficult to sell a new ELO track to a classic rock station. People who listen to classic rock, want only classic rock. Is Tom Petty's new record getting heavy airplay on classic rock stations? I really don't know that answer, but XPN played at least 2 different songs in a 3 hour span just today... and it's their featured album of the week, so it will get way more airplay than any classic rock station. I'd bet the house on it. Flat out forget Top 40.
And for the love of God, if there's going to be a tour of any kind, try to sell out smaller venues first before attempting huge arenas that only Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Beyonce can sell these days. I thought that was a no-brainer.
I want any new record of Jeff's to succeed. But calling a new album ELO and slapping a spaceship on it didn't work very well a decade ago. Even though we've seen ELO songs get great exposure in high-profile commercials in recent years, I don't see any evidence that same strategy of 10 years ago will work now.