History in the remaking
IN 30 years time Marcus Mumford or Ed Sheeran will very possibly wake up one morning with the urge to recreate their back catalogues. They'll have spent three decades wishing they'd included a few extra fiddles on one track, or knocked back on the bass on another. Most recording artists go through an 'if only' crisis, but few do anything about it.
Jeff Lynne is one of the exceptions. The former Electric Light Orchestra frontman is responsible for the fact that last week's UK top ten included three ELO-related albums: 'All Over The World: The Very Best of ELO'; Jeff Lynne's 'Long Wave'(his interpretations of a collection of old classics); and 'Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra'.
'Mr Blue Sky...' is the most interesting. Lynne's re-recording of a dozen or so ELO hits from the late seventies is an almost obsessive recreation of the songs that made the band one of the biggest in the world at the time.
Lynne does not own ELO's back catalogue and did not have the original master tapes of their songs. So he spent three years in his California studio recreating the songs, note by note, playing every single instrument himself.
Not every reaction has been positive, with a number of critics suggesting the project is driven by Jeff Lynne's desire to make more money from royalties.
But Lynne hardly needs the cash and the man himself offers a more plausible explanation. 'I'd hear some of the [ELO] songs on the radio and I'd say, ' That doesn't sound like I thought it did.' So I thought, Maybe I should have another go at these,' he says.
With an armoury of skills and tools at his disposal, he was well placed to do just that. Regarded as one of the top producers on the planet, he's manned the production desk for members of the Beatles and Tom Petty, amongst others. And his studio outside Los Angeles is state-of-the-art.
The impact of 'Mr Blue Sky...' depends on where you sit on ELO.
Most people will be hard pressed to find any difference between the new versions and the originals, on a casual listen. But devoted fans will notice a clarity that wasn't there before, and more punch in many of the instruments. They might also notice that his vocal is slighly deeper and the echo's been turned down a notch, but the sound's none the worse for that.
By being completely true to the originals and resisting the temptations to 'reinterpret' his old songs, Lynne has given Electric Light Orchestra fans a whole new aural experience for the first time since 1986 (not counting 2001's disappointing 'Zoom').
Let's hope it serves as a lesson to those who feel that the only way to reach new audiences is to tinker with their old songs to the point where the appeal that made them hits in the first place is no longer there.