It’s El Dorado.
Perhaps you think it’s extremely nitpicky of me to point out that the title is misspelled. Perhaps you think that the title is mean to not conjure the mythical “City of Gold” but rather something more general and fantastic. And maybe that’s correct and fair. (Certainly more fair than I want to be.) But, to me, the inability to even get the title right represents so much of what I find problematic about ELO. To me, Jeff Lynne’s knowledge of the music he is ostensibly influencing by always feels second hand; be it rock and roll (not really present on a lot of this record), classical music (this is a “A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra” folks) or prog rock (which this doesn’t really resemble in any way, despite both RYM and Wikipedia classifying it as such). He heard someone say “El Dorado” and though it was one word. Just like he heard the Beatles play rock and roll and thought it was the genuine article. Just like he heard British “classical” music (notoriously the least good of the major European countries which produced it) through some not very reliable medium and decided this is what European art music music sound like. (I imagine it was some greatest hits of Elgar or something.)
Because this doesn’t resemble a symphony. (Of course it doesn’t.) What it resembles, like most ELO, is sup-Beatles art pop with a lot more strings. As I have written elsewhere, ELO’s music sounds like it was written by someone who listened to the Beatles and ignored every song that wasn’t a pop song. (I bet Jeff Lynne’s least favourite Beatles album is The White Album.) Jeff Lynne listens to “The End” and thinks the guitar solo parts aren’t very good, but all the cheesy bits around it, and the ridiculous, unnecessary, orchestra, are the real stars of the song.
I just can’t take this band seriously. Jeff Lynne writes catchy songs. (Though I must say, he would get much better at writing catchy songs later. This is the least catchy set I’ve heard so far and, not coincidentally I suspect, the earliest album I’ve heard.) He seems to think if you pair catchy pop songs with strings that you are marking “classical” music. Or something. The pretension that drips from this middling pop music is something. At least when Emerson, Lake and Palmer are pretentious (which is nearly all of the time), they show off. They play the shit out of it. (And they know what European Art music sounds like!)
ELO makes me like Supertramp. That’s how I feel about them.
Oh, and that Dylan impersonation on “Poorboy” is annoying, to put it mildly.