by John Myers

It sounds like the beginning of a joke if not an art-rock disaster: What do you get when you cross neo-classical and rock 'n' roll? Anyone familiar with the '70s progressive rock movement knows the punchline. You get Electric Light Orchestra. Listeners that didn't object to the union on philosophical grounds soon realized how seamless integration could be as writer and producer Jeff Lynne crafted a sound that was complementary to both camps.

Fifteen years after their last ELO album comes Zoom, a title that characterizes how fast those 15 years have gone. Some things don't change, such as Lynne's reclusiveness and perfectionism in the studio. Lynne seems most at home hiding behind the ironic label, Electric Light Orchestra. He is, and has always been, the orchestra in the studio (here he brings in some guest artists, namely George Harrison and Ringo Starr).

Each of the 13 tracks sport a promising intro, however some unravel and sound clunky by the time the chorus comes around. The strongest track (and by no coincidence the first single) is "Alright." Here, Lynne puts the electric guitar front and center and doesn't smother it with studio tricks. Other tracks might succeed on adult contemporary charts, but boy band fans won't be listening.

It's hard to yank a pithy quote from the ELO catalog. Lynne puts down lyrics like an impressionist -- raw and best viewed from a distance, where they define mood and tone. On previous records, Lynne always left the writing of lyrics 'til the last minute. With his latest he seems to have given equal attention to both the words and music. Fans of the old ELO might miss the 40-piece string sections, but most fans will be happy that the Light is still on.

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