You know what the world needs right now? I don’t either. But I can tell you what the world does not need: An Electric Light Orchestra tribute album. Just typing that phrase sends a little chill through my body. Yet, here I am, reviewing L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling, a loving tribute to E.L.O. Mind you, this is no ordinary tribute album. There are no covers of classic E.L.O. tunes here. Instead, L.E.O. attempts to recreate the aesthetic of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra via new, original material.
Wow. What a terrible idea.
Yet — god help me — I must admit that this record is thoroughly entertaining. There are two redeeming factors that save L.E.O. from the brink of utter catastrophe. First, there’s the impressive roster of musicians who collaborated to make the album. Participants include Andy Sturmer (Jellyfish), Mike Viola (Candy Butchers), Tony Goddess (Papas Fritas), Matt Mahaffey (Self), and the whole group is led by W. J. McAuley III, a.k.a. Bleu. Of course, all this talent would count for squat, were it not for Redeeming Factor Number Two: The performers and producers are obviously having a blast. Not surprising, really. E.L.O. was known for quirky studio trickery and over-the-top pop theatrics. How could you not have fun copping their technique?
This is not to say the album is merely a shallow exercise in style. Such an accusation ignores the quality of the songcraft, the attention to detail in the arrangements and production. “Goodbye Innocence” and “Make Me” are damn good chunks of power-pop and “Ya Had Me Goin’ ” is hilarious retro fun. Other tracks come off a little hokey, most notably “The Ol’ College Try” and “Private Line.” But what did you expect from a friggin’ E.L.O. tribute album?
Alpacas Orgling proves that when talented artists truly commit themselves to a project, the result is going to be worthwhile. Even when the idea is a terrible, terrible one.