Friday, September 21, 2007

Jeff Lynne - Armchair Theatre (1990)

It was great to see the reissued Traveling Wilburys albums riding in the charts earlier this summer. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, all the members of that illustrious supergroup were producing the best material they had released in years. There was a generous spirit of collaboration that infused not only the Wilburys recordings, but also the solo albums released by several members not long after. Roy Orbison delivered Mystery Girl, a fine effort even by his high standards, and Tom Petty released Full Moon Fever, arguably still the finest individual collection of songs in his canon.

Tying all of these releases together was the trusty hand of Jeff Lynne, who capped a remarkable four year period by releasing his one and only solo album, Armchair Theatre. A modest success on release, the album has been out of print for several years now, a truly mystifying state of events given the overall quality of the record. Opening single "Every Little Thing" was straightforward and easy to like. "Lift Me Up" featured a heavenly chorus and found its way on to a soundtrack or two. The real treasures remain buried later in the album. The covers of two standards, "Stormy Weather" and "September Song", (ostensibly for Jeff's mother who had recently passed away) unroll their charms with a simplicity and directness that Jeff had never brought to his work before. Likewise, the charming closer "Save Me Now", a throwaway acoustic ditty, conveyed an earnestness and economy that ended the album on a high note. Throughout the album, fellow Wilbury George Harrison contributed his trademark slide guitar lines in a way that underlined and improved every song, without stealing any of Jeff's thunder.

My personal favorite is the penultimate track, a collaboration with Tom Petty entitled "Blown Away" that describes romantic aspiration with a remarkable mixture of lyric, melody, and instrumentation. The interesting thing to me about this album was how I bought it on a whim, played it once, and then shelved it for a full twelve months before I gave it a second chance. Even now, 16 years later, it sounds like a musical letter from a postcode in heaven.

Jeff Lynne - Armchair Theatre (1990)
  1. Every Little Thing
  2. Don't Let Go
  3. Lift Me Up
  4. Nobody Home
  5. September Song
  6. Now You're Gone
  7. Don't Say Goodbye
  8. What Would It Take
  9. Stormy Weather
  10. Blown Away
  11. Save Me Now

Despite clocking in at under 40 minutes, Armchair Theatre has a balance and flow that I would do little to disrupt. Reading around the multitude of ELO/Jeff Lynne forums, it seems like "Don't Let Go" is the least liked track, and I would tend to agree. Several other tracks were recorded in the same time period, and showed up as later B-Sides:
  1. Sirens
  2. Borderline
  3. I'm Gone
  4. Every Little Thing (Extended Mix)
  5. Wild Times
Now you can make up your own track list. I am good to you or what?

Wikipedia entry


Anonymous said...

great post. Lynne's a genius. cheers ...

Anonymous said...

Wow how come I never heard of this before? He is the "other Wilbury" that no one can usually remember. Any chance it could be reposted? I can't find it anywhere. It is one of those dead zshare links...:-(

DavidLG1971 said...


I've loved ELO since a kid in the early 1980s. Needless to say, ARMCHAIR THEATER was a favorite of mine when it came out in 1990.

I remember seeing the videos for Every Little Thing and Lift Me Up on VH1 for several months, and (as a fan) was quite proud of the "quiet" Wilbury being so high-profile for awhile.

I'd say if you measure this against all the albums he made as the frontman of ELO, it would be the best of the post-1977 era, easily. Well, except for the brilliant 1981 album TIME, which for my money is ELO's best. (It's TIME or ON THE THIRD DAY, their best 1970s album.)

Back to 1990's ARMCHAIR THEATER: I especially like the Indian-tinged singing on Now You're Gone. Anyway, nice review!

Video Beagle said...

Loving your blog. Would it be possible to repost the bonus tracks for Armchair Theatre? You're the only place that even mentions them, much less has them.

Anonymous said...

I haven't got the cover notes for Armchair Theatre. Do you know who is singing on Nobody Home?

mineforlife said...

I've finally got around to cleaning up this post and adding new links for the extra tracks. Terri, the vocals on "Nobody Home" were by Jeff and Phil Hatton.