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"It's fair on everyone," reckons Bates. "Part II shows that Jeff's not a part of it, which was important to him and to us." While no one can take anything away from Lynne's songwriting ("On record, Jeff Lynne was ELO," gushes Bates. "Personally, I think he's one of the greats, right behind Lennon and McCartney."), his showmanship on the concert stage is fair game. "Jeff didn't like to play live and didn't project much in a live situation," says Bates. "In terms of performing, this band is a better band than the old one because the whole band enjoys doing it."
It's tempting to view this ELO saga as a milder rehash of the Roger Waters versus David Gilmour/Pink Floyd debate of a few seasons past. Bates is quick to make the distinction. "Roger Waters wasn't totally responsible for Pink Floyd, though he'd like to think he was. He did a lot of the writing, but Pink Floyd basically sounds the same now as when Roger was involved. We sound similar to the old ELO, but we don't want to sound the same. Even Jeff doesn't sound the same. He's moved on, and that's what everyone else had done."
Moved on, and, in some cases, moved back. Moment of Truth sports an "Overture," an "Underture" and an "Interlude 3" (which precedes "Interlude 2" which precedes "Interlude 1"). No version of ELO has drawn such blatant allusions to classical music since the 1975 breakthrough album Eldorado, subtitled "A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra."
"What people like most about ELO is the period of A New World Record, where the orchestra was fairly prominent but there were melodies and it still rocks a bit," says Bates. "That's the element we try to keep in Moment of Truth."
Roger Waters termed the first Pink Floyd album made in his absence "a clever forgery," but charging any incarnation of ELO with forgery is pointless. The concept behind the original band, if you can truly call it original, was to pick up where the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" period left off. Thankfully, no one on Moment of Truth tries to mimic Lynne's vocal style, which regularly alternates between Lennon, Dylan and Jerry Lee Lewis. Only the Bee Gees-like backing harmonies favored by Lynne remain.
Of the three new lead vocalists, Bates has a singing voice that recalls throaty English blues belters like Chris Farlow and Frankie Miller, while Eric Toyer's high tenor resembles a less annoying Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply. Not surprisingly, ELO elder Kelly Groucutt--who spent years matching Lynne's vocals live and in the studio--sounds the closest to the band's defected leader. Unfortunately, his operatic showpiece "The Fox" sounds like something Andrew Lloyd Webber might throw together if he were to bring Aesop's Fables to Broadway ("The multicolored humans ride/Soon they will find me where I hide"). The first new numbers on Truth are boosted by the kind of carefully planted songwriting hooks that would do Lynne proud. Those quickly trail off, however, leaving us with cringe-inducing dreck like "Whiskey Girls" (think Foreigner with hillbilly fiddles). Like the ELO of old, Part II liberally lifts from classic rock staples; "Whiskey Girl" has the same Keith Richards riff used on Michael Jackson's "Black or White," and the strings part of "Don't Wanna" is a direct nick from Bowie's "Changes." Finally, the album's "Overture" sounds suspiciously like a rearranged "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (that's the 2001 theme, for all you Elvis-in-Vegas fans).
Without a hit album, ELO Part II is yet another summer tour poised to surf the rising wave of Seventies nostalgia. Which isn't exactly a bad thing. The hits bear up to scrutiny, and the new tunes provide a convenient opportunity for fans to take a whiz or score a soda.
Like the Pink Floyd of the Nineties, ELO Part II is hardly breaking new ground. Regardless, a giant cash bonanza would likely be assured if the band would only bring out the spaceship next time around. After all, no less an authority than Jeff Lynne confesses in the liner notes to Strange Magic, a recent ELO retrospective, that "the flying saucer used to go down better than us some nights.