Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre


Review by David Waterfield

Frontiers Records

Armchair Theatre was originally released in the summer of 1990 and remains an intriguing album. It was the first album to be released under Jeff Lynne’s own name and freed from the constraints and expectations of producing another ELO album it allowed Jeff to please himself and to experiment a little. Consequently Armchair Theatre delivers much of what you might expect and one or two things that you might not.

There were two singles lifted from the album. Opening track ‘Every Little Thing’ with its thumping drum beat and killer hook line was a minor hit whilst ‘Lift Me Up’ with its huge, expansive chorus inexplicably wasn’t a hit at all. However both are fine examples of Jeff Lynne’s superb melodic song writing ability.

‘Now You’re Gone’ is one of the biggest surprises on the album and the track that most obviously reveals the influence of George Harrison. Layers of percussion, guitars and swooping harmonies build over a simple piano motif before giving way to a mournful violin solo from Sueesh K Lalwani. But it is the haunting classical Indian vocals of Ashit and Hema Desai that utterly transform the song. It’s a stunning piece of music that is unlike anything Jeff Lynne has done before (or since). However, speaking with hindsight, I must also add that it is one of my least played Jeff Lynne songs, simply because it’s just so incredibly sad. In a superb bit of album sequencing the gentle Rock ‘N’ Roll ballad ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’ shatters the mood and comes as welcome relief after such an emotional song.

Armchair Theatre also saw Jeff Lynne relinquish song-writing duties to include one co-write (the plaintive ‘Blown Away’, co-written with Tom Petty) and no less than three cover versions – a spirited take on Jesse Stone’s ‘Don’t Let Go’ (originally a 1957 US hit for Roy Hamilton), the Anderson/Weil standard ‘September Song’ and Koehler/Arlen’s classic ‘Stormy Weather’. The latter receives the full ELO treatment here, complete with slide guitar from George Harrison, backing vocals from Lynne and former ELO alumni Richard Tandy and Dave Morgan (among others) and a string section arranged and conducted by Michael Kamen.

This 2013 remaster features two previously unreleased songs. ‘Borderline’ originally appeared as a bonus track on the 12” and CD single version of ‘Lift Me Up’ but has been slightly reworked here.  The other new track ‘Forecast’ is an unusual little song but pays dividends after several listens. My only gripe would be the omission of the two other non-album tracks ‘Sirens’ and ‘I’m Gone’ which, along with the Extended Version of ‘Every Little Thing’, would have made this reissue truly definitive. With a looser and more relaxed feel than his ELO productions, Armchair Theatre saw Jeff Lynne absorbing the influences of his friends, heroes and musical collaborators to produce an engaging and diverse album.

“It’s still going you know…!”

Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre8 out of 10

Track listing:

  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
  12. Borderline
  13. Forecast