Daily Archives: November 17, 2015

eloship

E. L. Oh-oh?

Expectations.  Whose responsibility are expectations?  The creator, or the consumer?

I guess it’s on me, the consumer. But I ask because I just received the new ELO album late last week.  It magically arrived while we were off on vacation (thank you Amazon!).  And expectations almost messed everything up.

Now, ELO is a favorite.  I’ve loved the Electric Light Orchestra for as long as I can remember, and news of a new album set my anticipation to a ten.  Jeff Lynne was finally setting aside his producing duties for other folks (like The Beatles, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, etc) and taking up his own music again.  And it wasn’t going to be an album of old covers (I’m looking at you, Long Wave).  It was going to new, shiny, ELO music.  Full of strings, and synths, and guitar, and choral tracks, sweeping and thrumming and full of pop-y goodness.

That’s what I expected.  There’s that word ‘expectations’.

As a matter of disclosure, my favorite ELO albums are Zoom, Time, and Out of the Blue.  Sure, I love Eldorado.  And A New World Record is special.  There’s great stuff on every ELO album.  But those three, Zoom, Time, and Out of the Blue are my three.  They’re also some of the most over-produced, bouncy, collections of pop in the ELO catalog.

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I bought Jeff Lynne’s solo album The Long Wave when it came out a few years ago.  It was well crafted, but it didn’t stick with me.  It was Jeff Lynne revisiting the old standards he grew up with.  It seemed to be constructed for an audience of one – Jeff Lynne.  Kids wouldn’t want it, the songs were of the vintage that my Mom would enjoy.  Well, not really, because she doesn’t believe anyone sings anymore, they just yell into microphones.  Not like in the good old days.  The Long Wave just wasn’t what I was after, and as well put-together as it was I have to admit I’d been hoping for another Armchair Theater.  The Long Wave wasn’t it.

And I bought Zoom when it came out in 2001.  I love Zoom.  It is an extremely under-rated ELO album.  Zoom is a return to form, a fun, energetic disc that I wish had followed Time (instead of the studio-trimmed Secret Messages and then Balance of Power).  If Zoom had come out when there had still been an audience for ELO it might have soared.  But in the new millennium nobody wanted a classic ELO sound, and Zoom did a spectacular face plant.  It must have hurt to put all that effort into something that just went nowhere.  As a result fourteen years have passed without another new album.

Then suddenly late last year Jeff Lynne starting popping up again.  The Hyde Park concert, then playing for Paul & Ringo, and then delivering a fantastic production of Evil Woman & Mr. Blue Sky at the Grammys this year.  Sounding just like the ELO of old.

Jeff gave interviews were he talked about how touched he’d been by the response to those shows, and that he was working on a new ELO album.  Woohoo!  ELO would be back. [see: expectations]

And now the new album is out.  Alone in the Universe.  It’s not the old band, and it’s not a new band.  Rather, it’s Jeff Lynne once again playing all the parts himself.  One Jeff dubbed over another Jeff, over another, and another.  Still, I expected a swoopy, joyful, ELO album.  That’s what Jeff Lynne writes, that’s what ELO does.  Right? [see: more expectations]

Alone in the Universe isn’t that.  It’s much more akin to Jeff’s solo effort Armchair Theater.  But it isn’t quite that either, it’s not as happy, and there’s more ELO in there, just a bit.  It’s not a Traveling Wilbury’s album either, although it is twangy every now and again and feels as though Roy, Tom, George, and Bob could be playing along.  And it’s not as stubbornly reverential to the standards as The Long Wave, although it has some crooning.  It’s a mix of all three styles.

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The first time I listened to it I made a cardinal mistake.  I was in a hurry to shove it into my ears, I couldn’t hold out any longer.  But we had errands to run, so my only option was to give it a first listen via the stock audio in our Toyota Prius.  Ouch.  Everyone was a loser I’m afraid, I’m sorry ELO.  You deserved better.

My wife and I listened as we drove along, and the album just sank.  It was flat.  The songs were all the same tempo, the vocals were wistful and melancholy.  Everything was muddy, the drums barely registering.  Song after song sounded like thin retreads of old standards, Wilbury’s outtakes, or the slow, slow ELO songs (the ones you wait thru to get to the bouncy ones).  Sigh.  I hated it.  I hated the new ELO album.

Once we were home I popped it onto our audio system.  Better.  Still slow and a bit too melancholy, but at least it wasn’t as muddy.  There were hints of the old ELO popping through.  But only hints, none of the songs grabbed things by the synthesizer and ran away with it.  I then read some of the reviews.  Mostly glowing, but a few mixed in that expressed the same worries I was experiencing.  I went to bed feeling a little better, but still disappointed.  Fifteen years of waiting, and I’d rather listen to Zoom!

So, expectations.  The next day I listened to the album again.  And again.  It grew on me.  The songs really are expertly crafted.  They do soar, they are fun, they’re just smaller, shorter rides.  I began to think “Well, it’s not my favorite ELO album, but I could listen to this”.   It’s not that bad, in fact, parts of it remind me of old ELO stuff.  But I probably wouldn’t choose it.

shuffelThen my perspective was changed by an experiment.  I’d been wondering about expectations.  Was that the problem?  Had my expectations been too high?  I decided to try something.  I threw Alone in the Universe into a blender, mixing the songs in random order with two other albums – Zoom and Eldorado.  I let that playlist run in the background as I worked around the house and guess what – the new songs ‘fit’.  They didn’t feel out of place at all.  It sounded like ELO.

I tried the experiment again, this time shuffling the new album with Out of the Blue and Time.  Hmmm.  That was a bit worse.  The new songs were very well produced, but they didn’t have the bombastic quality of those old albums.  Ok, so Alone in the Universe isn’t a ‘Time’.  I already knew that.

The more I tried this experiment with various albums from the ELO catalog the more they just blended in.  They fit fine.  My expectations, based on memories of the old songs, were the problem.

I still miss the joyful, overblown feel of some of those late ’70’s-early ’80’s discs.  But you know what?  Now that I’ve set aside my expectations I like the new album.  It’s playing in the background right now as I write this.  It’s a bit slower and lighter, it’s definitely familiar, and it does feel like a ‘smaller’ ELO.  Still, I like it.  If you’re a fan of ELO, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and the like you should definitely pick this up.

Still, I want my bombastic fun.  Perhaps ‘Out of the Blue 2’ next Jeff?

Not sure yet?  Jeff Lynne appeared on The Tonight Show on Wednesday the 18th.  Here are the links:  When I was a Boy and Mr. Blue Sky.

ELO will also be on the CBS Morning News this Saturday (11/21), I’m assuming playing in their ‘Saturday Sessions’ segment.

You can click here to listen to ‘One Step at a Time’, the most up tempo song on the album.  Or if you have Amazon Prime you can listen to the entire album for free.

And if you have tickets for the LA show later this month, I’m very jealous.  Or tickets for the UK shows that are selling out quickly.  ELO selling out the O2!  In 2016!  Now there’s a bucket list item!

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Your Ghost Host

Vacation time!  Well, last week was vacation time, and we were down at Disney World.  My wife was running a half-marathon there, so we stayed for the week to hang out and take in everything Disney.

There were race errands to run the first morning, so I was sent off to the parks on my own.  And where did I head first?  The best place in all of the parks – The Haunted Mansion!

I’ve always loved the Haunted Mansion.  From the dour door greeters, the bad puns, the haunted hallways, and the animated spooks, it’s a concentrated brew of a lot of my favorite things.

So imagine the excitement I felt when I discovered there is now an entire store dedicated to Haunted Mansion merchandise at Disney World!  It’s called Memento Mori and opened about a year ago. IMG_9730 I’m pretty good at resisting the temptations strategically placed by Disney to pull money out of our pockets, I really am.  But there was something lurking in the back of that store that knew exactly how to extract cash from my billfold.  Well, from my MagicBand anyways.

Personalized Ghost Portraits.

Yep, portraits of you and your loved ones done up as Haunted Mansion spirits.  I loved it the moment my eyes fell upon the demo portraits hung on the wall.

But these weren’t just ordinary portraits.  No, they’re better than that.

If you’ve been through the Haunted Mansion you’ve seen the hallway of portraits that morph between ‘normal’ and ‘scary’ versions of each painting.  They’re classics, and have been up in the mansion since the very beginning.  Here are a couple to refresh your memory:

Horseman2animation  medusa

There have been many used in the Haunted Mansion over the years, there’s a great encyclopedia of them on DoomBuggies.com.  Similar effects have been done for years using lenticular images.  Here’s a very simple explanation of how lenticulars work, but it’s really just putting rows of lenses over an interlaced image.  The lenses show you one version of the image from this direction, and a different image from the other direction.  It’s physics and science, no magic.  But the result is very cool, allowing images to change as you view them.

lenticular ringLenticulars have been limited in the past to mass-produced items.  Advertisements, toys, and trinkets – lenticular images were printed and pasted onto all sorts of things over the years.  Even the new ELO CD I bought last week has a lenticular sleeve.  I remember having little plastic rings when I was a kid that had lenticular images.  Digital technology has changed all of that, and now it’s possible to produce custom, one-off lenticular images.  Disney has latched onto this idea and put it to great use in the Haunted Mansion gift shop.

You see, there’s a room at the back of the gift shop.  And in that room is a ‘ghost camera’.  It’s an old Victorian looking thing, a large wooden box with a lense on the front, set atop a sturdy wooden table.  All the better to hide the computer and software (I mean, spirit apparatus) inside.  haunted-camera-twoshot
The room is set as a vintage photo parlor – you sit on a small bench at one side of the room, and the ‘camera’ and it’s operator summon forth your ghostly projection at the other end, capturing it’s image on film.  It’s all very well done, with the cast member never revealing the technology behind the trick.  It’s explained that ‘It will take a few moments for your apparition to manifest’, and sure enough, soon you’re done and shuttled off to the front of the store to wait for your portrait to materialize.

We waited alongside a large portrait of Madame Leota, the spiritualist from the Haunted Mansion seance room.  Another cast member greeted us as we waited, pointing out some of the haunted corners of the shop.  The Madame Leota portrait shifts and changes at times, and occasionally Leota appears in a haunted mirror across the way.  There’s even a spirit trapped in a bottle on a high-off corner of the shop.haunted-shop-tripleOur cast member took great pleasure in pointing all of this out to us, and the time we spent waiting for our portraits to print flew by.  Soon we heard the faint ringing of bells and a rap on a small cabinet by the Leota portrait.  The cast member opened the cabinet doors, and there, as if by magic, sat our finished portraits.  They were amazing!

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We quickly took some photos before handing them off to the shop keeper to have them shipped home.  I’ve composited the ‘normal’ and ‘spooky’ versions side by side here, the effect when tilting the image is really striking.  It’s one thing to see a random image shift, but to see your own portrait change right before your eyes is something that just tickles and delights.  It’s my favorite souvenir of the trip by far.

The cost?  A very reasonable $20 per portrait.  Of course that’s before you decide you must have the $25 themed picture frame to go with it:

hauntedmansionframe

Any old frame would work, but really, how can you pass up something like this?

I predict these portraits will become the centerpiece of our Halloween decorations every October.  Or…should we keep them up all year?  🙂

IMG_9705Bravo to Disney for thinking through the entire experience.  From the themed photo parlor, the distractions to pass the time while you wait, the ‘materializing’ of your portraits – the entire process was fun and in ‘spirit’.  The haunted portraits are unique to Disney World, you won’t find a similar booth at Disneyland.  If you find yourself at Disney World though, stop in and visit the cast members at Memento Mori and let them snap your portrait.  It won’t hurt…much!

Do you have a treasured Disney souvenir?  What is it and how did you discover it?