Balance of Power is clearly an album of the ‘80s. With Electric Light Orchestra down to a “fat-free” 3 members that included Lynne, Tandy, and Bevan, and with the music of the times evolving, it stood to reason that a “new” sound needed to be employed to remain viable. Unfortunately, the Rock ‘n Roll highway (the main drag) was littered with unsightly wrecks from ‘70s era bands attempting to redefine themselves. There were few who could navigate that crushed, single-lane on ramp but those that did, did so quite well. ELO was not one of those.
That does not relegate Balance of Power to the junk heap, however. There was some good material on here as borne out by their charted single, “Calling America,” which showed that Lynne’s songwriting was never a problem, the times and the ability to identify with it was the roadblock. With the Buggles-like “So Serious,” and some ABC and Erasure sounding music in there (there are several), it’s evident that ELO gave it a noble shot to try and merge. There is a clear ELO charm to the songs on Balance of Power that stands out from all of that electronic keyboard gadgetry that was the thread of much of ‘80s’ music.
This Legacy/Epic Expanded and Remastered reissue of Balance of Power is an aptly titled album, almost as if Lynne, Bevan, and Tandy felt the tilt of the changing music and knew that the tide was shifting against them. Besides the clean remastering, there are new liner notes by Jeff Lynne discussing the use of the electronics that make up these songs. In addition to the added photos, credits, and other goodies that fill up this new reissue, there is a nice essay from Rob Caiger that makes use of bits of Jeff Lynne discussion to look further into the craft of Balance of Power.
As in previous Expanded and Remastered ELO reissues, there are the bonus track inclusions. This version of Balance of Power sports a deep 7 cuts, two of which are UK-only B-sides and the rest previously unreleased alternate versions and mixes as well as unheard songs from the period. The first of the tracks is “Opening,” an unused spacey intro that quickly segues into “Heaven Only Knows.” The unreleased bonus of an alternate version of “Heaven Only Knows” is a nice surprise as it is easily a classically styled ELO song, good enough that it may have fit onto an earlier album. It sounds as if Lynne needed to hear it in classic ELO fashion before remixing it to fit the album.
Other bonus cuts include an unreleased song, “In for the Kill,” a decent session track that didn’t make the album; I like its inclusion here. The alternate mix of “Secret Lives” is a louder mix but could easily have been the cut on the album as it is quite good in comparison to the album version. The other alternate mix is “Sorrow About to Fall,” a cut that is less cluttered and STILL as competitive a cut in comparison to the album original. The remaining two songs, “Caught in a Trap” and “Destination Unknown” are session songs that ended up as UK B-sides.
For the record, Balance of Power stayed on my turntable longer than most ELO albums did. I found it to be a refreshing turnabout from the intricacies that had pervaded later ELO albums. Lynne is still Lynne here with his usual flair for song crafting but the new era ignored it. You could say that ELO never crashed but merely pulled over to the side of the road, took the ticket, and walked away leaving the vehicle behind, credibility intact.
Balance of Power was a noble effort.