Alpacas Orgling is the sort of record that drives people who dislike the contemporary power pop underground scene absolutely out of their heads with rage. If those three letters look familiar, that's entirely by design: LEO is an unabashed re-creation of the sound of vintage late-'70s Electric Light Orchestra on an indie rock budget. The album's mastermind is Boston-based power popper Bleu McAuley, with key contributions from Mike Viola (formerly of the Candy Butchers), Papas Fritas' Tony Goddess, Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish and members of Hanson, Chicago (!!) and Self. The ELO lifts are subtle but unmistakable, with direct nods to tunes like "Telephone Line" and "Mr. Blue Sky" mixed in with bits that cleverly nod to Jeff Lynne's creamy pure pop goodness without actively ripping him off. It could possibly be the most clever album-length evocation of an established band's sound since the Rutles. "But that's all it is, right?" sneer the non-believers. "It's nothing but a baldfaced ripoff of the sainted Jeff Lynne, and with a silly album title besides!" Well, there's little defending the goofy album title other than the fact that it's fun to say, but here's the thing: Alpacas Orgling knocks McAuley's polite, pedestrian solo albums into a cocked hat. In fact, with the possible exception of Papas Fritas' unjustly overlooked second album, Helioself, a lost indie pop treasure of the late '90s, Alpacas Orgling is the single best album any of its major participants have ever taken part in. And yes, that includes the hugely overrated Jellyfish, a band much more interesting in concept than in practice. Given the self-limiting task of channeling their own pop sensibilities through those of an earlier generation of craftsmen causes all concerned to step up their game: the songs are gorgeously arranged, with instantly memorable melodies and lyrics generally far less pretentious than the sort of claptrap Jeff Lynne himself often came up with. Of course, the most logical next step is for McAuley, Viola and company to take the lessons learned from this project back to their primary careers, but as long as one is clear on the album's artistic intentions and is willing to approach this kind of wholesale imitation on its own playful level, this is an album any true lover of '70s AM radio pop fluff should treasure.
If you loved ELO & love all things power pop this album has to be In your life.
A respectful, refreshing rip-off
While most tribute albums are rubbish and derivative, what LEO have done is both refreshing, respectful, while being a direct rip-off of the classic late 70s ELO sound. Echoes of songs are all over the place - Last Train To London, Evil Woman ... the list goes on.
The vocals are ELO to perfection, especially ape-ing Kelly Groucutt's backing and lead.
They have also got something of how Jeff Lynne wrote his lyrics. Just listen. They sound so perfect and appropriate, until you actually stop and LISTEN to what they are - and so often they are pretty meaningless. Words as part of the aural landscape, not as treatises on life.
The only problem with it, is that it is less than 40mins long (but so are all ELO albums), and there has been no follow up. A wonderful one-off.