June 24, 2024

Phil Thornalley – ‘Now That I Have Your Attention’ – “addictive and massive fun, like bingeing on ELO”

2nd September, 2022

There’s an awful lot of Electric Light Orchestra DNA here, whether it is the strings phrases for emphasis, the harmony ooo-ooos or the sweet melodies. Tied to basic rock and roll memes and the most basic straight-ahead drums, this is really strong old-school pop. It tips its hat at The Travelling Wilburys too, on only the second track, the ironic ‘Hell Bent On Compromise’. Somehow catching the weird Petty / Dylan jointly voiced phrases and the Harrisonesque guitar, the only thing he daren’t attempt is Roy Orbison’s operatic tones. Jeff Lynne of ELO was part of the Wilburys and there’s the link in the sound.

‘Fast Car’ is big, meaty, beaty and bouncy in a way that brings ‘Out Of This World’ straight to mind. At the time, ELO seemed like the uncoolest band in the world. I mean, even Roy Wood jumped ship after one album, but they dominated the charts and small-town club dancefloors. Despite the dual-punch punk and disco onslaught, big pop stayed big and the Electric Light Orchestra carried on from their chart-dominating double album into ever-sweeter iterations in the eighties before gracefully going quiet.

The opening ‘Hash Pipe’ and ‘High On Your Supply’ show a side that wouldn’t have dared grace a seventies hit, even if the latter is nominally a love song in a Wilburys style. ‘Big Plans’ sees Thornally singing out of his nose to catch the gentle Dylan voice of the Wilburys. There aren’t many that would dare attempt Dylan’s tone but Phil is having fun and he’s doing what he wants, which seems to be creating an astonishing confection, a tribute, a sequel, a big pop elpee that would almost pass as the original. It’s a work of love as deep as The Rutles were (though rather less arch) and, in the few story song, I hear a little of Neil Innes’ gentle ideas, particularly on the McCartney-esque ‘Bluer Than A Bluebird’; the album’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ moment.

Here is a man who was trained in the studio by Rak Records’ Mickie Most, played bass on The Cure’s ‘Love Cats, produced Prefab Sprout’s ‘When Love Breaks Down’ and has worked with an amazing number of really big names. Not ELO though, or any of the Wilburys. But…. why? I enjoyed the earlier ELO records, and the way they married a crummy beat combo with the grandeur of a full orchestra – it was over-the-top but infectiously musical, creating a foundation of the oxymoronic ‘controlled’ rock and roll drums and a super simple bass guitar.” Yeah, but…. still WHY? When I listen to pop radio these days,” says Phil Thornalley, “no one seems to be having any fun. In my teenage years, every other record you heard was ridiculous. I think that sense of fun is missing from today”. Assembling and playing nearly the whole thing, this is a massive hobbyist endeavour, recorded partly at home, partly in the studio. “I’ve been gifted a certain talent for rudimentary playing of the pop instruments such as bass, drums, guitar and piano. I understand musical arrangements from making records for other people through the decades, so I can hear what I want and gravitate towards achieving it.” There is the odd guest and he’s brought in the strings arrangements and playing but this is mostly a man making the record missing from his extensive collection, just because he can.

Despite an abiding fear of appearing uncool, I find this set addictive and massive fun, like bingeing on ELO and Wilburys in an absolutely unironic way.

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