Eldorado was one of the albums added to my original to-do list at the suggestion of both parents. I’d planned to get to it shortly after I reviewed the first ELO album, but whenever it popped into consciousness, I ran into the same old snag.
“I just don’t get the fucking point of this album,” I’d say to myself, returning Eldorado to the back burner.
Still wanting to cover a bit more of the Move-ELO era, I thought of reviewing ELO 2, but I had to admit that the only real attractions on that album are Bev Bevan’s drumming and “Kuiama” (though I sensed that the album might have been saved with better production). I never really considered On the Third Day an option, for while I like some of the songs, the album feels aimless, as if the band is still searching for a direction. I have no interest in the period following Eldorado, when ELO became a very successful, commercially-oriented pop group.
Anyway, I was scrolling through my list the other day and Eldorado caught my eye. I thought, “Oh, what the hell,” and put the disk on the turntable.
And whaddya know? I finally got it.
Here’s the deal. We all have fantasies of one form or another, but if I have a fantasy, I do everything in my power to turn that fantasy into reality. If my efforts fall short, I dump the fantasy and forget about it. I have little patience for make-believe; if it isn’t real and you can’t make it real, fuck it.
It should come as no surprise that I hated every minute of my only visit to Disneyland.
I have previously mentioned that role-playing video games are a favorite downtime activity, an admission that may appear to call into question my aversion to aimless fantasy. The difference between an RPG like Final Fantasy and a trip to Disneyland is that RPG characters are usually on a mission to save the world, while Disneyland is all about good, clean and absolutely pointless fun. As I am one of those annoying idealists who also wants to save the world, I get great satisfaction from helping the characters in their quest against evil, but there’s more to it than that. RPGs remind me that changing the world is something you can’t do on your own—you need to build a team with diverse skills and perspectives to achieve your goal. In other words, I learn something from RPGs, whereas Disneyland is merely an escapist experience.
Eldorado always felt more like Disneyland than Final Fantasy. The lead character takes us through several of his escapist fantasies and eventually makes the choice to leave this world for the fantasy known as the afterlife—the escapist experience par excellence. That ending really stuck in my craw. Here’s a young guy with his whole life ahead of him. Why is he copping out? Does he really intend to commit suicide, or is he planning to have himself admitted to Cherry Blossom Clinic where he can live out his remaining days in slumberland once they lock him in and throw the key away? What the hell is going on here?
A lot more than I thought!
I strongly recommend to listeners that they listen to Eldorado in its entirety and avoid the temptation to chop it up into playlists. As is equally true of Sgt. Pepper, you simply can’t appreciate the impact and fundamental unity of the work without listening to it in a single sitting. For purposes of analysis, however, I will divide Eldorado into three distinct segments:
- Overture and Introduction
- Dreams and Fantasies
Overture and Introduction
The first identifiable sounds you hear come not from ELO but from a chamber orchestra. Of all the decisions that went into shaping Eldorado, this is the one that had the greatest impact on the final result.
And yes, I said “chamber orchestra.” The subtitle “A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra,” refers to the compositional form, not the size of the orchestra. The number of musicians in the orchestra on Eldorado falls far short of the 80-piece minimum requirement to qualify as a symphony orchestra.
Jeff Lynne wanted an orchestra for Eldorado because he felt he needed a broader sound palette than his small ensemble could provide. Rather than hiring a name orchestra, he cobbled together a group of thirty union musicians with assistance from conductor Louis Clark and pianist Richard Tandy. The orchestra is used to great effect throughout the album, sometimes supporting the mood of a particular piece with its diverse coloring capabilities and occasionally imbuing the music with cinematic grandeur. The cover featuring Dorothy’s ruby slippers has little to do with the story other than the dream world connection, but it syncs nicely with the album’s musical approach. The orchestral music on Eldorado is very reminiscent of the scores that accompanied many a Hollywood movie in the 30s and 40s, a time when movies felt “magical,” in part due to the orchestration.
We hear the cinematic connection very clearly in the opening track. The “Eldorado Overture” opens with a few seconds of silence; we hear nothing until about five seconds into the track, and what we hear is an ominous brew of unidentifiable sounds. A few moments later, we hear descending, shimmery violins backed by piano in what turns out to be the lead-in to Peter Forbes-Robertson’s other-worldly poetic overture-within-an-overture:
The dreamer, the unwoken fool,
In dreams, no pain will kiss the brow.
The love of ages fills the head.
The days that linger there in prey of emptiness,
Of burned-out dreams.
The minutes calling through the years.
The universal dreamer rises up above his earthly burden.
Journey to the dead of night.
High on a hill in Eldorado.
You can thank Jeff Lynne later for coming up with the perfect nickname for Ron DeSantis, but for now, let’s consider the tag “the unwoken fool” in the present context. When you absorb the work in its entirety, it’s quite apparent that Jeff Lynne had a great deal of empathy for our dreamer, making it highly unlikely that he considered the guy a fool, but rather an innocent soul who attempts to “rise up above his earthly burden.” The phrase “unwoken fool” is best interpreted as an indirect quote of common wisdom—those who dare to dream are often labeled “foolish” and “impractical” by the larger mass of people who keep their noses firmly affixed to the grindstone. As we’ll see, the poetry serves as a guide to the upcoming journey—and by referring to the “unwoken fool” as “the universal dreamer,” Jeff Lynne was attempting to reach the dreamer who lives within all of us but often lies dormant for various mundane reasons.
Forbes-Robertson vanishes into an echo, followed quickly by the gradually increasing sound of timpani and strings that in turn take us to the main musical theme, dominated by quick descents from the string section. That passage devolves into a brief coda, which seamlessly merges into the opening segment of “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.” Before we go there, I want to extend my gratitude to Lynne, Clark and Tandy for creating one of the most thrilling introductions to an album in rock history.
The intro to “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” employs a simple piano chord pattern of C-G-F-G, giving the strings a clear path to the creation of a dreamy landscape. The chords shift to C-Am for the first two lines as a trumpet is added to the mix, then Bev Bevan’s assertive drum fill signals an increase in the song’s heft with the bass and the string section entering the piece as it moves to an F-Dm-Am-G pattern in the closing lines of the verse. It’s obvious that a great deal of care went into the arrangement, as the team of Lynne, Clark and Tandy managed to combine a lot of moving parts without compromising the song’s engaging simplicity.
The first verse also describes the event that will motivate the unwoken fool to begin his quest: the appearance of a woman (“a vision of loveliness” according to Jeff Lynne) who inspires a change in the dreamer’s perspective on life:
Midnight, on the water
I saw the ocean’s daughter
Walking on a wave’s chicane
Staring as she called my name
And I can’t get it out of my head
No, I can’t get it out of my head
Now my whole world is gone for dead
Cause I can’t get it out of my head
There is some confusion about the third line of the verse. The above version comes from the lyric sheet that came with the album. “Walking on a wave she came” is the most common substitution and has the advantage because it forms a perfect rhyme. Unknown sources have claimed that “chicane” also has the meaning “the frothy tip of an ocean wave,” but that definition appears in exactly none of the reputable dictionaries. A guy named Michael went through hell trying to find the truth and concluded (I think) that “Walking on the wave she came” is probably correct. THE POINT IS that the ocean’s daughter is a supernatural being who can walk on the waves, no matter which wording you prefer.
The unwoken fool wakes up long enough to realize that his current circumstances are anything but magical . . . or meaningful:
Bank job in the city
Robin Hood and William Tell
And Ivanhoe and Lancelot
They don’t envy me
Sitting ’til the sun goes down
In dreams the world keeps going ’round and ’round
Okay. We have one who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, one who shot an arrow into the heart of a tyrant, another a crusader and model of chivalry, and the last a hero who earned a seat at the Round Table. Whatever you think of their aims and methods, all four have been mythologized as heroes. Whether they were real or fictional hardly matters to the dreamer; he is attracted to them because they led lives far more interesting than working as a teller or auditing the books. Jeff Lynne told VH1 (via Songfacts) “that he found inspiration for the song in the unfulfilled reveries of an everyday bloke. ‘It’s about a guy in a dream who sees this vision of loveliness and wakes up and finds that he’s actually a clerk working in a bank,’ he said. ‘And he hasn’t got any chance of getting her or doing all these wonderful things that he thought he was going to do.'”
Suffering from an acute case of modern ennui and encouraged by the vision of the ocean’s daughter, the unwoken fool begins an odyssey through his world of dreams and fantasies. Unlike Hercules, who was forced into his odyssey of twelve labors by a petty ruler, our dreamer’s quest is entirely voluntary.
Dreams and Fantasies
Our hero makes five dream stops during his odyssey, each involving a common myth. He also makes another stop to reflect on his experience. Occasionally, the real world rudely asserts itself in both his dreams and his reflections.
“Boy Blue” confronts the myth of the conquering hero. The song appears directly after the choir-drenched ending to “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” resulting in a somewhat abrupt shift in key and tone, but not abrupt enough to make it annoying. The intro begins with a riff on the opening passage of Jeremiah Clark’s “The Prince of Denmark’s March,” but since the piece was written approximately two-hundred-and-seventy-five years prior to Eldorado, Jeff Lynne is completely innocent of any charge of copyright infringement. The orchestra varies the piece by inserting two passages involving strings in both straight-bow and pizzicato styles. After a final flourish from the trumpets, the mood changes to a minor key; a muffled voice reminiscent of the narration in the overture makes a brief appearance while the orchestra works its way back to a sunnier major key. That passage gives way to a driving beat from the band with the orchestra moving into a supporting role, forming a short build to the song proper and its simple verse chord pattern of G-D-Am-C-G.
A crowd has assembled in the town square to greet the conquering hero of an unnamed war, likely something to do with the Crusades or one of the many religious wars that raged through Europe in the Middle Ages:
Hey Boy Blue, can’t you hear all the noise.
It’s for you, all the town’s waiting there.
Let us go, there’s a show like you ain’t seen before
Welcome home, where you been all these years,
Look around, all the crowd is in tears,
It’s so good to see you in the streets of your town.
The chorus “Hey, Boy Blue is back” serves as the medieval equivalent of “buzz,” and it’s likely that someone or several someones in the crowd shouted “Speech!” The crowd is probably a bloodthirsty bunch who want to hear about heads getting lopped off and battles won against impossible odds. At first, Boy Blue appears willing to satisfy their blood lust:
I’ve seen bold knights, dropping down like flies,
I’ve seen kings, rolling in the mire,
I’ve seen God, point the finger of doom to our foes.
I have fought in the holiest wars,
I have smashed, some of the holiest jaws
I’ve been jailed, been impaled, and been dragged through the world.
Now that he has their undivided attention, he ends his speech with a shocking turn toward pacifism:
One thing, I have learned through these years,
Is that no man, should be stricken with fear
It should be that he walks with no care in the world.
So my friends, who are gathered here today,
Hear this clear, for I’ll not further say,
That no man, shall cause me to take up arms again.
I assume that these final words were received with stunned silence and the crowd melted away in confusion and disappointment.
What’s important here is that the dreamer changed the mythological narrative. He didn’t just drop into a storybook and perform his assigned role to perfection. The unwoken fool isn’t merely escaping from the world, but imagining a better world—in this case, one that doesn’t resort to violence to resolve disputes. It seems that his dreams and fantasies have a real purpose after all and are not simply acts of avoidance and denial.
“Laredo Tornado” involves the mythology associated with the settling of the United States, particularly the policy of “Indian Removal.” The dreamer now appears in Native American garb sometime during the 19th century, when the white men of the United States used violence, forced marches and deception to clear the land of its rightful inhabitants. From their perspective, the American Dream turned out to be a horrifying nightmare.
The song begins with a sinuous electric guitar emphasizing bent blue notes, soon followed by war whoops that establish time and location. The music features somewhat more complex chording but is essentially a minor blues with an emphasis on descending variations of the E minor chord (similar to “Eleanor Rigby,” but with a C7-B9 resolution pattern). This is largely a band number with the strings supplied by Mike Edwards and Hugh McDowell on cellos and Mik Kaminski on violin. Jeff Lynne gives us one of his best lead vocals, combining bluesy grit with moments where he communicates the sense of loss with heartbreaking sincerity. The vocal arrangement is equally remarkable, with unexpected shifts in phrasing and voices dropping in and out of tempo to deliver a word, a grunt or a passing comment.
The Native American body-snatched by our dreamer was obviously one of the millions who experienced what turned out to be several “Trails of Tears,” forced out of a land blessed with ample natural resources and into the barren lower prairies:
Summer days, where did you go,
You’ve let me down so bad,
Clouds fill the sky,
Gone is the dream
My happy hunting ground.
Wild buffalo played and I never saw a rainy day.
But it looks like summer days ain’t coming back.
March April May, June and July,
You took me for a fall.
Big chief he lie,
Cold wind blows cool, so cold to make you die.
Mountain breeze, ocean bay and I never saw a rainy day.
But it looks like them summer days ain’t coming back.
The “big chief” could be one of many presidents who unilaterally broke several existing treaties in the name of Manifest Destiny. At the end of the first segment, the dreamer explains the plight of those whose way of living was shattered by greed and arrogance:
What can you do, when your dream world is gone.
And your friends and lovers too.
What is interesting about this dream is that our hero must have known he was entering a world where fantasy gave way to ugly reality. Why on earth would he have chosen to go there?
The answer is certainly unexpected. He wakes up in then present-day London and finds life in the city comparable to the experience of those forced into bleak environments, bereft of all hope:
West Winter Street under the ground,
The air that makes you choke,
Towers of concrete, hellish go-round,
Were there when I awoke
City sky, pouring down with rain
That can never hope to ease the pain.
And it looks like summer days ain’t coming back.
This compare-and-contrast may be overstated, but it does confirm his deep disgust with his current circumstances. A clinician would diagnose depression in five minutes.
“Poor Boy (The Greenwood”) explores the myth of Robin Hood. Finally! A pleasant dream for a change! Our hero finds happiness in Sherwood Forest as a poor boy who decides to link up with Robin Hood and his merry men and (ahem!) ladies.
I’ve always liked the concept of Robin Hood. We could seriously use someone who steals from assholes like Elon Musk and spreads the wealth among the needy. In doing my research on the Robin Hood myth, I found another little factoid that confirmed my instincts that Robin Hood is the ultimate good guy:
In 1953, during the McCarthy era, a Republican member of the Indiana Textbook Commission called for a ban of Robin Hood from all Indiana school books for promoting communism because he stole from the rich to give to the poor.
Our wandering friend certainly sounds happy in his new situation, for he has found a life with a meaningful purpose that he is willing to defend to the death:
The city boys, and the country boys, they come from miles around,
To defy their king and country, save the poor folks from the hand,
Of the thieving dukes and abbotts, and the gentry of the land.
Rollin’ on, I’ve been rollin’ on,
And my head is high, from the battle won,
Laid down my life for the Greenwood
Sherwood Forest certainly sounds like a desirable spot, with “The dancing girls and the open fires, the wine that flows like water.” I’m a little disappointed that Lynne makes only a passing and muddled reference to Maid Marian, who has morphed into a feminist heroine of sorts in our time, but going there would have likely distracted us from the dreamer’s quest.
“Poor Boy” consists of equal helpings of orchestra and ELO, with a choir adding a touch of the medieval throughout the song. The music is surprisingly complex: each verse in the key of G major resolves to a dissonant C minor chord while the closing line of the chorus adds a bit of drama to the proclamation “Laid down my life for the Greenwood” by starting and ending on a Bdim7 chord. The piece ends with a brief reprise of the “Eldorado Overture,” a nice bit of continuity to wrap up side one.
“Mister Kingdom” finds our dreamer reflecting on the purpose and value of his journey. This song has been incorrectly listed as a dream despite the lyrical evidence that it’s really a pause in the odyssey that allows the dreamer to reflect on his journey to date. Jeff Lynne wasn’t particularly helpful in resolving the matter, as he told Flashback (via Songfacts), “God knows what this is about, but I like the sound.”
That sound has been the subject of much commentary to the effect that the song is very much like “Across the Universe.” I’m shocked that anyone would even bother to assert that Jeff Lynne wrote a song that mimics the Beatles since it’s glaringly obvious that nearly all his work, from the Idle Race forward, has been influenced by the melodic rock of the Fab Four. File that discovery under “Duh” and move on.
The lyrics are confusing, but there’s no evidence that the dreamer is anything but fully conscious and likely in his flat. He shares his thoughts with an unknown personage referred to as “Mister Kingdom,” who may be a god or his own version of a superbeing:
Help me, such a lonely soul,
In dreams to leave behind the world.
Mr. Kingdom, help me please,
To find the rainbow’s end.
Looking from this empty room
The corridors of endless gloom
Go crawling through the night,
To meet the dawn that’s on the way.
Oh, to sleep, perchance to dream,
To live again those joyous scenes.
The laughter, and the follies
That are locked inside my head
It sounds to me like he is affirming the need for his odyssey—the desire to live in a world where he can manifest himself and his imagination. The chorus is enhanced by an assertive combination of orchestra and gritty synthesizer playing a figure of C-G-D followed by a quick flip to D-A-A-E. The music bears a slight resemblance to “Across the Universe” in the generally descending melody and the pattern of ending a verse on a minor chord, but since neither John nor Yoko filed suit, we can dismiss the contention of similarity as trivial.
“Nobody’s Child” involves sexual fantasy. “Well, it’s about time,” says the confessed slut about one of her favorite topics. Alas, it seems to be a minor-league fantasy of a likely virgin, dashing my hopes of leather harnesses, whips and chains. Oh, well.
This seems to be a real-world experience involving something he has likely dreamed about for quite some time—getting laid. The opening verse confirms the real-world setting and his irresistibly cute discomfort when confronted with the real thing:
Painted lady, stop that closin’ in on me,
Painted lady, you’re supposed to be a dream,
Painted lady, you better stay away from me.
He continues to play hard-to-get throughout the second verse and part of the third, but eventually he succumbs to the wiles of the painted lady and has an honest-to-goodness life experience he’ll never forget.
Painted lady, with your jewels and your beads,
Painted lady, don’t you do these dirty deeds,
Painted lady, you better stay here with me.
Nobody’s child til I saw the light of your smile.
Painted lady, nobody’s child, you have set me free.
I’ve always found orgasm to be the ultimate act of liberation.
For some reason, the track begins with a reprise of the “Eldorado Overture,” which feels premature. The music is mildly interesting, with a hint of muted trumpet conveying a certain sexiness, but the arrangement is way too busy and winds up obliterating the jazzy mood inherent in the chord pattern.
The only way this song advances the narrative is if his sexual experience changes his mind about the hopelessness of the real world and concludes, “Hey, this world ain’t such a bad place after all.”
And that doesn’t happen.
“Illusions in G Major” may involve the mythology of rock ‘n’ roll or nothing at all. In this high-speed rocker, our friend appears to imagine himself as a rock star who finds himself on a psychiatrist’s couch relaying a dream he had about . . . what?
On the seven seas, there was a phantom ship a-comin’
Shinin’ on the dead of night, I heard the crew a-hummin’
Tunes that sounded like the Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen
But they didn’t know the words, so I assumed that they was foreign
But I heard them just the same
Oh, doctor, let me teach ’em, I just wanna please them now
I said, doctor, let me teach ’em, I just wanna please them now
Later he reveals a second dream where he’s on a plane and the pilot somehow recites Keats and Browning without knowing the words. The dreamer wants to help him, too.
The best explanation of the song can be found on Horace Wimp’s ELO Fan Forum:
ELO used to need at least one rock’ n roll number on each album, and right before Eldorado was the best place to highlight the desolate utopia.
Translation: it’s a solid rock ‘n’ roll number that has no place on this album, lyrically or musically. It may be about a dream, but it’s a dream that simply doesn’t fit the narrative or the personality of the main character.
The Grand Finale
The title track sets the stage for the finale, so it’s time to consider Jeff Lynne’s curious choice of El Dorado (proper spelling) as the final destination in the quest. Here’s the essence of the legend from National Geographic:
The lust for gold spans all eras, races, and nationalities. To possess any amount of gold seems to ignite an insatiable desire to obtain more.
Through the centuries, this passion gave rise to the enduring tale of a city of gold. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans believed that somewhere in the New World there was a place of immense wealth known as El Dorado. Their searches for this treasure wasted countless lives, drove at least one man to suicide, and put another man under the executioner’s ax.
There is nothing in the tale indicating that our unwoken fool had a lust for wealth. On the contrary, he wanted to escape from a job designed to serve Mammon. Avalon would seem to be a far more fitting choice given the dreamer’s English origins and the magic associated with that island of Arthurian legend, but Lynne had other plans for “Avalon.” My guess is that Jeff Lynne felt that Eldorado was the most euphonious choice available, and since its history involved several quests to a mythical land, it served his purposes.
“Eldorado” seamlessly follows “Illusions in G Major” with transitional assistance from the string section. We find the dreamer at the end of his quest lacking any sense of accomplishment. He realizes that he’s back where he started, living in the grimy city with a shit job and bleak prospects:
Here it comes another lonely day.
Playing the game, I’ll sail away
On a voyage of no return to see
If eternal life is meant to be,
And if I find the key, to the eternal dream.
I don’t think his voyage of no return involves escaping from civilization and heading for the jungle as described in Ray Davies’ “Apeman.” It would seem he is looking to confirm or deny the presence of an afterlife, and the only proven means of voluntarily accomplishing that goal is suicide.
The second verse is close to neutral on the suicide question. Although the opening line could be interpreted as a reference to the isle where Excalibur was forged, Lynne refers to the location as “the Avalon,” making it more likely that it’s a reference to one of the drinking and entertainment establishments in London called “the Avalon.” Given what we know about “painted ladies” from “Nobody’s Child,” it’s more likely that women of that ilk would be hanging out at a bar instead of conjuring magic on a remote island. The next two lines find the dreamer considering other possible locations for the end of his journey as if he’s not completely sold on the suicide option. The last line leads us to Eldorado, a “place to close your eyes.” That could mean suicide; it could also mean Eldorado is a place where you can “shut out the world.”
The painted ladies of the Avalon.
Play in the sun, take to the road
To the north there lies the chills of cold,
To the south there lies the tales untold,
But in between there lies, the place to close your eyes.
Up to this point, Jeff Lynne’s vocal has been relatively subdued, perfectly in sync with a man clearly lacking hope and likely experiencing depression. In the chorus, his voice takes on a tone mingling intense melancholy with an overwhelming desire to leave his “old world” behind:
And I will stay, I’ll not be back,
I will be free of the world
In the context of Eldorado, that brief chorus is the dramatic equivalent of Hamlet’s soliloquy and Jeff Lynne simply had to nail the vocal. He made it through all four renditions with flying colors, giving me the chills on the final go-round when he raises his pitch in a state of near-ecstasy as he looks forward to experiencing the sweet taste of freedom.
In the third verse, the dreamer reiterates his disgust with “life upon the rooftop haze” and “all the cheating and the broken days,” concluding that “There’s nothing left for me.” The closing verse seems to find him “Sitting here on top of everywhere,” and we can safely assume that the “top of everywhere” is the locale referenced in the opening poem: “High on a hill in Eldorado.” Since I doubt that the dreamer is communicating to us via a ouija board and/or a medium, my take is that he’s still among the living and imagining what it will be like if and when he takes the final step. Physically, he’s still in London, but it doesn’t look like he intends to stay for long:
Sitting here on top of everywhere,
What do I care,
Days never end.
I know the voyage’s end will soon be here,
No eternal life is here for me,
And now I found the key,
To the eternal dream.
Those who would like to believe he doesn’t commit suicide but just takes a detour into his dream world are . . . dreaming. All the evidence points to a chosen departure from earthly existence.
The score for “Eldorado” mirrors the dreamer’s mood to perfection, moving from soft strings and light touches in the verses and a more assertive grandeur in the choruses. The cinematic music in the fade calls up images of the Arabian Nights or Machu Picchu, reflecting the common mingling of Arabian and Spanish music. To my ears, it sounds like a passage to a magical place, so it might indicate a successful transition to Eldorado and the afterlife. The passage takes us to the “Eldorado Finale,” which begins with a brief restatement of the theme in the overture, followed by a dramatic crescendo that builds to a climax and ends with the string section playing a single down note that feels like death itself. The final segment brings us back to the album’s eerie opening, where Forbes-Robertson has the last word:
The dreamer, the unwoken fool
High on a hill in Eldorado
So what does it all mean?
Eldorado depicts our world as a cruel place for anyone who wishes to explore the thoughts and possibilities that arise from one’s imagination. Our dreamer lives a miserable existence because he lives in a world that values practicality and production over imagination and creativity. Imagination is only appreciated by the general population when entrepreneurs use their imaginations to produce “amazing” consumer goods; the dreamer’s imagination would be viewed as frivolous and unnecessary. In many ways, the unwoken fool is like the proverbial starving artist, working alone in a dismal garret, painting masterpieces that no one cares to see.
The dreamer is also at a disadvantage due to the near-universal belief that social standing and employment status define who you are. We admire celebrities and the powerful; the “little people” (like our dreamer) are irrelevant and expendable. Assuming that little people have little to offer, we fail to recognize the vast potential that exists beneath the surface. It is clear that our hero desperately wanted to make the world a better place, but as a “nobody,” he had no chance of making that happen.
The tragedy of Eldorado—and it is a tragedy—is the sheer waste of human imagination and potential. Our unwoken fool is depicted as perceptive, thoughtful, and (of course) imaginative. It is a sickening reality that such people are relegated to a meaningless existence in the humdrum of modern life. Most don’t go as far as the dreamer and contemplate suicide, but instead choose to tough it out, living “lives of quiet desperation.”
Fortunately, there are two positive takeaways from Eldorado. The most important is that the work itself is a celebration of imagination and creativity. Eldorado is a shining example of what can be accomplished when an artist blessed with imagination has the opportunity to collaborate with others who help him realize his artistic vision.
The second takeaway is that imagination is a precious gift of unlimited potential. Jeff Lynne created a story that demonstrates what happens when we fail to appreciate that gift, but there is a lesson embedded in that unhappy outcome.
We can take a big step towards making the world a better place by insuring that the creative and imaginative people in our lives feel free to express themselves without judgment. And while we’re at it, we can take another big step by silencing the little voice inside our heads that represses our own imaginative capabilities.
A whole lot of human tragedy can be avoided by opening ourselves to the endless possibilities of the human imagination.
I was prompted to revisit this on Sunday after your review and I have played it continually all week, discovering its hidden treasures.
Your comments on the ending of this review are so awe-inspiring! That’s the human spirit!
The choice for The Wizard Of Oz in the album cover makes me think this: while The Wizard is an escapist and magical film, and it doesn’t condemn anyone for some level of escapism (I think escapism is very important in life too), it also says that pure escapism and fantasy aren’t all they are cracked to be, in the sense that you can’t run away from problems, there is no perfect land full of only wonder and happiness. Do you know that there was in the film a scene when Dorothy, disilussioned and sad, would sing a reprise of Over The Rainbow while crying and being a prisoner of the Wicked Witch? Judy Garland’s performance moved everyone to tears so much that they cut it from the film because they felt it was way, way, way too sad. All that remains from the scene are some audio portions of Garland’s performance.
The most common criticism against Disneyland since its creation was the obssession of it with artificializing everything, safeness and cleanness, removing the natural and human. While I obviously don’t condemn anyone going to Disneyland, and I wish I could go someday, it’s interesting to think of Disneyland as a desperate effort from Walt Disney to create his ideal world, something that he would try go even further with Epcot. Want was a fascinating and contradictory man. As he got disilussioned with his animators and animation itself, feeling betrayed after the 1941 strike, he became more and more conservative and obssessed with nostalgia for the early 20th century America, while also being very enthusiastic about the future and technological progress (another example of Walt’s contradictory nature). There are two great videos on Walt I recommend if you want to see, both by the YouTube channel Defunctland. The first is called “Defunctland: The Craziest Party Walt Disney Ever Threw”, and it talks about how the sense of camaraderie, even of family, that existed among the animators themselves, and with Walt himself, in the studio in the 1930s were eventually destroyed in the early 1940s. The second video is “Defunctland: Walt Disney’s City of the Future, E.P.C.O.T.”, which was basically gonna be Disneyland with all its flaws magnified by a huge amount.
Cheers, I wish you the best!
I did not know that about “Over the Rainbow.” Thanks! Judy Garland had such a lovely voice in her prime.
Wow. This was a fun and gratifying read. ELO was my favorite band from around ages 13-16. I became estranged from them somewhere in my college years and started listening to them again just a few years ago, when I bought up all of the CD reissues. Eldorado has always been one of my favorite ELO albums. The reissue with lyric sheet made me realize that the album was more lyrically coherent than I had given it credit for, and your review takes it even farther. I don’t think I’m sensing any allusion to suicide in there, however. It doesn’t sound that dark to me. I’m still thinking that the dreamer just returns to his dreams–whether that be daydreams, fantasies, reading escapist novels, or whatever.
I’ve always thought Jeff Lynne was a great singer, and I’m glad you call attention to this in a couple of places here. His singing on the choruses of the title song has always sent a chill up my spine. He’s a big Roy Orbison fan, and I think he was channeling Roy a little bit there, belting out the vocal from deep down in his chest. The choruses of “Mister Kingdom” and “Laredo Tornado” are powerful in a similar way.
“Illusions In G Major” is maybe the moment where the author, Jeff Lynne, makes an appearance, acknowledging that he is just a rock and roll singer and is not expected to provide anything more than pure entertainment. He appears to dismiss his rock and roll dreams as meaningless, but maybe they’re not. The song is left open-ended–wisely, I think.
I became an ELO fan from exposure to their later work, much of which I still love, though I agree that they moved in a more commercial direction after Eldorado. This album was really the culmination of the original concept of the group, combining classical music with rock and roll (although perhaps one could also make that claim for the instrumental “Fire On High” from the next album). After that, it became more like roots rock and melodic pop with an overlay of classical instruments–which I also happen to love. It was ELO, more than any other band or musician, who finally inspired me to listen to 50s rock and roll–with a big assist from your reviews on this site. I think the rock/classical hybrid was an ambitious idea that was too difficult to sustain. ELO had a great run with it, though.
I don’t mind post-Eldorado ELO; I just don’t find it all that interesting (I love “Fire on High,” though). The 50’s rock connection is very apparent on songs like “Telephone Line” and some of Lynne’s work with The Move. I think he’s a terribly underrated singer, for whenever I listen to the original version of “Do Ya,” I feel stinging disappointment when Roy Wood steps in and sings the closing verse. FYI, I have a 50’s review lined up for next week!