Electric Light Orchestra: Kuiama

From their album ELO 2 (1973).

This is ELO’s prog masterpiece, and one of the few ELO songs that can properly be counted as prog. It’s not clear to what extent they had the resources to continue in this direction, since they succumbed to pop-rock early on and never became a proper prog group. Some of Roy Wood’s contributions were prog, but hardly masterpieces. This song by Jeff Lynne, however, is truly on the highest level of the genre. A unique, mature prog style entirely their own is already fully in evidence, and the worthy anti-war theme has the requisite level of seriosity. If they had been able to continue like this, they would have been up there with the four or five best in prog.

There are some compositional flaws. The end is weaker than the beginning. The truly sublime section beginning att 3.00 (“No more silver rain will hit your ground”) should have been repeated at the end, after the verse ending with “True blue, you saw it through”, and with lyrics perhaps reflecting on the meaning of the confession for Kuia in her post-war life. It’s surprising that Lynne didn’t hear this. If the song were remade into a non-prog song, this section would be the chorus. It should have been more of a chorus in the existing song too, in order to for it to achieve the coherence that prog too needs.

Absurdly, there is a recorded live version where they even leave out this section, the best thing they ever made, and among the best of any prog band, for the sake of prolonging Wilf Gibson’s violin section. Needless to say, the latter is also an essential part of the song, but as extended like that, it further distorts a compositional whole that was already imperfect due to the non-repetition of the “chorus”. In another live version, Lynne sings it carelessly.

At 4.56, there is the same buildup as before the “chorus”, but there, it takes a little too long for something adequate to follow it. Just a little. There’s nothing wrong with the buildup not leading to the “chorus” in this place. Indeed, this time it ends in a way that signals, in an established manner, that it won’t lead to this, that something else, a prog development of the song in the form of a quiet “solo” or instrumental section (I think there really are, or at least should be, no proper solos in prog), will follow. The problem is only that this doesn’t happen until 5.23. It certainly should’t follow immediately, but 5.23 is a little too late. 5.10 would have been right. A similar minor flaw is that the transitions at 0.19, 1.48 and 4.30 are a little too sharp, in that they are marked by almost a second of total silence.

The original, studio version, above, shows that Lynne had very impressive prog intelligence. It can be heard also in ‘Mister Kingdom’ on the Eldorado album, and perhaps there is even a streamlined echo as late as ‘Big Wheels’ on Out of the Blue. But either it was, after all, as in the case of many semi-prog or partially prog bands, comparatively limited, or his musical talent was simply squandered on commercial pop-rock.

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