Electric Light Orchestra: Secret Messages (35th Anniversary Reissue)

Electric Light Orchestra’s tenth studio album, Secret Messages, was originally conceived as a double LP, but the group’s record company was initially unwilling to release Jeff Lynne’s classic offering in its entirety. Therefore, when Secret Messages reached record bins in 1983, it was a shorter, abbreviated version containing only 10 of its original 18 tracks. Its original running time (76 minutes) was reduced to a mere 46 minutes.

Now, for the first time, Secret Messages has been reissued as a double vinyl LP and digital download in its nearly original full-length version. Although most of the previously deleted tracks have appeared over the years on various compilations and remasters, this anniversary release is sequenced in its intended running order, albeit without the inferior, yet often requested elusive unreleased track “Beatles Forever.” However, previously deleted tracks “No Way Out,” “Endless Lies,” “Buildings Have Eyes,” “Mandalay,” “After All” and closing track “Hello My Old Friend” have all been reinserted in their proper places. Yet, it’s still beyond comprehension why the 39-second “After All” was ever deleted in the first place.

In its expanded form, Secret Messages clearly bridges the gap between ELO’s previous efforts and what eventually followed. Residual echoes of Time, as well as foreshadowed glimpses of Balance of Power are equally omnipresent throughout the double disc’s song cycle. Jeff Lynne’s three solo tracks for the film, Electric Dreams would easily fit amongst the track listing of Secret Messages. In fact, the soundtrack contribution “Video!” actually borrows elements from the aforementioned elusive “Beatles Forever.”

While Secret Messages formerly seemed somewhat unsatisfying in its abbreviated versions, it now feels like a complete and cohesive piece of work. This newly expanded edition not only feels more immersive, but also flows consistently better in its prolonged form. Previously, it played out like an unfinished concept album sorely lacking a proper climax. Undoubtedly, completists will continue to yearn for the unreleased “Beatles Forever,” but at least we now have an acceptable sonic blueprint of Lynne’s original vision.

Secret Messages is now available as a 2-LP gatefold set on 150-gram vinyl with digital download.