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Music / Time

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"I only meant to stay a while."
"Just on the border of your waking mind,
There lies another time
Where darkness and light are one.
And as you tread the halls of sanity
You feel so glad to be, unable to go beyond.
I have a message from another time."

Time is the ninth album by the Electric Light Orchestra, released in 1981 through Jet Records. On release, it swiftly topped the UK Albums Chart for a while before wearing off, and the more immediate retrospective didn't look so kindly on it when comparing it to the likes of Out of the Blue. Still, it maintains a rather sizeable cult following to this day (particularly among those interested in Zeerust), and is generally considered to be one of ELO's more spectacular albums.

The story of ELO's second Concept Album is about someone from The '80s who is magically whisked 20 Minutes into the Future— specifically, the year 2095. Things look interesting... but then he realises that he's unable to go back. He's there to stay. It turns out he's committed an Accidental Time Travel, and before long he starts suffering from a constant Nostalgia Filter that nearly all of the album's lyrics go into detail about. And then things go From Bad to Worse; he then realises that he can't see his girlfriend or anyone close to him, because they're all in the past. Or all of this might just be a dream. Not even Jeff Lynne knows the interpretation.

There are many reasons as to why this album is one of their more significant releases. Firstly, there's the more polarising aspect of this being the point where "electric" began to completely supplant the "light orchestra"— synthesizers and electronic effects play a much bigger role here, and would go on to play an even bigger role in the next two albums (this is cited as a musical inspiration in itself). Secondly, it was the first and, to this day, one of the few notable concept albums to have Time Travel as its main plot point. Thirdly, the album is widely considered to be a Trope Codifier for a lot of Time Travel tropes, in particular the aforementioned Accidental Time Travel and Fish out of Temporal Water ones.

Lastly, there's the unintentional association this album gained with, of all things, the anime fandom. In 1983, a group of amateur animators who would later become Studio Gainax created a promotional short for the Daicon IV science fiction convention, featuring a girl in a Playboy Bunny outfit battling numerous pop culture figures from both Japanese and western media (tying in with the lack of regional limits for represented media at the convention). The animators just so happened to choose "Prologue" and "Twilight" from this album as the main background music for the short— without permission from Jet Records. Consequently, barring a one-off sale of 8mm prints to con-goers as a way to recoup funds, the short has never been able to see an official release; the closest it ever got was an unauthorized LaserDisc run based on a telecine of one of the 8mm prints. Despite this, the circulation of LaserDisc copies of the short allowed it to live on among anime fans, and as the Daicon IV short became a defining element of Gainax's brand, so too did ELO's Time slowly come to be more and more readily associated with the production. In the process, the short wound up giving the album and the band a new audience that they never would've expected to pick up, all because of a small group of amateur animators from a completely different country.

Time was supported by five singles: "Hold On Tight", "Twilight", "Ticket to the Moon"/"Here Is the News" (released as a double A-side), "Rain Is Falling", and "The Way Life's Meant to Be".


Side One

  1. "Prologue" (1:15)
  2. "Twilight" (3:35)
  3. "Yours Truly, 2095" (3:15)
  4. "Ticket to the Moon" (4:06)
  5. "The Way Life's Meant to Be" (4:36)
  6. "Another Heart Breaks" (3:46)

Side Two

  1. "Rain Is Falling" (3:54)
  2. "From the End of the World" (3:16)
  3. "The Lights Go Down" (3:31)
  4. "Here Is The News" (3:49)
  5. "21st Century Man" (4:00)
  6. "Hold On Tight" (3:05)
  7. "Epilogue" (1:30)

2001 Reissue Bonus Tracks

  1. "The Bouncer" (3:13)
  2. "When Time Stood Still" (3:32)
  3. "Julie Don't Live Here" (3:44)

Principal Members:

  • Jeff Lynne - lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, synthesizers, vocoder, production
  • Bev Bevan - drums, percussion
  • Richard Tandy - acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers, vocoder, guitars
  • Kelly Groucutt - bass guitar, backing vocals

Here are the tropes, coming to you every hour on the hour:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The year is 2095. Among other things, space travel is now a fact of life as are trips to the moon, and automation technology has advanced considerably.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Several possibilities exist, and there's no official answer.
    • All Just a Dream: The narrator never went into the future. ("Hold on Tight")
    • Bittersweet Ending: The narrator did go into the future and came back to the past, but years later than 1981, and his wife has left in the time he was gone. ("Julie Don't Live Here")
    • Downer Ending: The narrator went into the future, but he's pretty much trapped in the future forever, so he won't be able to see anyone that was close to him in the past ever again. ("21st Century Man/Epilogue")
    Though you ride on the wheels of tomorrow,
    You still wander in the fields of your sorrow.
    • Earn Your Happy Ending: The traveler (as he anticipates in the song) joyfully returns his wife and tells her everything that happened, but she thinks he was only dreaming. ("The Bouncer")
    • Gainax Ending: The traveler becomes stuck in a timeless and barren place, all alone. ("When Time Stood Still")
  • Arc Words: "Though you ride on the wheels of tomorrow, you still wander the fields of your sorrow." Spoken in "21st Century Man" and "Epilogue", and played as a reversed message in "Twilight" and other songs on the album.
  • Bad Future: The year 2095 isn't described in a particularly positive light. There's weather events like meteor showers, prison satellites are a thing, and even the crime and justice system is dominated by computer automation. "The Way Life's Meant to Be" and "Here is the News" describe a lot of plastic in use to imply a flimsy, disposable future.
    As I wander around this wreck of a town, where people never speak aloud
    with its ivory towers and its plastic flowers, I wish I was back in 1981.
  • Book Ends: The start of "Prologue" and the end of "Epilogue" are certainly similar enough; the end of the album actually loops seamlessly back into the start, suggesting a Stable Time Loop.
  • Digital Destruction: Due to a mastering error, initial CD releases include a pause between "21st Century Man" and "Hold on Tight", disrupting the intended use of Fading into the Next Song. The 2001 remaster fixes the error, restoring the segue.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Prologue", which introduces "Twilight".
  • Fish out of Temporal Water:
    • The entire album is about a man from 1981 who is given a one-way trip to 2095 and ends up struggling to comprehend the scale of change inside the world that he's stuck in.
    • "21st Century Man" directly discusses this.
  • Gratuitous French: The second verse of "Hold On Tight" is the first verse in French.
    Accroche-toi à ton rêve
    Accroche-toi à ton rêve
    Quand tu vois ton bateau partir
    Quand tu sens ton coeur se briser
    Accroche-toi à ton rêve
  • Limited Lyrics Song: The only lyrics in "Another Heart Breaks" are the titular phrase.
  • Mood Whiplash: The somber "21st Century Man" and "Epilogue" are separated by "Hold on Tight", a more upbeat and traditional rock-and-roll tune with much more optimistic lyrics.
  • New Sound Album: Begins the period where ELO used more electronic instruments and less strings.
  • Product Placement: "Yours Truly, 2095" mentions a Robot Girl manufactured by IBM.
  • Rip Van Winkle: That's more or less the case in "Prologue" where the narrator awakens to find themselves in the late 21st century.
  • Robot Girl: The android girl in "Yours Truly, 2095". Manufactured by IBM, the latest in technology and comes with a telephone.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Prologue" leads directly into "Twilight", and in live concerts, the two are performed as a single piece.
  • Zeerust: Considering this is an album from 1981 which looks through a crystal ball to a time over 100 years into its future, it's taken the best part of just a few decades for most of the visions to look completely... hilariously unlikely.
    • The robot girl from "Yours Truly, 2095" is said to be an IBM model.
    • In "Here Is The News", trade union discontent is rife - especially in the space travel sector.

"Though you ride on the wheels of tomorrow, you still wander the fields of your sorrow."