Album review: The Move, Message from the Country

Posted: January 12, 2011 in Album Reviews

The Move were an immensely popular British band in the late 60s and early 70s that never really made their mark in the United States, which is a shame because their musical chops are nearly unrivaled in the world of rock, particularly the group’s main songwriter Roy Wood. Wood practically invented the term “multi-instrumentalist” as he was equally adept at playing classical instruments like the cello, bassoon, oboe and recorder as he was at strumming the guitar.
The Move shifted through many lineups in its relatively short lifespan, but perhaps its best incarnation was its last. In 1970, Jeff Lynne joined the band to give it another songwriter to take some of the load off Wood, and also Lynne’s addition pushed Wood much like Lennon pushed McCartney and vice versa.
They recorded a pair of albums and several singles in the two years of the Wood-Lynne-Bev Bevan trio, with their last LP offering coming in late 1971 in the outstanding Message from the Country.
At the time they were recording Message, Wood, Lynne and Bevan were also working on a brand new project. That new band was the Electric Light Orchestra, which had the premise of being a rock band that also employed a classic string section on every song. The formation of ELO basically ended the Move and less than a year later, Wood left due to artistic differences with Lynne, which is a real shame. I enjoy ELO, which after its first few albums melded into a sleek pop machine with hit single after hit single well into the early 80s. But The Move is much better, much more eclectic and harder rocking than most of ELO’s output.
Message from the Country is almost split in half by Wood’s and Lynne’s songs. Wood tended to be the more experimental of the two, but each had an ear for melody and a willingness to explore new sounds and arrangements.
The Move also had a brilliant sense of humor, recording humorous tributes to Elvis on the Bevan-penned “Don’t Mess Me Up” and Johnny Cash on “Ben Crawley Steel Company”, a humorous number featuring a rare lead vocal from Bevan, the band’s excellent drummer who would stay with Lynne in ELO for the next decade.
The other novelty number is the music-hall pastiche “My Marge,” which is similar in feel to the Beatles “Honey Pie” or “When I’m Sixty-Four,” except even goofier and tongue-in-cheek.
Other than the beautiful “No Time,” the other six tracks on the original album hit pretty hard. The best is Wood’s “It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance,” which finishes with a classical music freakout during the final minute or so of the song. Lynne’s “The Words of Aaron” features some brilliant piano work and strong harmonies from Lynne and Wood, who sing together on most of the album’s tracks. Wood’s “Ella James” is a straight-ahead rocker, while Lynne’s “The Minister” sounds a bit like the Beatles’ Paperback Writer at times.
The expanded version (which came out a few years ago) is a must-have, as it includes classic Move singles “California Man,” “Tonight,” and “Chinatown,” as well as excellent B-sides. One of the B-sides is the hard-rocking “Do Ya,” which would be a hit six years later when Lynne recorded with ELO.
I basically got into this band because I loved ELO’s first album (the only one with Wood, Lynne and Bevan together) and also most of Jeff Lynne’s work in general. Through my purchase of this classic, I now want to explore the rest of the band’s catalogue as well as Wood’s work with Wizzard and as a solo artist. I still don’t understand why this band never hit it big over here. Guess everyone was busy listening to the Carpenters and Partridge Family at the time…..

Sod rating: ***** (get the expanded edition, the extra tracks are a must)
Key tracks: It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance, The Words of Aaron, Ella James, The Minister, Message from the Country, Tonight

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