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By the time The Move recorded their third album 'Looking On', founding vocalist Carl Wayne had left, to be replaced by Jeff Lynne. He had joined with the main aim of helping Roy Wood to complete the group's transition into what was seen as the groundbreaking, experimental classics/rock fusion outfit, the Electric Light Orchestra. The Move thus became less of a pop unit, increasingly turning their back on live performances, filling out their existing contract in order to finance the costs of recording the first ELO album and just appearing on TV to plug their singles.
This was the first album to feature entirely original compositions. When I bought it not long after release, I hardly knew what to make of it. In the days of vinyl it contained seven long tracks, much of it a wilfully long way from hit single territory, and a fair amount being highly progressive almost-heavy metal (before the term was coined), but with some unusual instruments along the way. Some critics called it their worst album (drummer Bev Bevan called it 'a bit ploddy'), but history has been kinder. A good deal of it is slightly weird, but fascinating nonetheless.
Issued on Fly Records at the end of 1970, it sold poorly at the time. The group had just signed a new contract with EMI Records in order to develop ELO, while Fly was keen to concentrate promotional activities on its other act, T. Rex (at the time still just a semi-acoustic duo), who were about to become the hottest act since the recently disbanded Beatles, so this album just escaped quietly into the shops. In 2007, a sparkling remastered reissue with bonus tracks arrived, courtesy of Salvo Records. This is it.
THE ORIGINAL ALBUM
The title track (7 min 45 sec, written by Wood) sounds almost more like Black Sabbath in places than The Move. A song based on heavy guitar riffs and solos, broken up by sweeping piano interludes, eventually turns into an instrumental with jazzy guitar, sitar and oboe, and some nifty jazz drumming. Like several other tracks on this album, it seems to be like two songs merged together, each one with a different tempo.
'Turkish Tram Conductor Blues' (4.46) is credited to Bev Bevan, though rumour has it that it was all Wood's work and merely 'given' to the drummer in order to send a few royalties his way. Heavy riffing on guitar, slide guitar, the first use of saxophone on a Move record, and sawing cellos, help create a dense, busy, slightly distorted wall of sound which could appear muddy to some ears but rather effective to others (mine, at least). It also contains the immortal line, 'There's a rhino in the kitchen, send him on a tram back home.' Lyrics are perhaps not this album's strong point, or alternatively they had the backing track ready, needed some words in a hurry, and decided to go with something ultra-daft.
'What' (6.40, written by Lynne) could hardly be more different. Some fans regard it as their favourite on the album, though I wouldn't agree. A majestic, dreamy, almost pretty ballad with almost classical-sounding piano chords, it's nearly seven minutes long and at one stage speeds up briefly a little (compare the faster passage in Richard Harris's 'MacArthur Park') before reverting to the slow mood.
'When Alice Comes Back to the Farm' (3.41, Wood) is a real cracker. An absolute wall of sound, massively overdubbed with Wood's vocals sounding curiously far away and scratchy (although this only adds to the rough and ready atmosphere), this rocks'n'rolls with all the urgency that his slide guitar and cello riffs plus a touch of saxophone can give it. Twice it switches tempo and Lynne's no-holds barred boogie piano takes it up a further level. It was a single but sadly flopped, one of only two in their entire career never to make the Top 30.
'Open Up Said the World At The Door' (7.10, Lynne) sees the writer in almost jazz mode. Multi-tracked falsetto vocals, energetic piano, and Wood's sitar and oboe lead to a short drum solo, part of it swamped in echo, and it comes out the other side as a stately instrumental in march time. Both this and 'What?' are very similar in mood and construction to the lengthy songs which would later make up the bulk of the second ELO album, the first on which Lynne would have full musical control of the band, following Wood's departure.
'Brontosaurus' (4.25, Wood) is the one track those of you with long memories might recall, as it was a No. 7 hit in summer 1970. I remember thinking this was nothing like the group we knew from hits like 'Blackberry Way' and 'Curly'. A deep portentous guitar riff and lyrics about how 'she can really do the brontosaurus' then give way to three brisk chords on acoustic guitar as it speeds up, and Wood growling above a frenzied backing of boogie piano (listen how Lynne's hands pummel and sweep down the ivories, switching from one channel to the other) and slide guitar. In a year which also saw Top 10 singles from Free, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, it showed that hit records could still rock quite hard. Best thing on the album, definitely.
'Feel Too Good' (9.33, Wood) is once again something utterly different. With Lynne on drums, this is based around a funky guitar riff and Wood's almost screaming, soul-like vocals (Robert Plant and Ian Gillan may have done it better, but Wood wasn't far behind when he got his hard rock hat on), plus plenty of cello, piano and oboe weaving around the guitar. As if that's not enough, there are also backing vocals on the chorus which for years we assumed was the ever-versatile Wood imitating Tina Turner. Only on this Salvo reissue is the truth revealed - the singers are none other than P.P. Arnold, who has sung on hits for many rock, soul and dance acts over the years and had a solitary Top 20 solo hit in 1967, and the late Doris Troy. Wonderful as it is, it could have done with a little editing. In fact an edited version was used on the soundtrack of the 1997 movie 'Boogie Nights', and if it had been released as a single at the time, it could have turned a whole new generation on to the group's music.
After about eight minutes of the foregoing track comes a brief burst of fun - ninety seconds of doo-wop and mock-opera, partly accapella, partly singsong around the pub piano, 'The Duke of Edinburgh's Lettuce'. This was uncredited as a separate track on the original album, apparently as it was 'not the done thing' to name tracks after living royalty (compare the non-credit on the album sleeve of the Beatles' Abbey Road' for 'Her Majesty' a year earlier).
Five of the bonus tracks are rough mixes or shortened versions in progress of the above tracks. The exception is 'Lightning Never Strikes Twice', the B-side of 'Brontosaurus'. Written by bassist Rick Price, who sings lead vocal, and Mike Tyler (the real name of Mike Sheridan, leader of an early 1960s pre-Move band of which the teenage, pre-bearded and long-haired Wood had been a member), it's a more folksy, mainly acoustic song with nice chorus and an engaging sitar break.
A three-way foldout card package with 16-page booklet containing group photos, pictures of original single sleeves and labels, a biography of the band plus full notes on the album sessions and annotations for the bonus tracks, and a 'label' design on the CD itself. As with all other Salvo CDs I've seen, it's clearly done with the discerning collector in mind, and could not be bettered.
On early listens I though the album tended to lack light and shade, and with its mostly lengthy tracks it sounded slightly self-indugent. So massive Move fan that I am, for that I'd deduct one star (or maybe half a star if I could). It took me years to get into it properly, and I wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to their work. However if you know and love the group's singles, and want to hear what they got up to when they got frustrated with catchy hit-singledom, I think you would appreciate this as well - but it will take a few listens.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]