Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 27, 2009: The Nuggets Record Buying Guide: The Move

It’s hard to imagine anyone with more than a passing interest in the pyrotechnic pop of the Who or the Creation not being utterly inspired to delve into The Move discography, especially after being introduced to them via “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and “Fire Brigade” on Nuggets II. These two tracks are fine representations of the Move’s cartoony humor, keening harmonies, heavy bottom, and utter Britishness. Bandleader Roy Wood is as notable for his eccentric songwriting and alluringly metallic voice and guitar tone as he is for his great big mustache (he also wrote, produced, and sang on the utterly Move-esque "Dance Round the Maypole" by fellow Nuggets band the Acid Gallery). Chief vocalist Carl Wayne is one of the most classically fine British rock singers, with a strong, clean vibrato. Drummer Bev Bevan rolls the toms like Keith Moon on a short leash.

Like many acts on the Nuggets compilations, the Move were essentially a singles band, and the initial run of 45’s they released between debuting in early ’67 with the psychotic two-header “Night of Fear”/“Disturbance” and putting out their first album in March of 1968 is as delectably tuneful and wildly fierce as the work the Who and the Creation released during the same period. A couple of these singles (“Flowers in the Rain” and “Fire Brigade”), along with their B-sides (“[Here We Go Round] The Lemon Tree” and “Walk Upon the Water”) made the grade on the Move’s eponymous first record. On its own, The Move is not the group’s strongest album: their cover of Moby Grape’s “Hey Grandma” is well-done but unnecessary, and their cover of the Coasters’ “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart”, poorly sung by Bevan, is awful. He does a more respectable job vocalizing on a peppy rendition of Eddie Cochran’s “Weekend”, but three is a lot of covers for an album released long after originals had become the “serious rock” standard. Of course, there is little evidence that the Move were serious about anything, what with their car and television-destroying stage antics.

Although it is a bit thin, you will want to pick up the first Move album eventually (especially in its double-disc incarnation on Salvo Records, which collects all of the group’s essential early singles), but the band’s best album from start to finish is their final one.

By the time the Move got around to cutting Message from the Country in 1971, they were quite a different group than the one that recorded The Move. Acid-enthusiast and bassist Christopher “Ace” Kefford had exited as far back as 1968, leaving bass duties to rhythm-guitarist Trevor Burton, who followed Kefford out the door the following year. That same year, Carl Wayne moved on (pun!) to start a solo career. Enter Jeff Lynne, who split songwriting, singing, producing, and guitaring duties with Wood on Message from the Country.

Although it’s short on hits, Message from the Country found the Move perfecting their numerous musical pursuits and compiling them into a collection that felt eclectic rather than merely random, as The Move did. “Ella James” and “Until Your Moma’s Gone” are examples of the heavy rock they started pursuing in the late ‘60s, but the album feels more like a return to the pithy singles of the band’s mid-‘60s hey day, which is a relief after the long-winded epics that dominated Shazam and Looking On (both 1970). “No Time” is the group’s most ethereal ballad. “It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance” is a killer fusion of hard rock and Moroccan arabesques (Jimmy Page and Robert Plant must have been listening). “The Minister” is a delirious rocker with a creepy-crawly riff. Bevan even makes nice use of his goofy basso profundo on the ‘50s R&R parody “Don’t Mess Me Up” and the Johnny Cash parody “Ben Crawley Steel Company”. Meanwhile, the title track and “The Words of Aaron” hint at what Wood and Lynne were planning to deliver with their soon-to-be-born Electric Light Orchestra, although ELO would rarely produce anything as tough and terse as these two tracks.

"Message from the Country"

Mess - Watch the best video clips here

After Message from the Country, those who like their Move short and sharp will want to back up to ’68, grab the debut album, and stop there. More adventurous listeners should continue to Shazam, a demanding album for sure, but one that most definitely pays off with repeated listens. Aside from the stomping standard “Hello Susie” and the pretty throw-back “Beautiful Daughter”, everything on Shazam cracks the six-minute mark. The sudden shift in approach raises the question of whether this was an artistic choice or a consequence of dwindling material. The fact that the album includes a lengthy remake of “Cherry Blossom Clinic” from The Move might suggest the latter, but “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” actually improves on the early version with a fuller, more powerful production, more assured playing, and funny instrumental run-throughs of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, and Tchaikovsky’s “Chinese Dance”. The nearly 11-minute “Fields of People” (“there’s no such thing as a weed”!) is a hilarious flower-power spoof that ends in a lengthy raga. “Don’t Make My Baby Blue” is the group’s most convincing slab of heavy-metal and “The Last Thing on My Mind” is another strangely beautiful ballad. Looking On is a far less essential collection of marathon-length tracks, although “What?” is excellent later-day psych and “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues”, “When Alice Comes Back from the Farm”, and “Brontosaurus” are all good pieces of heavy blues rock. Definitely not the place to get moving (pun!), though.
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