Looking On (1970) *** / ****
By this time the Move had gone through a few lineup changes, the major ones being the departure of Carl Wayne and the entrance of Jeff Lynne. Of the seven songs on the original album, Lynne composes the two best: the ominous "What?" that rumbles epically with vague birth-of-Christ alusions in apocalyptic but richly melodic style, veering from dreamy verses to suddenly fiery choruses of electronically-treated vocals. Whew! "Open Up Said the World at the Door," is a more complex multi-part construction, not as immediately catchy, with jerkily pounding piano and mass-choir harmonies. Drummer Bev Bevan contributes a number, too, "Turkish Tram Conductor Blues," of which the less said the better.
Q: What's the last thing a drummer says to his band?
A: "Hey, why don't we try some of my songs?"
As for Roy Wood, once again he's in album-material writing slump. This being released hot on the heels of a fellow Birmingham band entitled Black Sabbath earning some early success, the Move apparently feel the need to move in a heavier direction. Not that they're bad as a heavy rock band; it's just that they are mediocre at it. The songs are heavy enough, alright, but as a guitarist neither Lynne nor Wood are particularly adept at crunching out monster hard rock riffs - they're art-pop songwriters, for J.C.'s sake, and that's where their talents lie. "Brontosaurus," is the only truly successful Wood composition this time out, with its lumbering bass-heavy stomp indeed mimicking some dredged-up prehistoric beast thrashing in the tar pit (is this where they got the term "dinosaur rock"?) until idiotically boogieing frenetically in the mid-section, but nevermind, it's still a great song. Wood's other songs do have their touches of genius, but they're only side-touches - the scraping violin in the middle of "When Alice Comes Back to the Farm," the unexpected arrival of bagpipes in the middle of an alleged heavy metal number on the title track (AC/DC are the only other band I am aware of to have pulled off the same trick), and the....well, there's practically nothing positive I can say about the closer, "Feel Too Good."
So, a three star rating for the original album - it's got some interesting ideas but ultimately is only half-successful. The bonus tracks push it up another star entirely. If you've read my review of The Best of the Move, you'll find some of these tracks there, but since that compilation is impossible to find, I'll review them again. For whatever reason, Wood was concentrating his best material into concurrent singles instead of album tracks, and nearly every one of these ten bonus tracks rules in its own way. OK, seven of them do - we can leave out the Italian versions and the demo tracks that constitute the final three numbers. Let's do this one by one:
1) "Wild Tiger Woman" b/w "Omnibus" - Bev Bevan admitted in the liner notes of The Best of the Move that the B-side should've been the A-side, and I agree: "Omnibus," is as delightfully Brit-poppy as they got, ringingly chimey and breezy and lightweight in the best of senses. The A-side is more aggressively boogieing and the chorus is mildly obnoxious, but it's still a winner, mostly for the guitar hook.
2) "Blackberry Way" b/w "Something" - The A-side was one of the gloomiest and most glorious pop singles they ever cut, a sort of morbid flipside to "Penny Lane," and understandably the Move's only #1 U.K. hit. It sounds exactly like something Paul McCartney could've written hungover and depressed in 1967 - yeah, that ace, mate. The B-side is more of a light mainstream pop piece (circa 1969), a mid-tempo ballad crooned by Carl Wayne and written by some outsider named Dave Morgan. Maybe it was something specifically requested from an outside songwriter to get Dads & Mums to like the Move along with the kids, but anyhow, it's a nice tune nonetheless.
3) "Curly" b/w "This Time Tomorrow" - The A-side is another wonderful slice of Liverpudlian Brit-Pop (it even mentions Liverpool in the lyrics), very very very early Lennonesque circa "I Don't Want To Spoil the Party" in its folk-poppiness, with those charming acoustic guitars strumming and that whistling recorder carrying the main, bright little melody. The B-side is another Dave Morgan composition, much more gently balladic but still fine, and the last Move song to feature Carl Wayne on lead vocals.
4) "Lightning Never Strikes Twice," - the B-side of "Brontosaurus," and is the lone composition that new bassist Rick Price contributed to the band. It's nothing special but it pop-rocks effectively in its odd mixture of chunky heavy rock and Beatlesque hooks/harmonies.