Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Move - s/t

The Move (1968) ****

This review is a recycling of an old Creative Noise review.  I'm going to review all the four Move studio albums in chronological order, and looking back at my original review of their debut, which I wrote over a decade ago, surprisingly I found little that I could disagree with in my original assessment.  Also, it's pretty well-written and non-embarassing (unlike some of my older reviews), and there's little new that I felt like adding.  I'm throwing in my old intro to my original Move page as a bonus track.

The Move split the difference between power-pop and art-rock. Assembling the finest rock musicians in Birmingham (from whence they got their name -- all of the musicians 'moved' from other bands), the Move acted like the Who onstage (smashing TV sets) and tried to ape the Beatles in the studio (smashing melodies), and from 1968-1972, scored several sizable hits in the U.K. while never cracking America. Led by eclectic eccentric Roy Wood, the Move dissolved after Jeff Lynne's offshoot, ELO, took priority over Lynne's original band. While Lynne racked up bombastic, ocassionally heavenly but 90% of the time drecky synth-pop hits with ELO, Wood split for a solo career that found brief success (in England at least) but gradually faded into obscurity. Today the Move are unjustly forgotten, not even have obtained the hip cult audience of, say, the Small Faces or the Zombies. Emerging as they did near the tail end of psychedelia and breaking up during the heyday of prog-rock, the Move's records are obviously stamped with their time, but are definitely too eccentric to really sound like anything else, before or since. And that's the adjective that keeps cropping up when I dwell upon Roy Wood's singular talents: eccentric. No, for all their quirkiness, the Move can't really be considered trailblazing innovators, though they are influential on a number of worthy bands (most notably Roxy Music, Todd Rundgren, and especially Cheap Trick; I can hear echoes of their twisted pop style in '80s bands such as XTC and the Dbs, too). The Move were far too eclectic to stick with one style and develop it to its logical endpoint; their totemic pole obviously was the Beatles' White Album. The Move's talent was finding odd intersections between genres, not creating any new ones of their own; perhaps this lack of groundbreaking historical importance causes them to get overlooked in the history books. Whatever, Roy Wood in his prime was an ace melodicist surpassed only in pure pop hookcraft by Lennon/McCartney themselves; his manic, sinister genius for offbeat pop was marred by two significant flaws -- first, as I said, he tended to overextend himself by plunging his chord-craft into too many directions at once; and secondly, he had nothing to say. Which doesn't just apply to his lyrics, which I can enjoy as harmless fun, but also his vision of pop -- or rather, lack of one; this elfin spritester of pop seemed to view rock'n'roll as a game to toy with all these neat tricks (Andy Partridge analogy, anyone?). Of course, the Move mercifully never went to the gruesome overproduction excesses of ELO (which was Jeff Lynne's vehicle, not Wood's), but their thumping hard rock's natural habitat was clearly the studio. The Move were gaudy and giddy, the most colorful and devilishly playful band of their era -- their appropriations of classical motifs were always done in a look-ain't-this-neat style, not the implied high seriousness of later, more dour art-rock bands. And they always placed their Beatlesque pop sense above all other considerations, which generally keeps them a good pace away from self-indulgence. The Move's splash of technicolor kaleidoscope, heavy pop-rock always keeps them interesting, even when they're boring (this sounds like a contradiction, but that's exactly the way I feel about their final album, Message From the Country).


A delightful artifact of pop-art, post-mod psychedelia, the Move's debut roars with 13 songs of snazzy, hard rocking pop that reads like the hyperactive love child of Magical Mystery Tour and The Who Sell Out -- only the three perfunctory covers (Eddie Cochran, Moby Grape, and the Coasters -- Cochran's "Weekend," is good fun, but all three are unnecessary) mar an otherwise near-perfect album. The Move at this stage are presented at their most pop and accessible, bashing out one potential single after the other; it's hard to choose between the sugary goodies. The bizarre juxtaposition of lightweight bubblegummy and heavy apocalyptic elements stakes an entirely unique turf for the Move, ensuring that no other band would ever sound quite like them -- the anthemic opener, "Yellow Rainbow," combines that hippy-dippy image with the earth falling into the abyss. "Kilroy Was Here," employs such a corny lyrical conceit to supremely catchy affect, while "(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree," and "Flowers in the Rain," (I get'em confused sometimes) are the type of mid-'60s nursery rhyme singles that you catch yourself stupidly humming while your rational brain in vain tries to reject such bubblegum rot. The two message songs, "Walk On the Water," ("Please don't drink and drive") and "Useless Information," (about, you know, useless information like some old lady telling you about her operation and the weatherman telling you it's going to be cold in December), are better. The two orchestrated ballads, "Girl Outside," and "Mist on a Monday Morning," are lovely, but the cabaret lizard in lead singer Carl Wayne is already obvious. "Fire Brigade," remains a stunning whirligig single that obviously had the blinding effect of fresh sunlight upon a young Bryan Ferry. Another single, "Cherry Blossom Clinic," was hastily withdrawn at the last minute due to its controversial subject of mental insanity; it was vastly improved on the next album, as the version here is much too muddy (plus it's only 3 minutes long, without the cool coda of "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited"). All of the elements for rock stardom are here, and the Move were in England; but undoubtedly due to the fact that they only toured America once for three weeks, they went practically unheard on the other side of the Atlantic.

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