Message From The Country
Released: September 1971
Last year The Move high-tailed it over to Harvest/Capitol, after arriving at which they scarcely allowed themselves time for an iced tea and a smoke before bounding into the studio to cut the uniformly magnificent Message From The Country, which surely ranks right up there with Procol Harum's Broken Barricades as a prime contender for the title of 1971's best album.
Oh, they were in rosy humor when they did this one, were The Move, as is happily demonstrated by the high incidence of fun-poking and fun-having numbers therein.
"Ben Crawley Steel Co.," which concerns the evolution of a simple steel-drivin' man into a bomb-brandishing revolutionary, is a brilliant send-up of your actual truckdriver's country music, featuring an unspeakably charming and incontestably virile lead vocal in a register you probably had forgotten exists by super-stud Bev Bevan, who, just incidentally, is also one of the best rock and roll drummers in history. Relish the weirdly-phased falsetto backgrounds.
"No Time," a pretty acoustic number, features Wood blowing a recorder right off the hill the fool sits on and singing in a Bee Gee-tinged tenor with his chum Jeff Lynne. You'll be surprised to note that the P. Copestake to whom composition of this delicate flower is attributed was credited with "refreshments" on Looking On, the Move album released last December in England but sat on until just very recently by American Capitol.
"Don't Mess Me Up" would be virtually indistinguishable from a real Sun-period Elvis recording were it not for the characteristic exceptional clarity of the production and Bev's slightly too playful lead vocal. Everything else is just perfect, not the least of which is the guitar solo, which sounds as Scotty Moorish as any guitar solo has ever sounded. Why, they even put aside the ominously cantankerous monstro fuzz-bass that's come to be their most easily identifiable instrumental element and recorded the ride cymbal, which Wood likes not to record.
Bev's "The Minister" resembles The Beatles in general vocally, "Paperback Writer" in particular melodically, and Redbone vaguely in its riffy arrangement and use of Leslie-amplified guitar. A superb rocker, this one, as are the bruising "Ella James," which slightly reminds of McCartney's "Ooh You," and the Eddie Cochranish "Until Your Mama's Gone," with its bone-crushing bass-line, white-hot fuzz-guitars, and ruff-tuff vocal by Roy.
"The Words of Aaron" and the title cut (the latter Lynne's only composition on the album) are both classic Move -- mostly densely heavy but sometimes delicate backing, ingeniously and intricately assembled, with breathtaking vocal harmonies over strange and intriguing lyrics carried by beautiful tunes. Are those Ring-modulated trumpets or Roy Wood singing in his Ring-modulated trumpets voice?, you'll want to know halfway through "Message." And no one could blame you.
My own personal favorite is the album's opener, "It Wasn't My Idea," which finds Wood singing such perfectly cerebrum-sizzling lines as, "Now it's too late to want your freedom/It wasn't my idea to dance," with an hilariously straight musical comedy delivery (much like the one he employed on the bridge of 1967's "Flowers In The Rain") in front of the most sinister imaginable bass and imprudently dissonant Near Eastern woodwind choruses. How perfectly astonishing, you'll exclaim.
It may in fact be true that Roy Wood and his pals have not created something entirely new under the sun, but since when don't ingenious manipulation and clever innovation count for as much as genuine invention in rock and roll? Yes, at various times they are decidedly Creamy and Beatlish and Byrdsish and just slightly Bonzo Doggy, make no mistake, but for all their borrowing they're also one of the finest rock and roll bands you'll ever hear.
Don't deprive yourself of them for another instant.
- John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stone, 10/14/71.
The gist of the Move lies in their total sound, which has been unique enough to attract many critical ears while remaining somewhat unique enough for listeners who can't quite place the sound. Within the depths of the LP's full but formidable production is a rock gourmet's banquet of elements and sound, including nice classical touches on cello and oboe built around a core of clean, hard rock. "Words Of Aaron" and "Don't Mess Me Up" are fine. Try it.
- Billboard, 1971.
I have reservations about any record of hard rock for critics, but am willing to grant that to climax a side of music from Brobdingnag with a Johnny Cash imitation is to show truly transcendent chutzpah. In fact, after brief acclimatization I like every cut. What seemed forced on Looking On now seems comic -- there are parodies here of everything from weedy Yes-style vocals and wimpy Baby-style acoustics to rockabilly and music hall. And melodic moves that sounded glued on now seem integral. Recommended to those who like the idea of Grand Funk Railroad better than the reality. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Message From The Country was an erratic affair, alternating between lumbering forays into hard rock, revivalist roots rock and country, and some of Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne's most inspired Beatlesque progressive compositions.
- Richie Unterberger, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The group's last good album, weaker than Shazam but pleasant enough in its sub-White Album way. * * *
- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Singer-guitarists Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan -- the final lineup of this band -- recorded this 1971 swan song at the same time as they cut their debut album as the Electric Light Orchestra. Message From the Country is the better LP and the closest Wood or Lynne came, together or in separate careers, to creating big rock with classical weight: a Sgt. Pepper that truly rocked. Wood was his own Lennon-McCartney (he wrote all of the Move's Sixties U.K. hits) and played an orchestra's worth of strings and horns. Lynne joined in 1970, bringing his own Beatlesque gifts. His songs "No Time" and "The Words of Aaron" are heaving anguish, coated in silver sheets of vocal harmony and Wood's eccentric wall-of-reeds, while Wood's "Until Your Mamma's Gone" is enriched greaser fun, his runting saxes pushing hard alongside the gorilla-heartbeat bass and drums. This reissue also features the Move's last pre-ELO singles, including "California Man" and "Down on the Bay," both later covered, to the letter, by ardent U.S. fans Cheap Trick. * * * *
- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 12/1/05.
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