THE MOVE Message From The Country (EMI)

Bev Bevan, Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood recorded “Message From The Country”, The Move’s final album, simultaneously with the Electric Light Orchestra’s debut, the sessions dovetailing to the extent that work for both sometimes appeared on the same master tape. In retrospect it’s a fascinating parlour game to ponder why individual songs were steered towards a particular album. A necessary contractual obligation before they could devote their creative energies entirely to ELO, “Message From The Country” is by far the more playful of the two. The Move felt they had a freedom to experiment, to parody or to wallow in nostalgia that the more self-consciously progressive Electric Light Orchestra were denied. Consequently, their two albums are instructively distinct faces of the same coin.

The heavy soup of the title track sounds like a less contagious “10538 Overture”, riding out on complex multitracked harmonies that anticipate Queen’s later work in this area. Roy Wood’s contributions here are far more playful and poppy than anything he attempted during his brief tenure with the Electric Light Orchestra, as “Ella James” and a clutch of snappy, concise contemporaneous singles amongst the extra tracks demonstrate. “No Time”, with Lynne’s plaintive overdubbed vocals and Wood’s massed ranks of recorders wouldn’t have sounded lost on ELO’s debut.

Bev ‘Basher’ Bevan’s sole writing credit, “Don’t Mess Me Up”, is an affectionate doo-wop homage, a cinema-trashing teddy boy rampage. “Until Your Moma’s Gone” is the kind of moon-booted glam stomp that Roy would explore more lucratively in Wizzard, and “It Wasn’t My Idea To Dance” sounds like a lumpen meld of contemporary Jethro Tull and the less digestible moments of “The Electric Light Orchestra”. The comedy country hokum of “Ben Crawley Steel Company” is enjoyable enough as long as you’re not seeking Man In Black levels of gravitas, although its tale of workplace disgruntlement isn’t far from Cash’s own concerns. “The Words Of Aaron” wears an elaborate arrangement whilst being almost entirely bereft of subtlety, a description that some might argue could be applied to much of Lynne’s work. Finally, there’s the near-obligatory music hall saunter “My Marge”, positioned squarely in the tradition of “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Mother’s Lament”.

Cluttered, overblown and, in places, indigestible as it is, “Message From The Country”’s English theatricality and gleeful stylistic juxtapositions place it on the same line that links “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to “A Night At The Opera”. On its own, though, it provides a rather lopsided portrait of late-period Move, something that the extra tracks, intentionally or otherwise, attempt to correct. The clumping exoticism of “Chinatown” hasn’t weathered the years particularly lightly, but the mock-heavy rock of “Do Ya”, later revisited on the Electric Light Orchestra album “A New World Record” is one of the disc’s highlights.

A smattering of startlingly different session tracks are as revealing as sonic x-rays. “Don’t Mess Me Up” is presented in almost totally acapella form save for some piano, handclaps and fingersnaps, although the backing track can be heard bleeding through on occasion. “The Words Of Aaron” is extended and, again, sparser, just vocals, piano, woodwind and some bleed-through. These versions are unlikely to be demos – the elaborately rendered harmonies would mitigate against that suggestion – but stripped of the bulk of their instrumentation these songs are somehow much more lithe and appealing.

Electric Light Orchestra

Traveling Wilburys