The final album by the Move, Message From the Country, has a scattered feel, in terms of genre, but has seemingly perfect unity. The band shed bassist Rick Price, reducing it to the core trio of Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, and Jeff Lynne: the first lineup of the forthcoming Electric Light Orchestra. The band were rendered a studio-only act, and their newfound sense of freedom and willingness to experiment in the studio are readily apparent here, making this album also not unlike Sgt. Pepper, at least in essence. However, “The Move” was no longer their primary concern, as they were focusing more on making a bold artistic statement with the first ELO album- which was supposedly recorded at the same time. The result is The Move’s most ambitious and comedic record, simultaneously.
This album, quite simply, could have never been re-created onstage by this lineup. This is mostly because Roy Wood essentially would have had to be a band of musicians unto himself, due to his tendencies to overdub a wide variety of instruments. This problem plagued the initial lineup of ELO as a touring entity, but on record, it only helped, especially here. Without Rick Price, Wood even had to take up bass guitar duties. Veterans Ace Kefford and Rick Price were solid, but surprisingly, Roy Wood blows them away on this album. His bass playing is some of the most throbbing, pulsating, and mind-blowing of its time. Even Paul McCartney’s so-called “lead bass” couldn’t hold a candle to Wood’s playing on several of this album’s tracks, especially the chugging “Until Your Mama’s Gone”.
Interestingly, “The Move” and “The Electric Light Orchestra” were two distinct concepts, and though they were one in the same at this time, they sounded quite different. This album has a more rocky sound, featuring jazzy textures, brass, flutes, and Lynne’s honky tonk-ish electric piano. The first ELO album, on the other hand, focuses on stringed instruments, particularly Wood’s grinding take on the cello, with French and hunting horns by Bill Hunt, giving it a murky, almost medieval feel. There is little overlap, as this album has little to no strings, and that album has no brass or jazzy inclinations. This disparity points to the ultimate split between Wood and Lynne after one ELO album. Lynne wanted to use the orchestral approach, and Wood wanted to incorporate a jazzier, early rock & roll element, as he later did in his own group Wizzard. This immense gulf between the band’s two creative geniuses, however, is only obvious in hindsight, and this album is a celebration of their brief but rich partnership.
The song selection is a rich palette of varied genres, only hinted at in the band’s previous album Looking On . Rather than jamming extensively around a smaller set of compositions, the band sets out to make fascinating musical and lyrical vignettes in a relatively short time span per song. This leads to a fuller list of songs, and ultimately, even greater diversity, which is no doubt the basis of the White Album comparisons. The comedic doo wop of “Don’t Mess Me Up”, the riff-laden “Ella James”, the country-tinged Johnny Cash sendup “The Ben Crawly Steel Company” (another fine lead vocal outing for Bev “Bullfrog” Bevan), the alluringly Middle Eastern “It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance”, the goofy, McCartney-esque “My Marge” are all songs that rightfully shouldn’t be on the same record, yet somehow, feed off each other perfectly. The more serious progressive inclinations of Jeff Lynne’s songwriting, as heard on tracks like “Message From the Country”, “No Time”, “The Minister”, and “The Words of Aaron”, keep the album from straying too far into self-parody.
Simply put, this is an unusual album for The Move, and, in many ways, the polar opposite of the first Electric Light Orchestra album… yet it is the absolute perfect missing link between the two groups. It’s dense and experimental, yet loose and fun- definitely a rarity in prog rock, and serves as a testament to why these three brilliant musicians coming together was such a beautiful thing. —Tommy