“Looking On” by The Move
Since I just reviewed Jeff Lynne’s “The Idle Race” and am currently listening to a wide range of Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood related products (having purchased the discography of both men recently) I decided I’d try out a review of the first of their “The Move” collaborations: 1971’s “Looking On.”
I actually listened to the first two albums by “The Move” before getting to this one and thought of reviewing them first but I decided to stick with “Looking On” because a) it was the first of three collaborations between these two talented men b) it’s rather underrated and ignored throughout both men’s careers and most importantly c) I’m currently listening to it. Talk about “real time” reviewing!
“Looking On” came at a point when the original line-up of “The Move” had completely collapsed, leaving just Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and replacement bass player Rick Price left to pick up the pieces.
Wood had been trying to seduce Lynne to join “The Move” for a few years but was unable to due to Lynne banking on the success of “The Idle Race.” After the failure of their superb second LP, the Lynne written and produced “The Idle Race” it became clear to the ambitious Lynne that he had to change things up. And moving to a highly successful band like “The Move” was a great idea.
In theory: Wood was already moving past “The Move” (pun not intended) as a sonic idea and wanted to integrate strings and classical ideas into rock and roll. He and Lynne were on the same page (“Come with Me” from “The Idle Race” should be all the proof you need of that) and both were ready to create a group called “Electric Light Orchestra” to explore those ideas.
But contract obligations ruined their plans: “The Move” owed their record label a few albums. So the two decided to stop touring and crank out the albums they needed to finish their contract. “Looking On” was designed as a swan song but they would record one more album before retiring “The Move.”
Wow! Sorry to drown you in so much history but I think it’s important to understanding this rather…unique album. “The Move” were a highly successful psychedelic pop band that had been turning towards a heavier sound for some time (being in the band’s natural inclinations) and Lynne was fresh out of the idyllic “Idle Race” and was perhaps hungry for a…more ballsy sound.
So, “Looking On” sees the two (Bevan and Price are good at their instruments but aren’t exactly key creative forces for the band) creating a heavy, heavy, heavy sound that completely betrays their past styles. Of course, going “heavy” made sense with the times but…not the way these guys went heavy.
They basically go heavy while betraying their pop sensibilities.
Opening “Looking On” starts as a plodding, mastodon of a song with heavy, heavy guitar tones and a slow, slow tempo. Wood was never a great “riff” writer so the song sort of sits there looming at you angrily without affecting you for quite some time.
Thankfully, the band was smart enough to throw in an excellent, emotionally engaging instrumental section with wild guitar solos, sitars, saxes and an epic, moving melody that helped end the song on a high note and get the listener engaged.
Basically, “experimentation” is the name of the game here and the band goes all out. “When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” starts out as a precursor of Wood’s later “Wizzard” group: it starts with a heavy, slide riff with a bluesy, nearly “country” feel that is nice without being incredibly catchy.
Then, out of nowhere, the music stops and a striking and loud cello riff pops up for a few seconds. Why hello, ELO! I knew you were coming. Roy then overdubs an army of saxophones during the verses and choruses that has to be hard to be believed.
And then there’s the infamous “Brontosaurus” with it’s “Lady Madonna” rip riff that lumbers along like a…brontosaurus with the insane and inane “you know she can really do the brontosaurus” chorus gradually transforming into a completely convincing and exhilarating fast paced rock and roll jam.
Lynne makes two huge contributions with the slowly building, immaculate, melodic epic “What?” that serves as a precursor to his ELO approach to writing ballads. It builds in a slow, slow way as Lynne pops out great melodies, one after another while he and Roy overdub as many manic instruments as possible to create a near symphonic sound without the use of a symphony or mellotron.
Even better is Lynne’s “Open Up Said the World at the Door” which is highlighted by a wild multi-part song structure, great Lynne melodies and harmonies that sound EXACTLY like Queen (who had yet to emerge on the scene, I remind you) with great drum performances from Bevan (including a drum solo highlighted by a section being played backwards). Later in the song, a pounding piano riff is balanced with a delicate yet hard hitting oboe part by Wood that sounds EXACTLY like Roxy Music (who, again, hadn’t yet emerged).
A stern piano, bass and guitar rhythm pound out an epic coda as Wood shows off some epic guitar moves that illustrate how sadly underrated the man is in ever aspect of his musical career.
“Feel Too Good” is basically Wood’s version of “Open Up” and features some of his wildest guitar playing of all time and an out of nowhere and mind boggling accapella“doo wop” outro.
The whole album is like that: if the song is under written or potentially unengaging (which most, frankly, are), Roy and Jeff throw in wild instrumental sections, weird slide guitar solos, overdubbed saxophones, odd chanting voices layered with special effects, thick, thick bass tones and wild, ear catching melody and rhythm changes.
Does this sound like a head spinning, exhilarating art metal experience? It mostly definitely is all of that and more. However, those looking for the delicate melodies of the earlier “The Move” albums, the quaint psychedelia of “Idle Race” or even the ambitious classical stance of “Electric Light Orchestra” are going to be sorely disappointed.
And this lack of pop sensibility is a flaw: none of these songs will stay in your head for very long unless you sit around and listen to the album for days on end, which I would avoid: you may end up going quite mad and end up in the “Cherry Blossom Clinic.”
But weird sonic details will stick around in your head, like the odd moog bass that pops up out of nowhere in “Brontosaurus” and thickens the sound even further. Or the relatively simple yet hard driving boogie of “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues.”
And then there is the lyrics. You won’t really remember any lyrics or song concepts beyond “She can really do the brontosaurus” which should give you a sense of the lack of lyrical sense common throughout the album. Which is a shame, as both Wood and Lynne have some minor, yet solid lyrical insight: gone are the intriguing looks into insanity and obsession, replaced with…odes to dinosaurs.
Roy and Jeff were obviously more concerned with fully expressing themselves for the first time without the interference of a record company or the confines of writing pop singles. They quite obviously focus on the music arrangements before anything else (including, concise, clever melodies and biting lyrics).
However, fans of weird, wild music that maintains some sense of focus without dipping into pointless avant guardisms or dissonances should really enjoy this album. Especially if they like early “Led Zeppelin” and “Blue Cheer.” An obvious must buy, along with everything else by “The Move.”
Songs to YouTube:
“What?” should give further evidence to “Lynne Haters” that the man does have godly talents.
“When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” gives a little insight into the future development of the first Electric Light Orchestra album.
Finally, “Open Up Said the World at the Door” is worth it just to hear the sounds of Queen and Roxy Music before either existed.