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"Cherry Blossom Clinic - lock me in and throw the key away"
|Main Category:||Art Rock|
|Also applicable:||Pop Rock, Lush Pop|
|Starting Period:||The Psychedelic Years|
|Also active in:||The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties|
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Roy Wood fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Roy Wood fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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I don't usually like to make these kinds of generalizations, mainly because you never know what kind of stuff you will encounter tomorrow, but I'll go ahead and make an exception: Mr Roy Wood has simply got to be the most underrated rock hero of all time. Period. Oh sure, there have been talented musicians and composers that are even more deeply forgotten and can only be 'unearthed' by pure accident. But it's the stunningly deep, incommeasurate gap between Wood's talent and importance and his modern-day stature that I'm talking about: Wood was, no doubt about it, one of the most brilliant musical geniuses of his epoch. A good comparison would be with David Bowie, whom Roy in his best days had beat on virtually every count, except for one - the ability to market himself. With all his talent, Roy never could make the real transgression to international pop star, or, rather, never really tried to, never toying with public tastes and often staying right out of touch with the times in order to preserve his artistic integrity. Let us honour the guy, then, and reward him by recognizing his magnificence at least on this humble site. Oh, and don't forget to buy his records, too, assuming they're still in print.Ever experimental and always willing to try something new, Roy had tried out multiple bands - his period of prime activity, which lasted about ten years (from about 1967 to about 1976-77 or so), had him working with four or five bands in a row, sometimes with two at a time. His first major project was with the Move, one of the most important 'psycho-art-rock' bands in Britain; with them, Roy pioneered a unique, completely idiosyncratic brand of art-rock that influenced many but never really got carried on by anybody because no other rock personality could ever match the level of Roy's wonderful eccentricity. Okay, Peter Gabriel probably could, but Peter Gabriel preferred to rely on a somewhat different style anyway. The Move carried on for five years, leaving behind a string of classic singles and four albums, all of which are well worth your time; unfortunately, Wood always sabotaged the band's pop sensibility with such weird and outrageous public behaviour that the band never really left the underground (although it did score a couple dozen hit singles in the British charts). After recruiting new member Jeff Lynne in 1970, Wood split his efforts between the Move and the new Wood-Lynne project of Electric Light Orchestra, which drained his forces - in 1972, after releasing the Move's last album and ELO's first, Wood effectively quit both projects, liquidating the Move completely and leaving Lynne to carry on with ELO on his own, which he successfully did (see my ELO reviews on that). Wood then recruited a new band - Wizzard, and for a few years became one of Britain's most noteworthy glam figures. His public appearance was even more shocking than before (he would constantly appear in such terrifying 'wizard' makeup that would make Kiss's look like amateur Halloween costumeering - well, which it more or less was), and his records were even more baffling than ever: a pseudo-classical/hard rock hybrid one year, a mock-Fifties tribute next year. Again, the band's singles hit the charts several times, but the band's albums never made it big. Disappointed and depressed, Wood disbanded Wizzard, and after a brief stunt with a post-Wizzard outfit called Wizzo and a solo album, Wood called it quits. He re-emerged in the late Eighties with one more solo record, but that was a total nightmare, and since then, I really don't know what he's been up to. Designing Annie Haslam's wardrobe, probably. It was this 'dissipation into thin air', I'd guess, that eventually cost him this total oblivion. And when I say 'total', I mean it - try as you might, you'll hardly be able to scoop up any information about Roy on the Web, especially since the official site, www.roywood.com, has unexplainably shut down. As I said, this is one of the most shameful moments in all rock history, and we should all do our best to correct it. It's hard for me even to begin discussing all of Mr Wood's innumerable talents. First of all, he is - or was, at least, before hi-tech synths and drum machines cut him down in the late Eighties - one of the best melody writers in existence; the only other equally talented pop melodist in the Seventies that I can think of is - right, Brian Eno. Wood's classic material has such an abundance of hooks, untrivial vocal harmonies, clever, unpredictable, and yet catchy, musical phrases and subtle twists, that I can really understand the Lennon/McCartney comparison first laid on the man by fellow reviewer Brian Burks. Second, Wood is one of the most gifted multi-instrumentalists in existence. Most of his solo albums are solo in the truest sense of the word - recorded entirely by himself, where he plays all the guitars, bass, drums, pianos, banjos, trombones, flutes, bagpipes, violins, accordeons, [insert your pick here], and personally loops all the tapes he needs. He might not be a virtuoso on any of these instruments, but the sheer capacity of the man is jaw-dropping. Third, Wood is as eclectic as might be: throughout his career, I'd be hard pressed to name a style he hasn't tackled. From heavy metal to acoustic balladeering to bluegrass to synth-pop to disco to Fifties' boogie to symphonic odes to blues to Irish jigs, he does it all, and nothing ever sounds even the little bit fake - a true sign that Roy understands the spirit of music like few other musicians do. Fourth, Wood is a rather brave experimentalist, never content with the achieved results, and an innovator as well: he might not have revolutionized rock music in any of its forms, but it was he, after all, that pioneered the 'symph-rock' sound by audaciously hybridizing hard rock with string arrangements. The classic ELO sound, for instance, is just as much an offspring of Roy Wood's ideas as it is of Jeff Lynne's, and you'll have to remember that. If there is anything to say against Wood, then, it is the realisation that his music very rarely amounted to anything more than pure kitsch. No, I don't want to accuse the man of insincerity or phoneyness: he does have his share of heartbreaking ballads and angry realistic rockers. It's just that listening to a Roy Wood album always gives you the impression of a certain lightweightness - like the guy never really believes in the music he's doing, staging it all like a happy show with no real conviction. I.e. 'we're only in it for the money [or for the fun of it]'. This is still better than the general appearance of the already mentioned David Bowie, whose music, and lyrics, always pretend to be super-serious art when in reality they are just the same kitsch, but it still places Wood below, say, Paul McCartney, who was obviously a bigger believer in the potential of music than Roy. That said, one could certainly argue that this is not necessarily a defect - perhaps too much belief makes you take life too seriously, right? Anyway, on a less pompous note, Wood's albums, even the best of 'em, do tend to have some filler, mainly due to the man's 'pull-all-the-stops' experimental approach. When he's just writing a basic melody, he's usually at the top (unless it's a vintage hard rock tune - Wood is not very good at writing interesting riffs); when he starts fiddling around with pseudo-psychedelic jams, it's usually fifty percent hit and fifty percent miss. Still, even when it's fifty percent miss, it's usually interesting, and that's another compliment I couldn't give out to a lot of people. I have eventually taken the decision to lump all of my Move, Wizzard, and Roy Wood solo albums onto one page, even if this might not be perfectly justifiable (after all, the Move was bigger than just Roy Wood, incorporating also the talents of Carl Wayne and - later - Jeff Lynne). Still, one must not forget that it is very hard to split Wood's output into distinct chronological period - for instance, certain Wizzard albums sound more different from each other than any selected two Move albums. Therefore, I suppose the best choice is not even to try to separate this mess and leave it as it is, particularly since I already had a similar experience with my CSN page. Each album reviewed below will therefore have a special reference to the band/artist it belongs to. Note that my collection is far from full - I still miss a couple Wizzard and Roy Wood solo records - but it's bound to grow. Lineups: The Move - Roy Wood (guitar, vocals); Carl Wayne (vocals); Bev Bevan (drums); Trevor Burton (guitar, vocals); Ace Kefford (bass). Kefford quit, 1968, with Burton assuming bass duties. Burton left, 1969, replaced by Rick Price. Carl Wayne left in early 1970, with Jeff Lynne added on guitar and vocals. The band collapsed somewhere in late 1971/early 1972, with Electric Light Orchestra replacing the central focus of both Lynne's and Wood's interests. Wizzard - Roy Wood (guitar, vocals); Rick Price (bass, vocals); Bill Hunt (keyboards); Charlie Grima (drums, percussion); Keith Smart (drums); Mike Burney (saxophone); Hugh McDowell (cello); Nick Pentelow (saxophone). The huge band only lasted for about three years, and collapsed in 1975. P.S. Well, I've just been relieved - seems like Roy Wood's official site has simply changed its extension. It is now www.roywood.co.uk (that one I could have guessed, right?). Also, www.woodyworld.com looks like a great place for a seasoned fan...
Listenability: 4/5. Sometimes
Roy's experimentalism really gets out of control, but that's only sometimes.
Resonance: 1/5. Roy's main flaw - while he does write angry rockers and tear-inducing ballads from time to time, he's an entertaining and audacious showman more than anything else.
Originality: 3/5. Moderately innovative, although, to be frank, Roy never created a new genre or new style by himself.
Adequacy: 4/5. For the most part, Roy never took himself more seriously than was necessary.
Diversity: 4/5. Roy's "art-pop" style was not mind boggling in its diversity, but conscious experiments like Boulders add in a whole point.
Overall: 3.4 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Psychedelia that's starry-eyed flower-powerish AND self-consciously smug and ironic at the same time?Best song: WALK UPON THE WATER
Track listing: 1) Yellow Rainbow; 2) Kilroy Was Here; 3) (Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree; 4) Weekend; 5) Walk Upon The Water; 6) Flowers In The Rain; 7) Hey Grandma; 8) Useless Information; 9) Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart; 10) The Girl Outside; 11) Fire Brigade; 12) Mist On A Monday Morning; 13) Cherry Blossom Clinic.
Out of all the Move records this one is arguably the most "dated", but mostly because it abuses the words 'rainbow', 'flowers', and suchlike, in true late Sixties swingin' London fashion; upon careful consideration, one could say that when they plunged head forward into complex artsiness with Shazam, they were riding contemporary trends just as well, without being all that clear about their goals.Because, indeed, it's not all that obvious that the band actually knew what they were doing. One second it will seem to you that they're being perfectly sincere about their colourful psychotic world and then the next second there'll be some subtle tongue-in-cheek reference that will show they're just way too intellectual for their own good. And for every 'Yellow Rainbow' on the album, there'll always be a 'Kilroy Was Here' to straighten it out: Roy Wood, already responsible for all the original material on the record, had by the time of their first big record already fully maturated as a songwriter, being able to come up with impressive melodies as well as tricky convoluted lyrics that can often be interpreted in different ways. Add to this the more "basic" inclinations of the band's then-current frontman, Carl Wayne, which ensure that the album won't go without at least one rockabilly and one doo-wop number, and hoopla, there's a truly weird melting pot; out of all the albums of that particular period, maybe only The Who Sell Out comes close to matching this puppy in diversity. But in any case, this isn't a good record to theoretize about. Or, rather, it is a good record to theoretize about, but the basic conclusions of any such theoretizing will be that (a) it is goal-less and (b) it is dated. That would be missing the point entirely - and the point is, it's one hell of a damn wonderful record. Because in a better, more positive, more colourful world "goalless" would mean "diverse" and "dated" would mean "drenched in good vibrations". In fact, I count no less than eight direct Roy Wood classics on here, and lo and behold, I will name each and every one of them in a faint attempt to swarm you and confuse you and bedazzle you the very same way they as musical entities confuse and bedazzle the listener. 'Yellow Rainbow' takes a Hollies-like melody and sets it to a much gruffer, perhaps even chaotic melody, with fat distorted bass emphasizing the end of each verse line and Bev Bevan pounding away like mad (I can sense a strong Keith Moon influence here - which later was toned down as Bev settled into a more restrained mood). 'Kilroy Was Here' is (understandably) better than the entire Styx album of that name, putting the cliched phrase into a groovy context as Roy and Carl erupt in the cheery chorus. '(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree' joins totally non-obscure folk song references with a pinch of Flower Power and two pinches of self-irony, and did I mention the joyful bassline and the irresistable chorus yet? Or the pretty Mozart-like string quartet arrangements in the middle eight? 'Walk Upon The Water' is my favourite pick off the album - pure pop perfection, along with other similar perfect songs like 'Blackberry Way' showing how much of an underrated popmeister Mr Wood has always been. How many half-assed songwriters would be content with merely penning the verse melody of such a song - which is admittedly good, but does not constitute a hook - and settling for maybe a feeble one chord change in the chorus and then putting the song on record with the proud feeling that they have done their duty? Not so with Mr Wood, who leads that verse melody into a magnificent, uplifting chorus that not only features a completely different (yet totally "adaptable") vocal melody, but is even louder than the verse melody, so you get an extra punch in your seat without expecting it. This could have been the ideal hit single of the year. For some reason, it wasn't. 'Flowers In The Rain' may be a bit fruity, but so what, it's a perfect Brit-pop-meets-psychedelia anthem that's probably a little too reveling in its childish happiness to be "Kinksy" in essence, but that only means that it's the closest the Move have ever come to establishing their own style. 'Useless Information' would later lend its opening vocal melody to the superior 'Curly', but it still packs such a ton of that eccentric Move hilariousness that I can't help but feel glad all over. 'Fire Brigade' moves from pensive and dramatic to comic and goofy in the wink of an eye ('get the fire brigade! get the fire brigade!'). And 'Cherry Blossom Clinic' is the first (but not the last) song in the Move/Wood catalog to announce the theme of mental instability in all of its glory - here presented in its short, "unadorned" version, for some reason also produced in a very muddy way, but I actually like it when the glorious orchestrated chorus emerges in all of its bombast out of the muck. The other songs are probably 'fillerish' in essence - that would include the two pretty, but somewhat sloppy and unconcentrated ballads (at this point you should take my warning that Roy Wood was never a great ballad writer; with a couple exceptions like 'Wake Up' and some stuff on Mustard, his ballads never appealed that much to me - possibly because neither his voice nor his character are too well suited for sentimental emotional deliveries), and the three covers, which are passable but occasionally sound like goofy parodies, especially the Coasters tune 'Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart', painfully "overemoted" by Bev Bevan who actually sings lead on it (the other two covers are an old Eddie Cochran tune and a new Moby Grape tune - hear, hear). That said, there's not a single lapse of taste (a rare thing for such an obviously experimental-minded band in 1968), and eight excellent tunes out of thirteen ain't half bad either. And get this - there might not be a lot of "purpose" to this record, but it's a great way to plunge into the cheerful variegated atmosphere of the time and see how at least one band could not only revel in that atmosphere, but also make a little sneering fun of it at the same time.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Post-psychedelic eccentricity epitomised. In other words: we know it's a game, but we still like to play it...Best song: HELLO SUSIE
Track listing: 1) Hello Suzie; 2) Beautiful Daughter; 3) Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited; 4) Fields Of People; 5) Don't Make My Baby Blue; 6) The Last Thing On My Mind; [BONUS TRACKS:] 7) So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star; 8) Stephanie Knows Who; 9) Something Else; 10) It'll Be Me; 11) Sunshine Help Me.
Despite all the critical pseudo-acclaim, Shazam doesn't seem to be such a masterpiece to my Sixties-trained ears. It's a fun, raunchy, upbeat, professional record displaying a lot of youthful ambition and with creativity pouring out of every slot (those were the days, eh? Bands never limited themselves to old tired cliches, now did they? They preferred to mock 'em!) The players are in top form - the guitars roar and soar, and according to Roy Wood's principle, no style ever gets repeated twice on the same record. And the record is also provided with a traditional conceptual gimmick: in between the songs, we hear people roamin' through the streets with microphones and taking snippets of interviews about how ordinary citizens feel about pop music. In case you suddenly had an instant fit of amnesia and forgot what genre you're listening to.The big problem is the song selection. In sharp contrast to their debut record, where the Move went for a short pop song approach, Shazam only has six compositions in all, and four of them go well over five minutes - 'Fields Of People' is actually ten minutes long. This is certainly not a welcome approach for a band whose main credo is eccentric diversity - how many styles can you milk over six tracks, as long as they might be? Moreover, I simply don't understand the essence of the album's second side. Roy Wood was the band's main songwriter, and a very talented one at that; despite that, for some strange reason all of the three selections on the second side are covers, and not all of them are good. Okay, so covering a virtually unknown pioneering art rock band with the pretentious name Ars Nova on 'Fields Of People' might have been an understandable move; but covering the Shadows ('Don't Make My Baby Blue') and Paxton ('The Last Thing On My Mind') could only be excused if these songs were really really made special, which they are not. 'Don't Make My Baby Blue' is just a routine pop melody pointlessly transformed into a heavy blues workout that drags on for six minutes without any purpose - hell, if I want effective blues workouts, I'll throw on some Led Zeppelin. And, while there is a nice, steady, almost aethereal wah-wah solo section thrown in in the middle of 'Last Thing', this in no way guarantees the fact that this dreary Byrds-style number should be seven minutes long. I mean, the Byrds could have made this song three minutes long and throw in some pleasant jangle, but the Move just butcher it without second thought. 'Fields Of People' is slightly better - these Ars Nova people really knew their stuff, it's a shame that the band only had one album out before dissolving. Okay, people, if we carry on the Move legacy, we'll save some Ars Nova as well, then. Essentially, the song's just a flower power ditty, but not just a ditty: it's actually a powerful anthem, far more musically complicate than, say, 'All You Need Is Love' (that's not to denigrate the latter, of course - I'm just hinting that flower power children weren't really as dumb as some may think). By far the most exciting thing about the song, though, is its lengthy coda where the band is happily jamming away on what sounds very much like sitars but can be just guitars imitating sitars (my ears are not very clean today). One must remember, though, that such a thing is merely ripping off George Harrison's masterful sitar coda to 'Love You To'. It's just longer and a bit more elaborate. So my main attention is still drawn to the first side, with three powerful Wood originals. 'Hello Susie' is a terrific rocker, all built on Who-ish power chords, although the song itself seems to be parodying the... the... oh hell, I don't know what the heck it is parodying, but it still sounds like a parody. I hope not on themselves. The refrain, with its electronically treated voices, and Roy Wood's frantic, hoarse singing are simply unforgettable, as are the wild guitar rhythms and Bevan's paranoid drum fills all throughout. Then there's the shortest song on the album, the Beatlesque ballad 'Beautiful Daughter' with intricate violins and an ultra-tender vocal delivery (ultra-tender for Wood, I mean, if it's Wood who's singing). And finally, 'Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited', a re-write of their earlier controversial single, is the weirdest spot on the record: particularly notable is the lengthy coda that takes certain elements of 18th century classical music and effectively incorporates them into a rock pattern. Ah, if only they'd thought of something like that for the second side... In other words, inconsistency ruins this album - and it's pretty strange, considering that Wood was obviously at his peak at the time. These last two covers, and I repeat, are just a Waste of Time. I wouldn't give the record more than your average 10 on the overall scale; but fortunately, the CD re-issue of the album throws on some bonus tracks - five live performances originally released on a contemporary EP called Something Else From The Move (I mean, yeah, ripping off the Kinks in the title, but after all, they at least do 'Something Else' on the record while the Kinks did not. So there). And these performances rule - at least, most of them, even if they are all intentionally covers. To be short - the Byrds' 'So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star' is sped up and given a ferocious wah-wah treatment that the masters would never have thought of; Lee's 'Stephanie Knows Who' is treated as a psychedelic groove, with 'cosmic rhythms' borrowed from Pink Floyd's 'Astronomy Domine'; Fifties' oldies like 'Something Else' and 'It'll Be Me' are treated relatively well, and played in a suitable, sloppy, poorly-rehearsed fashion (although I don't really see what separates these two performances from similar workouts by, say, Mott The Hoople); and Wright's 'Sunshine Help Me' is just a good old jam, with some more credible solos and everything that goes along with a good jam. If anything, these performances distinguish the Move as excellent entertainers - you can almost feel the wind in your face, even if the short span of the EP doesn't allow us to view the TV sets the boys should be smashing. Note that some of the CD re-issues are even more exciting, adding four previously unreleased tracks from the same show, so if you track down something like this, get it at all costs. Like I said, the original album only gets a 10; the re-issue, however, brings the rating up to a very respectable 11 and makes the album quite a worthwhile purchase. Now go to CDNow and tell them I sent ya! (Don't worry, I'm not signed up with 'em. And in any case, they only have an imported version of this album which you'll hardly want to buy. Then again, you'll just have to pass - this album is out of print in the US. Guess the Yanks haven't yet grown up to appreciate Mr Wood's eccentric behaviour. Or at least the Yank fat guys with cigars think so - which should tell you a lot).
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
The Move's "Experimental Metal" album, plus a string of excellent pop singles. A fan's paradise.Best song: WHAT, or BLACKBERRY WAY on the reissued version
Track listing: 1) Looking On; 2) Turkish Tram Conductor Blues; 3) What?; 4) When Alice Comes Back To The Farm; 5) Open Up Said The World At The Door; 6) Brontosaurus; 7) Feel Too Good; [BONUS TRACKS:] 8) Wild Tiger Woman; 9) Omnibus; 10) Blackberry Way; 11) Something; 12) Curly; 13) This Time Tomorrow; 14) Lightning Never Strikes Twice; 15) Something (Italian); 16) Wild Tiger Woman Blues; 17) Curly Where's Your Girlie.
Gee, I must admit, this album really grows on you. By this point, the Move had suffered big changes - Carl Wayne left to engage in cabaret singing or something, and new member Jeff Lynne (drumroll? You betcha!) finally makes his entrance, on condition that Wood would also spend some extra time with him working on the separate rock-classical project of Electric Light Orchestra. Since the band was thrown into utter chaos by the band members' rotation, and since Wood also spent some extra time working on his own solo projects, it is no surprise that Looking On is a wee bit scarce on ideas - by the Move's usual standards, that is, as there are enough different musical ideas on here to finance an entire minor band's catalog. However, it is still by no means the utter disaster that many Move fans proclaim it to be, and the album is definitely worth getting acquainted with.Two main tendencies are perceived on here. First and foremost, the Move - possibly inspired by Led Zeppelin and the upcoming 'heavy metal revolution' - make some serious moves to make their sound really heavy. Most of Wood's compositions boast huge, lumbering riffs, nasty distortion, overweight rhythm sections and angry, raunchy vocals - in fact, he seems to be completely disregarding his pop legacy. The problem is that the Move aren't really qualified as a true hard rock band: simply put, Roy has never been a great master of solid riff, the most important thing for a heavy metal number. The title track is an ample demonstration: it opens the album on a rather stupid note, with a rudimentary, clumsy, simplistic riff that certainly is heavy - most of these songs just crumble on you like 300-ton containers - but certainly is not too impressive. Remember that 1970 was the year of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, bands whose members really showed the world how amazing a heavy riff could be; compared with these masters, Wood's primitive brand of riffage simply goes nowhere. 'Turkish Tram Conductor Blues' sounds as if it were based on 'Day Tripper'; 'Brontosaurus' borrows its riff from the mid-section of 'Lady Madonna'; and 'When Alice Comes Back To The Farm' is just a plain piece of boogie with no original melodic effort at all. However, let us not forget that the Move were always smarter than it seems on the surface - and each and every one of these tracks eventually starts getting through to the listener due to 'outside tricks' that Roy and company had solidly peppered the tunes with. Yes, the main part of the title track sucks big time; but what about the fabulous, breathtaking, ultra-depressing jam that it segues into? Scary, weepy backwards guitar solos; complaintive bagpipes; and an echoey, seemingly medieval-influenced wah-wah passage to top it off. 'Turkish Tram Conductor Blues' culminates in a groovy brass section, plus it's really groovy to hear all those highly mixed acoustic guitars cutting it in in the middle of a presumably heavy metal number. 'When Alice Comes Back To Farms' has these cute ELO-ish violins cutting through when you expect it the least. 'Brontosaurus' suddenly speeds up in the middle and goes from its plodding, monstruous pace (fully suiting the song's title) into a fast, wreckless boogie replete with adrenaline-raising tinkly piano lines really worthy of a Jerry Lee Lewis. And finally, the pseudo-epic 'Feel Too Good' has this pseudo 'Hey Jude'-ish coda to it. Can you imagine what a 'Hey Jude' coda without the 'da-da-das' could have sounded like? Something like this, no doubt. In brief, all of these songs are simply saved by their impeccable codas or downright smart arrangements. And let us also not forget about the second tendency - to incorporate the new member, Jeff Lynne, into the sound. Jeff contributes two numbers on here, which - surprisingly enough - turn out to be the best songs. 'What?' could have easily fit onto any of ELO's best albums, a multi-layered, majestic masterpiece with Lynne's main know-how firmly established already: namely, the impeccable, unbeatable vocal melody, which on this particular occasion goes from a slow, dreamy chant to an angry, ominous, electronically encoded section and then to the epic, operatic climax. Whoah, Jeff really announces his arrival with a bang. Yes, believe it or not, Mr Lynne used to be a genius. Once. And 'Open Up Said The World At The Door', while being seriously different (more jerky, piano-based and with overdubbed vocal harmonies instead of solo Lynne), is almost as impressive - the vocal harmonies are swell. I don't even mind the stupid drum solo in the middle, particularly since a part of it is also played backwards. Oh, those silly old Move. Nevertheless, even with all the good songs and all the good parts of the bad songs, the album wouldn't merit an overall rating of twelve on its own. A very high ten, low eleven, mayhaps. So why a twelve? The twelve goes to the re-issued CD version which almost doubles the original album's length, adding up ten bonus tracks. Three of these are alternate versions (one in Italian), which leaves us with seven A- and B-sides to various Move singles from 1969-70, and they all rule. All of them. Seven glorious, amazing, wonderful, brilliantly written pop melodies, all bar one courtesy of Mr Roy Wood. The flop single 'Wild Tiger Woman' boogies along more impressively than anything on the album itself. Its B-side, 'Omnibus', is a delicious semi-acoustic slice of Brit-pop in the finest of traditions. 'Blackberry Way', the Move's one and only #1 on the British charts, might be the band's finest song - a glamorous anthemic stomp of absolutely universal proportions, with a terrific vocal melody in the chorus that any other band could kill for. If you don't find yourself humming 'goodbye Blackberry way, I can't see you, I don't need you' within seconds, you got a perception disorder. Dave Morgan's 'Something', while certainly far from George Harrison's song of the same title, is still a tremendously emotional piece of soulful chant. 'Curly' is a lightweight folk throwaway, something of a 'Rocky Raccoon' for the band, pure aural delight. 'This Time Tomorrow' is a beautiful acoustic ballad that has nothing to do with the Kinks' song of the same title but which could have easily been penned by Ray Davies in his prime. And 'Lightning Never Strikes Twice' is as close to a Beatles song as nothing else in the Move's catalog - the highest compliment I could ever make. Seriously now, I doubt if one could ever imagine a more brilliant sequence of seven songs in a row for the band. Wheez the rating goes up to a very high twelve, possible low thirteen. Needless to say, by all means get the reissued version of this album, unless you already have all these songs on a compilation. Alternatively, try programming the album so that the Looking On tracks would come out as interspersed with the singles, not separated, and imagine it's the Move's take on the White Album. Perhaps you'll come around to thinking of this 'new' album even higher than I am. And hey, I've only listened to it three times so far. I think I'm gonna go put it on again now. Let this be my prize for typing all these words in.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A unique swan-song. Frankly, I haven't often heard 'medieval pop' blend so fine with Fifties' send-ups.Best song: IT WASN'T MY IDEA TO DANCE
Track listing: 1) It Wasn't My Idea To Dance; 2) The Minister; 3) Message From The Country; 4) The Words Of Aaron; 5) Ben Crawley Steel Company; 6) Until Your Mama's Gone; 7) No Time; 8) Ella James; 9) Don't Mess Me Up; 10) My Marge.
The Move was already somewhat disintegrated by the time their last record came out - after spending some time working with new band member Jeff Lynne, Wood decided to split personality and formed Electric Lights Orchestra as a side project: the Move would continue putting out hit singles and work more in the pop direction, while ELO would pursue the more ambitious, progressive direction. (The same stunt was later repeated by Todd Rundgren, with his 'pop' solo career and his 'prog' Utopia records). In retrospect, this proved to be a completely off-putting and destabilizing action, and it led to Lynne and Wood sucking off the energy from the Move; eventually, Lynne just switched to ELO completely and Wood was left suspended in the air, quitting both bands. Ironically, while ELO were never as artistically valid as the Move, their commercial success in the States completely overshadowed Lynne's past successes - but that's just the way it goes in a world that's been spoiled beyond repair by the likes of the Carpenters... and KISS...Anyway, Message From The Country, the Move's last album, miraculously turns out to be their best (although I haven't yet heard the debut). It's not that there's anything particularly outstanding about it: as we all know, the Move were 'collectioners of styles' rather than serious innovators, and if anything, Roy Wood will mostly be remembered by his wild eclecticism that's unmatched by anybody but the Beatles. But there are two main reasons for which I prefer this over Shazam, the usual critics' favourite. First, there ain't a weak track anywhere in the 'setlist': even the more 'generic' Fifties' rip-offs that clutter much of the second half are thoroughly enjoyable (and I have nothing against a derivative song if it's played with gusto and if it's not the best song on the album), and almost every track has that delicious Move vibe that makes it slightly unlike everything else in the same key, tonality, or direction. And second, after several listens one slowly comes to realize that there is something unusual here, namely, the style that B. Burks termed as 'progressive pop'... 'with a medieval flavour', should I add. Both Lynne and Wood try their hand at creating songs that are catchy and hook-filled, on one hand, and based on unstandard, 'ancient' harmonies, on the other. The only difference is that Wood concentrates on the darker, 'gothic' side of the story, whereas Lynne goes for a more cheerful, lightweight approach - with angelic vocal harmonies, 'heavenly' choruses, etc., etc. Don't worry, everything works. If you're thinking in ELO terms... well, heck, you might as well be, since I've never had any real problems with early ELO. Apart from ELO II, of course, which is a massive load of crap if there ever was one. There! See me using the nasty word 'crap' in a profound music review! Wood opens the album with the best song - the stately, pompous 'It Wasn't My Idea To Dance', complete with a pile of mystical imagery in the lyrics and a marching rhythm that seems to be based on bagpipes; apparently, the guys were fooling around with the Mellotron. Catchy and somewhat disturbing, this is certainly darker and moodier than anything Roy had written before; even the schizo pathos of 'Cherry Blossom Clinic (Revisited)' had traces of irony about it, whereas 'It Wasn't My Idea' just leaves no way out. From then on, it's three Lynne numbers in a row, one better than the other; yeah, I'm serious, this is one Lynne-dominated album that's really well worth your money. I'm even able to forgive Jeff for ripping off the main melody off 'Paperback Writer' for 'The Minister', a typically Beatlesque cookie with a bit of psychedelic aroma; the only things that distinguish it are a strange, electronically-processed guitar tone, and, of course, Lynne's trademark thick bass lines that sometimes tend to occupy most of the sonic space (whatever, they're good - the guy's certainly more solid on that instrument than Carl Wayne). The song even has a chaotic Beatlesque coda, for Chrissake! (Suckers). The title track and 'The Words Of Aaron' are mostly played in the same vein: a thick, luxurious sonic pattern with overdubbed guitars, mastodontic bass, and Beatlesque vocal harmonies. The Beatles just never used those fat guitar tones, which gives the songs a bit more pomposity and majesty, but also doesn't let you particularly identify with the mood. Never mind, though; the melodies are interesting and memorable, and 'Message From The Country' possesses a breathtaking accapella section that's actually more Beach Boys than Beatles. 'The Words Of Aaron', then, is more Zombies than Beatles (or even more Argent than Zombies): Jeff deceives you into thinking that the song is going to be melancholic and ominous, with a heavy guitar sound and a passionate, prophetic vocal delivery, then suddenly breaks into a soaring, delightful chorus that cures you of any melancholy you might have picked up on the way. And don't you go forgetting the ecstatic flute (recorder) solos that really lift the tune off the ground, if the charming vocal harmonies haven't done it already. Classic! And then it's time for the eclecticism - having fulfilled its 'progressive' purposes, the band breaks loose and delivers something in the style of Roy's solo Boulders, that is, 'pick any style and make it work'. A fun country send-up ('Ben Crawley Steel Company'); a hilarious German-influenced cabaret-style ditty ('My Marge'); a pleasant, if not great, pop ballad ('No Time'); a couple trademark Wood rockers ('Until Your Mama's Gone'; 'Ella James'). And to top it off, Bev Bevan comes up with a boogie pastiche that's so blatantly ripped off of both Elvis' 'Treat Me Nice' and 'Stuck On You' ('Don't Mess Me Up') that it's a wonder the band never got sued for... oh well, the world was probably too busy trying to track down all the possible sources that Led Zeppelin were ripping off at the time. It's all the more funny because when I first put the record on I never spotted anything great about it - but it's the kind of album that grows on you slowly. See, the Move were the kind of band that had a certain amount of Magic didn't possess the Flash technique, like the Beatles did; and Magic without Flash takes a long time to appreciate. (If you don't get what the hell I'm talking about, you're welcome to make your own interpretations - I'm not too sure myself). But Flash or no Flash, that's no reason to overlook such an exciting record; in fact, it's one of the finest swansongs ever recorded, at least, one of the finest swansongs that was never intended to be a swansong, unless you uphold the idea that 'It Wasn't My Idea To Dance' is actually a veiled apology of Wood's for getting into that whole wretched business in the first place.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Way too bizarre to be a true classic, but featuring enough cool ideas and cool melody treatments to be tolerable.Best song: YOU CAN DANCE THE ROCK'N'ROLL
Track listing: 1) You Can Dance The Rock'n'Roll; 2) Meet Me At The Jailhouse; 3) Jolly Cup Of Tea; 4) Buffalo Station - Get On Down To Memphis; 5) Gotta Crush (About You); 6) Wear A Fast Gun.
From the very beginning of Wizzard's existence as a band, Roy Wood envisaged a 'double face' for the band. On one hand, in 1973-74 it easily cranked out one smooth, hook-laden pop single after another, steadily hitting the charts and raising Roy's popularity among the general record-buying public. On the other hand, Wizzard's regular LPs were a different world altogether, and nowhere does the dissimilarity show through as strikingly as on the band's debut LP, Wizzard Brew, which truly lives up to its name and to the bizarre album cover.The six tunes on the album are all essentially "rock'n'roll" tracks: ranging from mid-tempo to some real fast tempos, they all rock out with a consistent level of energy, except for maybe the last tune, 'Wear A Fast Gun', whose groove is rather of a 'soul' than of a 'rock' character. Multiple elements are borrowed by Roy from one of his favourite musical periods, the Fifties; in fact, stuff like 'Gotta Crush (About You)' is almost note-for-note based on standard Elvis/Jerry Lee Lewis stuff and thus predicts the direct tribute to the Fifties that was Wizzard's ensuing album. However, this is where the 'normal' news ends and the extravaganza begins. For starters, all of the songs on here seem to take a truly rebellious stand against 'good production'. This is one of the hardest-to-take albums I've heard in a long time: in parts, it bleeds on the ears so heavily that you're almost starting to scream for mercy, and given the fact that three of these songs go well over seven minutes (and one of them goes over thirteen), the situation is a dire one indeed. The layers of sound - and Roy shows himself a true Phil Spector aficionado, although some might say that he's just following the usual Move pattern of 'solidifying' the sound - grind into one another as roughly as possible, with the fat, stomping brass section overshadowing the guitars, thumping drums crashing all over the place (sometimes out of place) and an echoey, at times distorted Roy Wood voice hysterically screaming over all the din, only adding to the confusion. To make matters worse, Roy intentionally drowns many of the songs in a sea of white noise, adding insane amounts of fuzz to everything, including saxophones, and clouding the melodies in a veil of phasing, which makes the melodies nearly undiscernible. Furthermore, even when (or if) your ears finally adjust to the total chaos of the mix, the album's songs don't have enough good melodies to speak in its favour. Or, rather, they do have good melodies, but they aren't breathtaking enough to compensate for all the damage done to your eardrums. The main point is thus for you not only to tolerate the production, but to teach yourself to enjoy it - obviously, the mix was intentional and not the result of somebody screwing up. This is a hard job to do, of course, but the saving grace is that Wizzard Brew is actually a funny album. Roy Wood was a funny person, and this is an ultra-complex, but funny album done by a genuinely funny person. This is firmly proved by the inclusion of the hilarious gag 'Jolly Cup Of Tea', for instance, where Roy employs martial rhythms to sing pseudo-nursery rhyme lyrics (almost inaudible anyway, but who cares?). And the already mentioned 'Gotta Crush (About You)' is an excellent breather between the lengthy sonic experiences as well, with a terrific 'hyperbole' boogie piano line played at warp speed while Roy makes his near-perfect imitation of Elvis (it'll be hard for you to hear him behind the brassy wall of sound, though). The album's strongest short song, though, is its opener, 'You Can Dance The Rock'n'Roll', with a marvelous ascending vocal harmony on the verses and a completely deconstructed rock melody - all the instruments seem to be given extra distortion and phased out to oblivion, including even the drums, so that at times it seems as if the song were crumbling to pieces while it's actually NOT. In short, this is all groovy and trippy, a good treat for the demanding headbanger and material that's nice to... to... to have in your collection. But what about the longer numbers? Well... they're too long. Yes, that's the problem: even within this selected style, stuff like 'Meet Me At The Jailhouse' simply has no reason to drag on for thirteen minutes. I welcome almost everything about it: the goofy opening 'sax duet', the jerky rhythmic stomp, the electronically treated vocal effects, Roy's frantic electric guitar solos and the abrupt ending. But the length is still killing me - too few ideas are repeated for too much time. Was it really necessary to stretch out these jams, transforming them from 'weird' to 'lethargic'? Guess not. A similar problem manages to nearly shoot down the album closer, 'Wear A Fast Gun', which is arguably the weakest number on record, as Roy seems to go for an 'epic' kind of sound - but an epic kind of sound is hardly compatible with this messy production, and at nine minutes, the tune manages to drive me crazy because it mostly just hangs out there in all of its wall-of-sound 'beauty' and does next to nothing. Pity, as the main vocal melody is pretty. The only lengthy number that is tolerable in almost all of its entirety is the 'medley' 'Buffalo Station/Get On Down To Memphis', another Fifties-stylized number that features arguably the tightest performance on the album. It's everything a real rock'n'roll track need be - fast, involving, and hysterical, and it never really lets go during its seven minutes, building up and up and up until it suddenly comes to an abrupt change of pace, going through several 'snippets' of more Fifties material and then reverts back to Roy's frantic wailings of 'Get on down, get on down to Memphis' accompanied by some of the most 'poisonous' guitar chords ever recorded. Still, after all's been said and done and heard and seen, the album leaves behind a giant question mark. Is it Roy's twisted interpretation of 'good time rock'n'roll'? Or a grandiose artistic statement? If so, what's it say exactly? Is it just a silly mystification, like one of Captain Beefheart's albums? What the hell did I nearly burst my ears for? Can somebody answer that? I personally still cannot. In the meantime, I give the album an overall rating of 10 and I'll give it a chance to cool down; and if you're gonna buy it, by any chance, make sure your stereo system is nice and healthy. This is one album that's really disastrous for your speakers.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Not as much eccentricity as on your average Move record, but Roy beats it all with one of the most amazingly eclectic album on the planet.Best song: MISS CLARKE AND THE COMPUTER
Track listing: 1) Song Of Praise; 2) Wake Up; 3) Rock Down Low; 4) Nancy Sing Me A Song; 5) Dear Elaine; 6) All The Way Over The Hill; 7) Miss Clarke And The Computer; 8) When Gran'ma Plays The Banjo; 9) Rock Medley.
And another timeless classic lost in time! To my knowledge, this album to this very time (March 2000) has eluded CD release; try as you might, you won't find it on CDnow or in any other on-line CD stores I'm aware of. Needless to say that it's a total crime - it's one of the most inoffensively enjoyable records in the 'relatively lightweight' category to come out of the tail end of the Sixties. And yeah, you heard right: Roy actually recorded the album in 1969, way before the Move came to an untimely end, but for some strange reason remained unreleased back then - apparently, since the Move records didn't sell quite well, the companies had no point in thinking a Move member solo album would sell better. So it remained in the vaults until 1973, when Roy was gaining some minor public recognizal with his glammy Wizzard combo. But even today this album is often lost behind the legends of the Move and Wizzard - a shame, since it's easily more consistent and more steadily enjoyable than anything else Roy had ever done and should at least be universally recognized as a major highlight in his career.Where do I start with the record? Well, first of all, it's easy to see why it never really acquired much public acclaim: it's totally idiosyncratic with Wood's own ambitions and musical stylistics, and that stylistics never really suited fashionable musical trends of any particular epoch. Which, of course, ultimately makes it timeless - Roy isn't feebly following in anybody's footsteps, but traces out his own unique and intriguing route. It's eclectic as hell, too, with Wood covering all kinds of genres from gospel to pop balladeering to Fifties' rock'n'roll to bluegrass to Irish jigs to weird experimental ditties. And, while most of these styles normally fall into the 'roots rock' category which isn't normally gonna satisfy everybody's tastes, I'm sure it'll be simply impossible to dislike the way Wood treats these styles: everything on here is pretty much tongue-in-cheek, with hilarious lyrics, weird song effects and magnificent vocal deliveries (it's really hard to believe that 'Song Of Praise', 'Miss Clarke' and 'Rock Down Low' are actually sung by the same person) all over the place. Maybe a couple of spots may sound slightly dull in places, but in the final end these forty minutes turn out to be as tightly packed with hooks, brilliant, original ideas and fresh, charming humour as possible, fully confirming Roy's undeniable pop genius. Why the world gushes over Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? but steadily forgets about Boulders is way beyond me. Todd's songwriting is erratic, his approach to creating a solid melody is hit and miss, and over the course of his enormous double album he completely forgets to stamp his own identity on the songs; Roy steadily pumps out incredibly catchy, if sometimes derivative melodies, and makes the album enjoyable at least on two levels - as a 'roots rock encyclopaedia' and as a true picture of Wood's own inner fantasies and artistic soul. And he manages to achieve this in forty minutes, where it took Todd almost ninety. For me, Wood is clearly the winner of the two. I haven't picked out Rundgren to compare with Wood just like that, 'off the ceiling', as we say; apart from both gents' 'encyclopaedic' approach to the material, Something/Anything? is also similar to Boulders in that both artists have made these albums a 'one-man band' effort. Wood plays all the instruments and overdubs all the voices (only on 'She's Too Good For Me' he's joined by the Move), and does that in a far more effective and interesting way than Todd - just listen to all the incredible harmonizing of multiple Woods on 'Song Of Praise' and 'Dear Elaine' and... okay, I'm at a loss for words. The inner sleeve pictures Roy playing all these instruments, guitars, pianos, bassoons, drums, recorders, even two flutes at the same time (!!): it's as grand as could be. And now to the songs themselves. What a better way to open the album than with an uplifting, utterly sincere-sounding gospel pop anthem ('Song Of Praise')? On the very first listen it quickly transformed into my favourite gospel song on the planet, not in the least due to Roy's amazing vocal tone - when he breaks into the song with the piercing 'I've just wrote a gospel!..', it's like revelation. Yup, if you want to convert somebody, play him 'Song Of Praise' and I swear he'll be running off to the church in no time. Fast, rollicking, and soooo spiritual it almost makes me wonder... man, that Roy is a dangerous dude. Then there are the ballads. 'Dear Elaine' is the only one of these that does little for me, but maybe it's just because it's somewhat slow and the melody is somewhat diluted as compared to the rest of the material; it's a solid effort all the same, with some magnificent 'mini-orchestration' and perhaps Roy's best vocal harmonies on the album. But 'Wake Up' and 'Nancy Sing Me A Song' are absolute classics - the former with its charming flutes, bouncy, unforgettable vocal melody, and Roy's weird percussion (he's actually slapping a bowl of water on that one), and the latter with the magnificent chorus ('Nancy, Nancy, sing me a song/Something to make my hair grow long') that you won't soon forget. Then there are the rockers. The harder-hitting 'Rock Down Low' is a terrific piece of barroom boogie; the song begs for a full-band live treatment, but it works surprisingly well in this setting as well, and, of course, Roy can't resist the temptation to weirden things up a bit with a 'nasty-soundin' violin solo. And in the final 'Rock Medley' he just takes over several styles of Fifties' rock, ranging from the Everleys to Carl Perkins, and dresses them up in self-created melodies, funny lyrics and beautifully arranged instrumentation. The Move appear to back him up on 'She's Too Good For Me', and offer a wonderful Byrds-ey interpretation of the Everleys (hey, they actually outbyrd the Byrds on that one. Easily). Then there are the deeper 'roots'. 'All The Way Over The Hill' is a great folk-style chant, where Roy shows that he can play the role of a mannered folkie with his heart on his sleeve just as well as the role of an ardent preacher or a ravenous rocker, and it ends in the short instrumental jig 'Irish Loafer (And His Hen)' which is equally convincing. And, while some deem 'When Gran'ma Plays The Banjo' as a silly throwaway, I see no problem in that: it's fast, funny, and enticing. The jokes are kinda silly, but never too banal or obscene (I especially love the verse where Roy announces his 'cousin' playing the banjo and plays it so bad that the crowds go 'booo' instead of 'whooo'. Great idea). Roy wouldn't be Roy, though, if he hadn't really thought of something truly perverse and creepy to insert in the middle of the album. 'Miss Clarke And The Computer' is that song, and it sometimes scares me to death. Without paying much attention to the lyrics, it's easy to mistake the song for a melancholic lost love ballad or something like that; in reality, the lyrics deal with a robot being afraid of his warden disassembling him because of some inner problems. The vocals of the song are electronically enhanced, ending with a spooky 'Miss Clarke... Miss Clarke... DON'T TAKE MY HEART AWAAY' in a bass rumble - apparently, illustrating the final words spoken by the robot before the screwdriver ends his life. CREEPY! So I think I'll just take advantage of this here web space and address all my readers - wherever you are, please please please trace down this album, or, better still, bombard Wood's record company with requests to issue it on CD (or, if it had been previously issued, to put it back in print where it should always belong). I admire Russia's editors who have already done that; why don't the world follow suite? After all, if the world has by now recognized the greatness of Odessey And Oracle, it's only natural that it should recognize the greatness of Boulders as well. 'Nuff said. The photo on the back cover, where Roy is standing on top of a hill with a huge boulder in the background and playing his violin with a totally mad look in his eyes and a large cross on his chest, is alone worth acquiring the record. Timeless, timeless classic. Not a 14 because there's hardly anything truly groundbreaking on the album, but pretty close.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Hey, this guy couldn't even make a good retro album without making it sound less dumb than required.Best song: EVERY DAY I WONDER
Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) Eddy's Rock; 3) Brand New '88'; 4) You Got Me Runnin'; 5) I Dun Lotsa Cryin' Over You; 6) This Is The Story Of My Love (Baby); 7) Everyday I Wonder; 8) Crazy Jeans; 9) Come Back Karen; 10) We're Gonna Rock'n'Roll Tonight; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Rock And Roll Winter; 12) Dream Of Unwin; 13) Nixture; 14) Are You Ready To Rock; 15) Marathon Man.
Wood's second album with Wizzard turned out to be his first (and only) truly conceptual album, and yet another one to display his marvelous eclecticism, even if it's nowhere near as immaculately conceived as Boulders. Wood's fascination with Fifties' rock and pop was a well-known thing, of course, as both Boulders and the man's Move career was chock-full of this stuff, and the Fifties influences of Wizzard Brew were unmistakable as well, but it wasn't until Eddy that he managed to carry out his ambitions on a full scale - that is, releasing an entire album of Fifties-stylized songs. And when the Master does it, he doesn't act in half-measures: each song is in a distinct and different style, not all of which I'm even familiar with. From Cliff Richard to Duane Eddy to Elvis to Phil Spector to Frankie Avalon, Wood puts on every kind of mask imaginable - and for the most part, he succeeds.That said, I don't give this album an overall rating of twelve (pretty high) just because it's an immaculate 'musical dissertation'. Lots of artists have succeeded in returning to their retro roots and making note-perfect pastiches of Buddy Holly and co. which are fun but certainly nothing special to worry about. No, the charm of this album is indeed in the fact that it's a moderate stylization - the originals are always well recognizable, and yet, at the same time, it's obvious that none of these songs can really be mistaken for true Fifties' material. More exactly, this is "Fifties' material" run through the prism of a) Seventies' production values and b) Wood's own unique musical vision. No Fifties' artists ever used all that diverse instrumentation that's so prominent on these tracks; no Fifties' artists ever new the possibilities of a synthesizer; and I won't even mention that no Fifties' artists ever tended to stretch out these songs (some run over five minutes!). Okay, so I did mention it. In any case, this often leads to awesome puzzling effects. Take a song like 'Every Day I Wonder', for instance, obviously modelled after the pattern of the classic 'Runaway'. Is it really imitating a Fifties' standard? The arrangement seems more like Eighties synth-pop to me! Very similar beats, echoey vocals, and all these moody keyboard overdubs in the background, not to mention the synth solos. Taken together with the magnificent, catchy and slightly sad, nostalgic melody, this all culminates in an absolute highlight and a lost classic, a song bridging the gap between Fifties' 'pop boogie' and Eighties' dance music. Likewise, all the other songs are pastiches and non-pastiches at once, ditties that can be treated on different levels of perception. If you just want to take this album as Roy's tribute to the heroes of his youth, it's your bet; but personally, I see a lot more personality on here than could be felt at first sight. 'Crazy Jeans', for instance, Roy's Gene Vincent tribute. The drum beats and the ringing naughty guitar bits are one hundred percent Vincent, but what about the vocals? There's a certain self-conscious slyness and menace about them that don't have anything to do with Gene at all. And 'We're Gonna Rock'n'Roll Tonight'? Where did that nearly heavy-metal bass intro come from? To tell you the truth, that song evokes Grand Funk Railroad more than Chuck Berry, with a far more "fat", brassy arrangement and all kinds of different, complex solos emanating from it, after which it all ends up with a loop of piano outbursts (not too characteristic for a Fifties' record either). So, what I'm actually is trying to say is that Introducing Eddy should be considered an "update of Fifties' sound for the Seventies" rather than a "Fifties' tribute", which certainly makes the album more interesting. Kinda like T. Rex, which is no surprise considering that both T. Rex and Wizzard were considered Britain's biggest glam bands (yes, there was a time when Wizzard did chart in Britain, believe it or not). Of course, the melodies are still rather formulaic, and so you can't enjoy Roy's compositional genius as transparently as you could on Boulders, but he more than makes up for it on the arrangements. Other highlights, for me, include the lush, pompous five-minute 'This Is The Story Of My Love', obviously dedicated to Phil Spector; the great invigorating boogie 'Brand New '88'; and the hilarious Elvis parody 'I Dun Lotsa Cryin' Over You', perhaps the most 'authentic-sounding' piece on here due to Wood's excellent imitation of the King's 'Don't Be Cruel'-style moans and wails, although the wah-wah solo certainly is far from authentic. That's not to say that the other numbers don't qualify - there ain't truly a weak number in here anywhere, just a couple that slightly overstay their welcome and another couple that are slightly less exciting than others. Plus, the CD re-issue of the album (only available in the US as an import version - as if anybody had any doubts on that account) is important in that it adds some excellent bonus tracks, the most significant of which is Wizzard's contemporary single 'Rock And Roll Winter', a loud, brash, bombastic power pop number with a beautiful, uplifting melody; another mini-wonder is the Bill Haley send-up 'Are You Ready To Rock' that - once again - sounds like Haley all right, right until the end where Wood can't help but insert a bagpipes solo. Anything but blind imitation, huh. The other tracks are a bunch of weird, but very creative and moderately catchy instrumentals, all of which are at least as enjoyable as a good Frank Zappa instrumental composition. Nowhere near as dissonant, of course, but not any less interesting because of that. In short, while Introducing Eddy is certainly not the best place to start with Roy, it is a must have for everybody finding pleasure in Wood's misguided eclecticism, and certainly one of the oddest mixes of "traditionalism" and "experimentalism" I've ever heard.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Roy's "Pet Sounds". Somewhat ambivalent, but for the most part, it really works on the 'beauty level'.Best song: THE RAIN CAME DOWN ON EVERYTHING. Or THE SONG, perhaps?
Track listing: 1) Mustard; 2) Any Old Time Will Do; 3) The Rain Came Down On Everything; 4) You Sure Got It Now; 5) Why Does A Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs; 6) The Song; 7) Look Thru' The Eyes Of A Fool; 8) Interlude; 9) Get On Down Home; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Oh What A Shame; 11) Bengal Jig; 12) Rattlesnake Roll; 13) Can't Help My Feelings; 14) Strider; 15) Indiana Rainbow; 16) The Thing Is This (This Is The Thing).
Wood goes solo again - in the truest sense of the word, as Mustard is again written, recorded and produced exclusively by Mr Wood, with a slight contribution from Phil Everly (sic!) and Annie Haslam of Renaissance (Roy's girlfriend at the time) on backing vocals on a few tracks. One would expect Roy to return to the eclecticism of old, but that's not what he prefers to do on here. Mustard is Roy's 'grand' emotional statement - an album that self-consciously tries to be as beautiful as possible. In some way this is indeed Roy's personal version of Pet Sounds, and not only due to the similarity of the statement of both albums, but also due to direct Brian Wilson influences that can be found in spades all over the record. It is obvious that most of the record's Grand Pompous compositions derive a lot from the Beach Boys masterpiece, although Roy is certainly idiosyncratic enough to cut down any possible 'rip-off' accusations. The arrangements are all drenched in mastodontic synthesized orchestrations, angelic chorales, harps and Mellotrons, and technologically can even be considered an 'improvement' over Pet Sounds just due to a more complex and multi-layered choice of instrumentation. However, as usual, Roy is too much of a clown to possess that charming disarming sincerity which made Pet Sounds so irresistable; even the most breathtaking passages on Mustard are all sagged down by this nasty feeling that Roy is just making an 'exploration' rather than a 'confession'. Well, that was already the case on most of his previous records, wasn't it?We'll have to take it then. The central focus parts of Mustard are the three bombastic ballads - 'The Rain Came Down On Everything', 'Why Does A Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs', and 'The Song'. It's actually hard for me to determine which is the best one; for now, the choice stays with the former. 'The Rain Came Down' follows the super-slow pattern with a fascinating vocal melody and a rather simple piano/synthesized harmonies arrangement. However, as the song progresses, it moves towards a magnificent crescendo, with added harps, booming drums and the synthesized harmonies soaring right up to the sky where the rain came down from. Some solo passages in the middle are downright medieval, which would be highly unusual for a 'mainstream' pop song as it pretends to be, and that's rather intriguing, isn't it? 'Why Does A Pretty Girl Sing Those Songs' is performed in the trademark Beach Boys style (with cellos, slow parts metamorphosing into steady mid-tempo rhythms, all with Roy's falsetto on top to add some 'authentic Brian Wilson' atmosphere). However, 'The Song' is really something special: the number itself takes about two minutes and isn't all that great, but it is followed by a four-minute neoclassical instrumental section which should, by all means, be considered Wood's absolute peak at this genre. A simple harp rhythm is played, with a minimalistic organ passage going on somewhere in the background, but somehow this simple arrangement transforms into a solemn, relaxed picture of heavenly beauty as it goes by. Optimistic at times, pathetic at other times and melancholic at third times, it just gotta rank along with the best of that kind of moody minimalistic instrumental passages - the best other example, as of now, being Steve Hackett's unforgettable guitar solo on 'Firth Of Fifth'. However, Roy sometimes steps outside 'slower' territory - just to give the listener a break, he alternates the relaxing majestic ballads with a few more upbeat numbers. 'Any Old Time Will Do', the album's first solid number, will hardly be appreciated on first listen, but on subsequent ones the way Wood constructs his harmonies - from caring and tender falsetto to bitter and desperate tenor - will definitely win your heart over (if you have a heart, that is). Add in a cool, definitely heart-melting slide guitar lick, and the whole experience is certainly worth your psyche. Exercise your psyche with that experience! Train it! Mellow it out! 'Got to mellow down got to mellow down', as some deranged ZZ Top member once said. Plus, 'Look Thru' The Eyes Of A Fool' is delightfully boppy and stompy, and 'You Sure Got It Now' is delightfully weird, with sections ranging from free-flowing jazz to a nearly hard-rockin' part. About the only thing on the album which makes me tweak my nose is the closing track - 'Get On Down Home' seems hardly compatible with the rest of the record, and it's just as if this was some old throwaway from the Wizzard days, a bizarrely produced thwack-boom-banging rocker that boasts a good riff but a rather silly and unnecessary chaotic drum solo as well. It would have easily fit on something like Wizzard Brew, but on here the song's quality just doesn't shine through all that much considering all those classy ballads. The recent CD reissue is good, but not as good as, say, the Move CD reissues. It throws in a few concurrent Wood singles from 1975 and 1976, which range from interesting, but way too derivative (the Bill Haley send-up 'Rattlesnake Roil') to interesting, but not all that hook-hookey ('Oh What A Shame'), to groovy lengthy experiments with neoclassical and jazz again, like the enormous, never ending 'The Thing Is This (This Is The Thing)' that's nowhere near as weird as Wood's earlier neoclassical stuff and nowhere near as beautiful as 'The Song'. It's good to have all these bonus tracks, but they don't pump up the rating that much. Still, bonus or no bonus, Mustard is - overall - a very good record; basically, Wood manages to do whatever he wanted to do, and he does so on a professional and highly complex level. Like I said, it takes a lot of time and listening to get used to, but at least it's nowhere near as trippy as Wizzard Brew, and that should really tell you something. And dig the album cover, too, featuring Woody The Wizzard with his favourite musical instrument. (Funny that the bagpipes are nowhere near as prominent on the album as before, though).
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Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Err... what is this, "arena-jazz-rock"? Something very loud, but not very categorizable.Best song: THE FIRE IN HIS GUITAR
Track listing: 1) Main Street; 2) Saxmaniax; 3) The Fire In His Guitar; 4) French Perfume; 5) Take My Hand; 6) Don't You Feel Better; 7) Indiana Rainbow; 8) I Should Have Known.
The story goes as follows: until recently, it had always been assumed that Wizzard disbanded somewhere around mid-1975 and that was pretty much the end of the road for the band, although one or two singles were still released as late as 1976. However, in 1999, while digging through the Roy Wood sound archives, probably searching for some rarities for the usual bonus tracks and stuff like that, representatives of Wood's record company fell upon this - the tapes of what was recognized as the long-lost last Wizzard album, which turned out to have been fully recorded and produced in mid-1976, but deemed "uncommercial" and declined by the record industry bosses back then. So it was shelved for twenty five years - and only released on the eve of the third millennium.That said, it is indeed a fully finished album, and if only the music of Wizzard is going to persist and last (and I hope it will), Main Street will from now on always be considered as a true and obligatory 'swansong' to that band's eccentric existence. It's a fully coherent album - perhaps even more coherent than Wizzard Brew itself - and a very strange album, too, in some ways more accessible than Brew, and in some ways less. The Wizzard facet of Mr Wood was always puzzling and bewitching, and Main Street is no exception; it requires lengthy and profound listenings in order to be at least fully understood, and chances are you probably won't fall in deep love with it anyway. I didn't, but it's a solid effect anyway. It's particularly interesting that the record is very well produced - unlike previous Wizzard efforts, I don't feel no pain in my ears while listening to this. All the instruments are fully in place, and this time around Roy doesn't overemphasize technical gimmicks like phasing, etc., concentrating more on the pure musical force than sideways effects. The general band sound, however, is still as fat and booming as ever: Charlie Grima's drums are particularly King Kongish, thrashing and bashing all over the place like there was no tomorrow, but Rick Price's bass lines are thick and grumbly as well, and the sax overlays are layed down as plump and mushy as possible. The songs themselves still follow the general 'jazz-pop' or 'jazz-rock' tradition of Wizzard, but generally in a bit more accessible way: they are mostly reasonably short, and where they aren't, they develop into pretty normal guitar or sax jams, much unlike the craziness of the instrumental passages of Brew. On the other hand, the melodies are exceedingly tricky - sometimes to a point where I can't even suspect their actual presence, if you know what I mean. The first four songs are all generally good, though. 'Main Street' looks like it continues the vibe of Mustard - it's an upbeat popper in the vein of 'Any Old Time Will Do', i.e. jazzy in style, but overlaying some pretty Beach Boys-style harmonies, which renders the track particularly cozy and warm. You could get tired of the incessant sax and piano solos, of course... then again, maybe you couldn't. It's also slightly reminiscent of late period Steely Dan, could you say that? Hmm, I guess you could: the same delicate, exquisite professional jazzy sound. However, the Wizzard madness pops up on the very next track - 'Saxmaniax' is quite cool, based on a rip-roaring speedy metallic rhythm track over which Roy and company pile... saxes? How could you guess? Anyway, you guessed wrong, because first come the... bagpipes? You guessed again? Say, that Roy Wood fella is pretty predictable, isn't he? My favourite on here, anyway, is the seven-minute brontosaur 'The Fire In His Guitar'. Don't ask me why - standard types of explications don't work well when you have to deal with somebody as loony as Woody. It has some vocals in the beginning (like an energetic arena-rocker with a pathetic and exaggerated singing style), but for the most part it just exists as an instrumental, with Wood taking the time to roll out the guitars and roll 'em back in. Some great solo playing is out there - I never actually suspected Roy of being capable to play that well. Plus, the song shifts tempos several times, going from aggressive rock anthem to a relaxed jazz shuffle and back to rawk once again. Cool. And just as it ends, you get the generic jazz-pop sendup 'French Perfume' - the most 'normal' song, perhaps, that these guys ever recorded together. Do you like sharp, unpredictable experiences? Like jumping off Mount Everest, only to land on the carpet in your bedroom? This is a similar outing. Perhaps. Don't take me too seriously - remember, it's Roy Wood I'm trying to review. I don't really like the other three songs, though. Three, because the fourth, 'Indiana Rainbow', I already knew - it was previously issued as a single in 1976 and was included as a bonus track on my Mustard CD. It's just another good upbeat, optimistic, eccentric pop anthem. But these other songs... eh... well, they have their moments, like the monster bassline on 'Don't You Feel Better', for instance, but essentially they're just more of the same done in a worse way. Just your typical 'twisted' jazz-pop that still evades me even after a couple dozen listens. Can't guarantee anything, though. In short, Main Street is definitely not for anyone - you can scoop it up if you see it cheap, and it's probably available now since the CD is only, like, one year old or so at the time of writing, but don't judge Mr Wood's genius exclusively upon these songs. This is just a warning to those who will be put off by the complexity and weirdness of the material. Try Boulders first. However, if you happen to be a Wizzard fan, the album is an absolute must for you - go out and buy it now. Never again will you have a chance to have something of THAT quality and dimension unearthed smack dab directly in yer face.
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Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 1
Overall rating = 4
A disgusting collection of bland, derivative synth-pop of the worst order in existence.Best song: oh God, they're all atrocious!!! Okay, ON TOP OF THE WORLD is tolerable
Track listing: 1) Red Cars Are After Me; 2) Raining In The City; 3) Under Fire; 4) Turn Your Body To The Light; 5) Hot Cars; 6) Starting Out; 7) Keep It Steady; 8) On Top Of The World; 9) Ships In The Night.
Oh yuck. Oh me oh my. I've only managed to sit twice through this and all I can say is yuck. No, really, I don't exactly manage to fit this album into my conception of Roy Wood at all: all that is left is tear down my hair and rip off my shirt and wail high up into the sky: 'THIS is the same artist that recorded Boulders eighteen years ago? What, are you kidding me?'Now I understand that when we're dealing with crap like this, we have to consider the circumstances. The record, which turned out to be Roy's last ever release of original material (for a good reason, too - I'd probably limit my existence to selling George Bush memoirs on the streets if I ever had the misfortune to come up with something that shitty), anyway, this record was recorded at the end of 1986 and released in February 1987, an epoch renowned for its particular murkiness. But Starting Up got to rate as one of the worst ever efforts of the mid-Eighties synth-pop/rock genre; compared to it, Paul McCartney's Press To Play and the Stones' Dirty Work are fantastic masterpieces, certainly Mozart-worthy. Nine completely identic, completely generic, screamingly banal 'pop-rockers' which really make me wonder if I've actually underrated Phil Collins as a creative songwriter. And this, coming from a man that was once the breathing definition of 'eccentric eclecticism' in person. No dice; this is the biggest musical disappointment I've ever experienced since I first immersed myself in the late Jethro Tull period. Once again, Roy is credited for 'all instruments and voices', but this time I don't buy it. It's one thing to record an album like Boulders or Mustard, where he actually had to play, not program, all the instruments, guitars, flutes, bassoons, banjos, drums and all; it's completely another thing to tune up some drum machines, establish a few simplistic synth patterns and add some generic, second-hand metallic guitar solos. My liner notes also say that the album features 'The Royal Philharmonic Violins', but I can't really identify them and I wouldn't even want to. You don't spice up your own shit, now do you? As for the songs themselves, Roy has obviously fallen for the straightforward-pop hook line (not that there are a lot of hooks here), and it's indeed hard to distinguish one number from another. The record seems to be a conceptual one: quite a few songs deal with automotive subjects ('Red Cars After Me', 'Hot Cars', 'Starting Out'), and the album title and cover (the alternative one, not the one pictured here - the record had several different sleeves) all reek of gasoline. But there's no real coherent concept, and most of the tunes are either simplistic love 'ballads', or paranoid pseudo-depressive stuff ('Under Fire'). For some time I nurtured the hope that the record would turn out to be tongue-in-cheek sooner or later, but nay, Roy sounds completely self-assured and sincere, which only makes my horror deeper. All of this stuff sounds very close to late-period Renaissance, when they fell for the synth-pop vibe with records like Camera Camera and Time-Line, and that's not too surprising: Renaissance's lead singer Annie Haslam had been Roy's girlfriend for quite a long time (I'm not sure if they were still together in 1987, though). In turn, Renaissance were mostly ripping off ABBA at the time, so Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus also come to mind while listening to some of the tracks. Unfortunately, both ABBA and Renaissance each had something that's apparently lacking on Starting Up. ABBA had two genial songwriters that supplied a seemingly endless stretch of gigantic, unbeatable hooks; and two skilful and expressive singerines that provided the energy. Renaissance had Annie whose voice was able to sometimes breathe life into some completely undistinguishable pap. But not only does Starting Up refuse to present any interesting hooks, it also refuses to present any darn energy. Roy's voice sounds pathetic most of the time - and I tell you, I can endure these songs only in those rare moments when I can chase away the nostalgic thoughts of a younger Mr Wood. He doesn't even sound like a self-parody: he sounds like a miserable joke. Out of the songs, I could perhaps pluck out 'On Top Of The World', as it's essentially just an old-fashioned boogie woogie hidden under drum machines, hi-tech synths and - I suppose - the 'Royal Philharmonic Violins'. And if I'm really desperate and decide to snatch out a hook at any cost, I'll probably put my eye on 'Under Fire', a tune that suspiciously sounds like a cross between ABBA's 'Under Attack' and something off those early Eighties' Steve Hackett records, you know, the ones where he went for that kind of sound, too (he did manage it better, though). I suppose that if Roy had made a wise move and invited Annie Haslam into the studio to sing 'Under Fire', the result would even come close to acceptable. Otherwise, I won't even bother with the track listing. I'll just let Roy speak for himself: in the murky proto-technofest 'Turn Your Body To The Light', he admits: 'feels like I'm going down the drain'. I couldn't agree more. Luckily, Starting Up is currently out of print; let this review be a warning - if you ever see it, don't rush out and grab it just because it's Roy Wood.
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