It’s that time of year!
I first heard The Move on the radio many many years ago when a track came on from their final fourth album (just before morphing into The Electric Light Orchestra aka ELO).
I can tell you almost exactly when. I was in, probably, the eighth grade and was getting more exploratory in my listening, digging deeper into my older brother’s record collections and poking around the FM radio dial for interesting music. I had heard of ELO before because one of my brother’s friends brought over their Eldorado album — yeah, back in the day people used to bring their records over to friend’s homes to hang out and listen together … it was a fun social thing — but I hadn’t paid it much attention apart from liking the Wizard of Oz flavored album cover.
Late one Sunday night around that time I was listening to legendary college station WFMU-FM in East Orange, NJ and the DJ was spinning a particularly compelling set of tunes. Suddenly, this song came on that sounded like a lost John Lennon outtake, time-warped between “I Am The Walrus,” “Dear Prudence” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” I was absolutely mesmerized by “Message From The Country,” with its big pounding march drum beats, dense Beach Boys-on-acid harmonies and searing, soaring, jangling guitars.
And then as the song faded out, the DJ segued into what I later learned was “Knots” by Gentle Giant.
I called up the station to get more info on those recordings. I soon found myself at the used record shop in town where, sure enough, I found an album that contained that amazing song. It was on the United Artists Records label, an album called Split Ends. And thus began my fandom for the music of Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne in all their various incarnations — The Move, ELO, The Idle Race, Wizzard, Eddie & The Falcons and the Wizzo Band.
Eventually I learned that Split Ends was really a compilation of tracks from Message From The Country plus several late period singles (including the original version “Do Ya,” “Chinatown” and “Tonight”). I soon learned that the original US version of the Message From The Country album had been released on Capitol Records, was very much out of print and had already become quite a pricey collectors item even back then.
I wouldn’t find an original US pressing of that album until many years later (I still have it — a sealed copy!).
In the early 90s, the US version of Message From the Country appeared on CD via the One Way Records label (the disc was made in Canada!) and it sounded pretty great, certainly better than the mushy versions of the songs I heard on the Split Ends collection! It had that amazing album art too! But… by then I already learned that in the UK the album had a different — and weirder — cover design and a different track running order.
I never saw a copy of that version of the album until a reissue series on CD in 2005, made with the cooperation of the band (my copy is autographed by drummer Bev Bevan!) presented the original album in its original running order. It was supplemented by the aforementioned singles and some unreleased studio sessions(!).
I was in heaven! But… I still didn’t have an original UK pressing of Message From The Country on the Harvest Records label.
So…. now our review du jour finally begins because Message From The Country has finally been reissued on vinyl in the UK and it sounds mighty sweet! First off , the original British edition album art (painted by Roy Wood himself!) has been reproduced including the period-accurate folded-seam back cover design and the iconic lime green Harvest label. The album is pressed on thick, perfectly centered, quiet black 180-gram vinyl and it comes with an MP3 download.
It sounds so good to hear this music in the format it was created for, I must say.
But, the big question here is whether it sounds better than the 2005 CD or even the One Way Records CD from the 1990s. And that is where this review gets difficult because there are some unknowns. While the album seems to be an accurate reproduction of the original album, the sonic differences between the LP and the CD are subtle. Of course the LP will get the nod for overall warmer sound, but the CD has its charms and sounds pretty good for what it is, all things considered.
And one does have to take into account the sound of The Move — essentially a rock ‘n roll power trio with loads of overdubs — was very distinctive and angular, particularly the bass parts. The Move always had the bass EQ’d in a rather sharp sounding manner. That production choice was never more apparent than on Message From the Country, where Roy Wood’s bass is as loud — and bright — as the guitars and drums. Its not buried or EQ’d to just focus on the low end. Nor does his style of playing necessarily lock in with the drums in a thumping sort of way that some bassists strive for. No, this is sort of the sound you get when a guitarist plays lead bass, if you will. Imagine if a melodic player like Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead had the percolating bass guitar tone of The Who’s John Entwistle and you’ll have some idea of what to expect.
So, that said, here some guesses as to what happened with this vinyl reissue:
First off, from the the 2005 we know that the CD had been prepared off the analogue masters (and apparently some considerable research tracking down the tapes as several staff are credited with supporting this task). For this new reissued LP, alas, we don’t know the source but I would like to think that it was made from that same master.
Now, here I am not implying that the LP was perhaps made off a CD-like source. Actually, I think it might be the opposite scenario. The recording sounds about the same as the CD but the mastering for LP may have reigned in the recording a bit. The LP is quieter, thus it has to be played somewhat loudly to drive some air out of your speakers. But, when you do, it sounds quite wonderful. The CD version is louder and does suffer from some inevitable digital edginess as you turn things up…
]]>This is one of those splitting hairs moments, no doubt, kidz…
So, should you get the vinyl reissue? Well, if you can find it for under $20 — as I did via Amazon — you can’t really go wrong. Of course, if you want those bonus tracks, the CD will serve you pretty well, I’m sure.
Oh, and you might be wondering how the included MP3 download sounds? It sounds pretty good, but not quite as good as the CD. The low end is decent but the high end gets a little crunchy for my tastes, compressing a recording that is already somewhat compressed sounding to begin with. I’ll be happier taking the CD in the car with me or ripping a fuller fidelity WAV or AIFF file from that for mobile use. But still… its nice that they give you a digital version with the LP.
I am hopeful that at some point in the near future I’ll find an original UK pressing popping up out in the wilds. If I do get one, I’ll post an update in the comments section below as to how that compares. But for now, I’m more than happy to own this reissue.