For the first few albums of the Move’s lifecycle, Roy Wood was carrying the entire songwriting load of the project on his shoulders alone. To his credit, he did it well and racked up a string of hit singles on the U.K. charts. However, the group’s second album Shazam indicated he was moving with the times, losing interest in the pop charts and pushing their sound in a more progressive direction.
Looking On, the group’s penultimate album, would not have happened if Wood had a free hand in his career. Unfortunately, business obligations meant that Wood and company had to soldier on under the band’s name. However, Wood was determined to follow his rapidly mutating take on rock with a new partner in crime, Jeff Lynne. Both were eager to start Electric Light Orchestra and would do so a few years hence. In the interim, Looking On acted as a sort of incubator in which they nurtured their rock-goes-prog inclinations.
The title track opens side one and sets the tone for the album, with heavy guitars and a menacing slow tempo forming the sound’s backbone to support the conceptual flights of fancy, which include shifts in tempo, a drum solo and the occasional stab of piano or medieval-sounding horns. “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues” and “When Alice Comes Back To The Farm” follow a similar path but up the tempo to a taut boogie rhythm. The Lynne-penned “What?” stands out by going for a kind of post-psych balladry, albeit one that is played over big, heavy riffs.
Side two takes the playful experimentation further. “Open Up Said The World At The Door” connects psych-pop with heavy progressive rock, bolstered by the formidable harmonies of Wood and Lynne, while “Brontosaurus” gave the band a single by retrofitting boogie rock to a pop song structure. The latter sounds like the early singles Wood would do with his later group, Wizzard.
That said, the masterpiece of the album is the epic final track, “Feels Too Good.” This stomping rocker, later revived on the second volume of the Boogie Nights soundtrack, shows the Move mastering the oddball mix of pop hooks, heavy rock riffs and prog-rock weirdness they’ve spent the album developing. Bevan anchors the tune with a stomping groove, fattened up by extra proto-glam percussion, while Wood and Lynne plow through their then-current obsessions over nearly ten minutes: stabbing guitar riffs, jazzy piano solos, exotic horns, mountains of harmonies and a surprise coda where doo-wop vocalizing gives way to English music hall tomfoolery.
In short, Looking On is much like “Feels Too Good” overall: it’s as if Lynne and Wood took every musical form they wanted to synthesize under the banner of an early ’70s rock album, threw it into a wood chipper and then stitched the shreds together into a beautifully mutated Frankenstein of an album. Its twists and turns remain fun to listen to today and it contains the raw material for most of what these progressive pop titans would do during the first half of the ’70s (the only thing missing is a full string section).
CD Notes: The most recent CD version of Looking On comes from Esoteric Records and it is definitive stuff. It’s a two-disc set with b-sides, single edits, outtakes and – best of all – nine tracks from BBC live-in-studio sessions of the era. On the latter tip, look out for not one but two smoking, amped-up Move renditions of the Beatles classic “She’s A Woman.”