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The last stop on the Roy Wood express isn't terribly great, though it has its moments
on 16 March 2015
Ah, Roy Wood. Brilliant Roy Wood. Mostly unknown in the US, he was a force to be reckoned with in the UK from the mid '60s, with his band The Move, through the first incarnation of ELO and then solo and with his wacky amalgam Wizzard. There is a tremendous amount of brilliance in that career, which spanned the period, roughly, 1966-1975, that is, from the time of The Move through to Roy's 1975 solo album, Mustard.
Hard to say what happened, but maybe Roy, who could never sit still stylistically, reached the point where he could no longer connect with an audience who wasn't as musically curious. Or maybe he just ran out of good ideas.s
At any rate, after the aforementioned Mustard, Roy recorded a out there jazz band influenced album Main Street which his record company declined to release (it finally squeaked out 25 years later). So he switched record companies, created the "Wizzo" band and recorded Super Active Wizzo. Which was also kind of far out there, and which the US arm of his record company declined to issue (although test pressings were created and it was advertised as coming soon). You might imagine at this point Roy got the message that he might be the brilliant light who gave the world a slug of great and successful music, but the world had moved on. Or perhaps Roy had left the world.
Whatever. It seems that Roy looked over the precipice, and perhaps with some heavy arm twisting by his manager or record label, decided to pull things back a smite and put out something approaching a commercial album. And by commercial I mean 3-5 minute songs without too much free jazz or psychedelic influence. What we got is On the Road Again.
I wish I could say that On the Road Again was a move back to the compact and captivating song constructions of the latter day Move. It's not. It's a mess. Now, Roy had created genius from mess in the past, most significantly with his indescribably weirdfest Wizzard's Brew. But this is a different kind of a mess. Or, rather, it's just a mess. A hodge-podge of styles, but with way too many throwaways.
When this album came out, I, as a hardcore Roy Wood fan, eagerly placed it on the turntable, hoping for something new and brilliant. What I heard was...much less than that. So I promptly filed it away, and other than a cursory listen a few years later, had kept it on the shelf since then. But recently, going through a new Roy Wood appreciation phase, I pulled it out and gave it a thorough listening to. Or three. Was it really as bad as I'd remembered? Well, probably not. 35 years hence, coming at it with low expectation, I heard it with different ears.
It's still not good. Not even close. But there are a few decent songs here, namely (We're) On the Road Again, Jimmy Lad, Dancin' at the Rainbow's End and Way Beyond the Rain. Jimmy Lad, a catchy Irish bagpipe inflused rockfest is perfectly apiece with the jagged corners aesthete of Roy's classic run of '70s singles, and the pastoral Way Beyond the Rain would have been entirely at peace on Roy's great Mustard album. But beyond these four songs, you have another six which are, face it, just boring. They're not really incompetent. And some have a few interesting arrangement ideas in the layers. But they're just not interesting. And say what you will about Roy's classic recordings, even the worst of them were not just boring.
In the end, even with lowered expectation, I can't say this album is a must have for anyone but Roy Wood fanatics. It does have its moments, but not enough of them to sit proudly with his better achievements.
Sadly, after this album Roy Wood would effectively go into retirement for almost a decade, before releasing the lousy Starting Up. And today, he's mostly forgotten by the mainstream. That's tragic, because he deserves to be remembered in the same pantheon of melodic genius as people like Ray Davies (Kinks) and Paul McCartney.