LIST OF MOODY BLUES REVIEWS:
The Magnificent Moodies (1965)
The Magnificent Moodies (1965)
Album Score: 11
Before any discussion of The Moody Blues discography can take place, we first must address this 1965 R&B album done by the original line-up. The only thing greatly interesting about this early line up is that the lead guitarist was Denny Laine who later became the lead guitarist for Wings. Also, the original bassist was Clint Warwick, but he retired from the music business in 1966 to become a carpenter. ...Not the '70s sunshine pop band, but an actual wood-working carpenter, like Jesus. Other than that, it's the usual guys: Mike Pinder on keyboards, Graeme Edge on drums, and Ray Thomas on the flute and percussion.
As far as mid-'60s British Invasion albums go, this is slick, and you'll like it depending on how much you enjoy this sort of music. To put them in perspective, they're more polite than The Rolling Stones and The Animals, but they're not as lame as Herman's Hermits. (Not that I don't enjoy Herman's Hermits... that's some great schlock!) The songs on this album rock well enough to tap your foot to, but not well enough to be explosive.
The Moody Blues were considered an average band at the time. I would dare to call them above-average, but I can see why the kids and critics of 1965 weren't quite taken with these guys. Some even branded them as one-hit-wonders for only coming out with one song that charted, “Go Now,” which was a Bessie Banks cover. (...Don't worry, I don't know who Bessie Banks is, either.) While they tried pretty hard to come up with other good songs for teenagers to dance to, nothing seemed to be catching fire. Their approach to R&B was just too usual!
Although sometimes their music wasn't so usual, but those didn't exactly ROCK! Notably, there's the awesomely epic and atmospheric “From The Bottom of My Heart (I Love You)” in the bonus tracks. It's quite beautiful, and it definitely points to the band The Moody Blues would become. I should also mention that Ray Thomas surprisingly took out his flute this early in the band's history and played it on several occasions, even during some of the straight R&B stuff. That's an unusual touch, but hardly enough to actually give those R&B number the extra pizzazz they needed. What they needed was a deeper, more heart-pounding rhythm section and a lead singer who didn't sound so wimpy (he frequently made matters worse and over-sings a few of these songs).
But as I said, this is a nice little Merseybeat album, and there are handful of interesting “nuggets” for anyone who's interested in this sort of music. “Go Now” was the big hit, and it's a lovely song with an arresting descending chord progression that reminds me rather strongly of Procol Harum's 1967 smash hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” The soulful lead vocals (I believe were carried out by Denny) soar over that music like a beauty, and this is an early hint of that thick, brooding and soulful sound The Moody Blues would later become best known for. Another huge hit for me is a cover of the Gershwin tune “It Ain't Necessarily So,” which packs on a rather thick atmosphere and a remarkably engaging albeit undisciplined vocal performance from Ray Thomas.
If you're going to get this album, make sure it's the 2006 26-track reissue. I'd say that I enjoy listening to the bonus tracks more than I do the actual album, so I wouldn't miss out on them. There is another 24-track version floating around, which is OK, but if even then, you'd miss out on that weirdly fascinating toe-tapper “People Gotta Go.” That song is a lot of fun and not quite like anything I've heard before.
One of the unfortunate things about reviewing 26-track albums is that I don't get to talk about all the songs I want to in the main section without making this review too long! But I wrote some pretty expansive track reviews for you to peruse if you're interested. (Ain't I nice?) There are plenty of songs I hadn't mentioned in this collection that are also well worth checking out.
Read the track reviews:
Days of Future Passed (1967)
Album Score: 13
The reason the astronauts didn't find cheese on that great fondue party in the sky is because The Moody Blues beat them to it and took it all. The Days of Future Passed must be the cheesiest album on the face of the planet. Who would have thought that recording a heavily cinematic rock 'n' roll album with full use of the London Festival Orchestra would have been a good idea? I'm listening to this album right now, and I'm not even fully convinced that was a good idea.
The pop-rock on this album is unquestionably fantastic, and all you need for proof of that is the closing number “Nights in White Satin,” which is a hit that will never die. However, Days of Future Passed is plagued with a rather weak beginning, particularly the opening track, “The Day Begins,” which is nothing more than a rather uneventful cinematic overture. As a cinematic composition, it's pretty feeble. If you find that assessment too harsh, listen to it side-by-side with the Ben Hur soundtrack and try to deny it.
However, The Moody Blues were a rock 'n' roll band, and I don't think anybody was expecting them to write music quite on that level. What's more, the word on the street, they only had about a week to pull this off, and I'd imagine we should just be impressed that they were even able to create mediocre film music with such limited time. They also did this apparently without the record company's knowledge, which I'm sure put even more pressure on them to come out with their product quickly!
That renegade idea of theirs not only revitalized their careers, but it overshadowed everything they did previously to this. Very few people these days are aware that they were an R&B band who had a hit! New to the line-up was Justin Hayward who was the god who wrote and sung “Nights in White Satin.” His creamy, mourning voice is what I always think of as The Moody Blues' signature sound, and I find it amazing that they managed to name themselves before he even joined. And then of course there was the new bassist John Lodge who wrote his fair share of ditties for this album, notably the album's rockingest tune, “Lunch Time: Peak Hour,” and the enchanting “(Evening) Time To Get Away,” which is tacked on at the end of “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?).”
“Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” was also penned by Hayward, and it is beautiful and quite handily comes into second place as this album's greatest gems. I might not get the urge to sing along with Hayward's beautiful, soaring voice there quite as much as I do when I'm listening to “Nights in White Satin,” but that incredible urge exists all the same. Mike Pinder's “Dawn is a Feeling,” is a slowly paced composition that is beautifully written and performed, but I would think a song that's supposedly about the beginning of a lifetime would sound a little more hopeful! This person must've had a rather depressing childhood.
Despite some of my negative comments, this album quite handily earns that 13-rating. For pete's sake, this album has “Nights in White Satin” on it! A song like that doesn't come around too often! Sure, I might not care a whole hell of a lot for those extended cinematic interludes, but I do get more and more used to them as I listen to the album more. That said, if you want to hear my idea of an excellent album that incorporates the '40s and '50s cinematic music with rock 'n' roll, then take a listen to ELO's El Dorado. Of course I have to acknowledge that album, and perhaps ELO entirely, might never have existed if it weren't for The Moody Blues and Days of Future Passed.
Read the track reviews:
In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)
Album Score: 11
Let's face it, the main reason The Days of Future Passed was such a popular album in the late '60s was because of its novelty. It wasn't feasible for them to use a full scale symphony orchestra on all their releases, so they had to find a way to continue recording music while not radically changing their sound.
Luckily, modern technology was there to lend a helping hand. There was the Mellotron, a glorious instrument, which allowed these guys to recreate a sound similar to full-scale orchestra all on their own. Of course, the technology was crude, and the orchestra sound was fake and canned. But it ended up taking on a life of its own, and it produced a sound and personality much more suited for pop-rock. It also made their music seem a little less cheesy.
Unfortunately, their songwriting took a bit of a dive for this release; specifically in its second half when everything just seems to wallow in nice textures without really delivering strong tunes. However, the first half is solid, featuring a number of great hippie classics. “Ride My See-Saw” is one of the best of them, a heavy and driving rocker with a thick atmosphere and tightly harmonized vocals. As I suggested earlier, the song contains that Mellotron sound, but they keep it in the background, and it only provides atmosphere.
They get into a little trouble when they bring that Mellotron sound to the foreground, however, in “The Best Way to Travel.” The main portion of the song is a nice mid-tempo number that makes a nice listen but nothing to write home about. Where they went wrong there was awkwardly inserting an extended Mellotron solo in which the instrument is fashioned to sound like the Doppler Effect on a car passing you on the highway. They were undoubtedly experimenting with the new instrument, and perhaps it was novel enough to turn a few heads back in the day, but I can do nothing else but shug my shoulders at it and wish they made the solo actually flow with the song.
Don't let that clumsiness deter you from thinking The Moody Blues couldn't develop a song! By far the greatest moment of the album is “Legend of a Mind,” an eventful six-and-a-half minute suite that can by and large be considered an early prog piece. It develops beautifully; the different textures they constantly introduce keep it fresh and punchy, and I really like the melody. It sounds a bit like children's music, but The Moodies had written plenty of melodies like that in their previous release, and we love that about them. The lyrics, as you would immediately notice, center around LSD fiend Timothy Leary, which is an immediate reminder that this album is a product of the '60s hippie generation.
However, they save the album's most overblown '60s piece until the very end with “Om.” Some people say that song proves The Moody Blues were trying too hard to be hip with the times, instrumenting it predominantly with the sitar, tambura, and Indian percussion. The lyrics seem to be about achieving a higher spiritual plane of existence by finding that “lost chord” that the album title suggests they were searching for. While they surely could have done without that extended sitar solo in the middle, I found that song to be strangely satisfying. It's goofy for sure, but I like the toweringly heavy vocals, which sing a melody that's disjointed but not half bad.
Anyone throwing the term “dated” at this Moody Blues release would be correct, but don't let a silly thing like that deter you from enjoying a band like this. Sure, much of this music was written specifically to be hip with the times, but even the worst offender, “Om,” proves to be quite a fun experience. That said, In Search of the Lost Chord is the weakest of the seven psychedelic Moody Blues releases. But don't let that deter you from getting this album, either. This was such a strong band that you should collect all seven of the set. (They are far more worth collecting than Happy Meal toys! Needless to say, if they put these things in Happy Meal boxes when I was a kid, they would not have been thrown in the garbage can when I hit 12.)
Read the track reviews:
On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)
Album Score: 12
The Moody Blues did themselves a favor by ditching all that acid-trip, hippie nonsense. I don't think any normal person figured they took that stuff seriously, anyway. Instead, they wrote about more general topics, such as love, friendship, fearing the future, enjoying a Sunday afternoon, fantasizing about Medieval life, and man's discovery of self-awareness. (We have Graeme Edge and his spoken poetry to thank for that last one. Seriously, what's with that guy?)
Not only have the lyrics improved, but so has their studio production techniques. Naturally, this being their second Mellotron-centered album, you would probably have expected some improvement; the mellotrons are better integrated into the mix, the vocals are thicker and more majestic, and the instrumental solos (particularly the flute!) are more elaborate and engaging. That said, I wouldn't say that the actual songwriting has improved much. While I'd say all of these songs are well-written and enjoyable, there's not a singular awe-inspiring song. There are a ton of formidable tunes, but nothing even remotely to the level of “Nights in White Satin.” I have an impossible time trying to decide what my favorite song in this album. There are so many excellent tunes here, but no true sparkly standouts. I suppose that means this is an even album, but I usually prefer albums that give me something to look forward to.
The Moody Blues were more or less a democratic band, meaning that all members were responsible for writing a handful of tunes for each album. However, they seemed to want to make this a sort of concept album, so they let the beginnings and the ends of the tracks bleed into one another. The problem with that is sometimes the beginnings and ends of songs don't flow that well into each other. Take for instance, the ending of “Send Me No Wine” fading into the beginning of “To Share Our Love.” They just do a simple fade-in-and-fade-out number on that, and it seems mismatched. Technically, I don't mind song layering like that … after all, The Beatles did it on Sgt. Pepper. But The Beatles used such a technique for a purpose; it was done here, I suspect, just because they hadn't a better idea how to end their songs! That said, the songs sound like they bleed naturally into each other in the second half of the album. I guess they suddenly realized how to do it properly!
But my complaints are little more than nitpicks, and this really is a solid Moody Blues album that more than earns its position in their classic album roster. (I probably shouldn't have nitpicked so much about it since I am giving it a 12, and it's a solidly earned 12 at that.) The songs are just too good! Justin Hayward gets things going beautifully with a rocker “Lovely to See You.” It's not a stop-dead-in-your-tracks gorgeous tune, but it's fun, and of course it's great listening to that guy sing! That said, I probably would have rather heard him lead sing in “So Deep Within You,” since it has that soaring chorus. That's kind of a silly and overly lush song that's the sort of song I've always crave from The Moody Blues to begin with. In addition to the usual brilliantly mixed mellotrons, crisp electric guitars, and flutes, they give us a booming timpani! Maybe it's just me and my fruity tastes, but any pop song that appropriately uses the timpani is awesome.
“Dear Diary” is rather dark, but it's the most engaging song here. Not a typical Moody Blues number, it's based strictly on jazz music with a light, shuffley rhythm, descending chord progression, and a bluesy vocal performance from Ray Thomas (which he sings in some sort of processor that makes him sound washed out). Perhaps the motivation behind writing a moody blues was to justify the band name. Since Thomas was the band's flautist, he takes the opportunity to really plant some excellent, jazzy flute acrobatics throughout. Thomas also collaborated with Hayward for another one of my favorite bits, the enchanting and folky “Are You Sitting Comfortably.” So perhaps that means that Thomas was the strongest member of the group for this album?
And there's not a weak song to be found anywhere on this album. I suppose the instrumental “The Voyage” could have been more eventful, but I kind of enjoy that take on Strauss' “Also sprach Zarathustra,” even if I find it to be rather silly. So in the end, the only reason you should forgo buying this album is if you're not in the business of buying Moody Blues albums at all. I don't know of any fans who consider this their all-time favorite, but they all still love it. I don't see why they wouldn't.
Read the track reviews:
To Our Children's Children's Children (1969)
Album Score: 14
It hadn't even been a year since The Moody Blues had released their previous album, but here they were, ready with a brand new album in the can. (I guess that's what can happen when you're a five-piece band, and every single person in it is a talented songwriter.) Their style hadn't changed one iota; this is mellotron-drenched, vocal heavy, dramatic, symphonic-pop. The main difference is that everything about it has improved. I can listen to this album from beginning to end and never think to myself “Heh! There's some dated, corny, hippie dreck!” or “I don't like that melody that much!” or “This is boooring!” or “This might have been good if Justin Hayward were singing it!” It almost as if they read all my earlier Moody Blues reviews and corrected everything that I had been complaining about. The result was what's often considered the perfect Moody Blues record.
One massive improvement over On the Threshold of a Dream was the way these songs flow into one another. I often reported how awkward the transitions were, but here there's hardly a flaw! Of course you could blame that on the fact that many of these songs sound awfully alike to one another. As I was scoring the track reviews, I noticed that I was using some of the same words to describe these songs. They're all, in fact, dramatic mellotron drenched songs with beautiful vocals (and it's not just the Hayward-led songs that are beautiful, thank goodness, but he does sing lead on quite a few of them). But that doesn't end up being a problem.
They certainly write different melodies for all the songs, and they're all quite beautiful, and occasionally they bring in other instrumental embellishments to keep us on our toes. There's the menacing guitar riff in “Gypsy,” the grand piano in “Candle of Life,” the grooving sitar in “Sun Is Still Shining,” the sliding mellotron in “Floating.” Beyond those embellishments, this album contains plenty of extended instrumental breaks in between periods of singing, and they're all interesting and always add something to the experience. For example, there's the elaborate guitar and flute work at the end of “Eternity Road” and the all that beautiful twinkling harp stuff at the beginning of “Eyes of a Child.” In short, at no point do I ever get tired of listening to this album. I never really want it to stop.
Even Graeme Edge's dumb spoken poetry rules compared to the previous album, and I thought it was pretty good there too. You might think you stepped into the Twilight Zone after hearing how much it rules. The first thing they did right was actually make it a song. Instead of having Mike Pinder merely speaking over a bunch of echoing sound effects, he's talking dramatically over a rock 'n' roll groove! And it's a good one, too! Before getting to that groove, however, we're treated to a little bit of space-age sound effects and some “wondrous” singing. It's kind of new-agey and obviously inspired by 2001: Space Odyssey, but it's not nearly as hamfisted as you might think. It's quite engaging, and it only lasts about a minute.
Speaking of only lasting about a minute, Justin Hayward wrote this beautiful acoustic ballad, “I Never Thought I'd Live to Be A Hundred.” Perhaps it's one of the most beautiful acoustic ballads I've ever heard, but why must it only last a minute? True, he brings it back later on in the album for “I Never Thought I'd Live to Be a Million,” but only for 30 seconds. Its shortness doesn't hurt the album in the long run, but I think leaving it so short and underdeveloped like that deprived Moody Blues of a potential radio classic. Because surprisingly despite this album's gargantuan greatness, it doesn't have that many famous songs in it. I have never once heard any of them on the radio. Not even my favorite ones, “Gypsy” and “Candle of Life,” even though I'd imagine they would be pretty awesome.
On that note, it's probably worth criticizing this album for lacking a singular experience like “Nights in White Satin.” Nothing here even comes close to having the same impact. However, as I said before, that's a once-in-a-lifetime sort of song; it would be nearly impossible for that sort of lightning to strike twice in the same songwriter in one career. (Although “New Horizons” from Seventh Sojurn gets pretty close, I'd say. But let's not jump the gun!) Despite that, I have no reservations to joining the chorus of music nerds who call this the best ever Moody Blues album. It's easily their most consistently sweeping album. It's a terribly serious album, but I'm actually swept along with its drama (no easy feat). However, the real reason it's their best album is because it has a crapload of great songs on it. That's what we're all looking for in the end, right?
Read the track reviews:
A Question of Balance (1970)
Album Score: 13
The first thing I notice: These songs are clean! I know that people call A Question of Balance the Moody Blues' eco-friendly album, but I always figured that was referring to those tree-hugging, hippie lyrics strewn throughout it. But now I think they call it that because they cleaned up all those smoggy Mellotron sounds that characterized their previous albums.
This clean-up act ended up making their music more digestible to me when I first reviewed these albums in 2004, but now I'm just mildly disappointed with it. I miss those Mellotrons, which used to drown out my ears in their goopy, syrupy layers that were laid eight feet deep. But I shouldn't worry too much about it; the Mellotron is still represented in all these songs. However, it is reduced to a mere background ornament that is content playing second fiddle to the guitars, drums, and singing. Occasionally, it comes in at opportune moments to intensify a song's dramatic moments. It is said that they reduced the Mellotron effects to make live performances easier. But I don't see why that's a good excuse to work less hard on producing an album.
Nevertheless, I have to remember who I'm dealing with. And when I remember that, I have to wonder to myself why I'm even complaining in the first place. This is The Moody Blues at the height of their classic period and no less. Can I hear three cheers? The guitar, drums and singing might have pilfered control over the sound, but they are still pretty great to listen to. Pretty much every single song here is fantastic—I even like the insufferably cheese-eating “The Balance,” which consists of Mike Pinder reading a silly environmentalist poem over the world's most ridiculous, “mystical” falsetto background singing. How do they get away with this? ...Because they're The Moody Blues.
The album opens with one of their strongest openers ever, “Question.” It's basically two songs in one: An excited rockin' rollin' section with a toe-tapping rhythm, and a gorgeous ballad. This epic track was written and sung by Justin Hayward, so it's not stretch of the imagination to assume that it's beautiful. Ray Thomas' “And the Tide Rushes in” is also beautiful and makes great use of those Mellotrons mystically welling out. I find those whispers throughout Graeme Edge's “Don't You Feel Small” a little freaky, but that's a good song anyway, I tell you. “Tortoise and the Hare” has a rhythm that makes me want to engage in a footrace. “It's Up to You” is another Hayward song with a melody that kills. “Minstrel's Song” is one of my favorites; the long build-up to the sing-songy chorus is an excellent pay-off. “Melancholy Man” has a minor chord sequence that captivates me to no end and Pinder's aching vocal performance manages to sound melancholic. How appropriate!
If I were to complain about one thing about this album (other than the lack of Mellotron), it would be about the song endings. When they decide (arbitrarily?) that a song should end, they just boringly fade it out, and then whatever song comes next just fades in. They got away with doing that in To Our Children's Children's Children, because that album kicked so much ass. However, here it's more disconcerting. Why not let a song end with a huge BLAST and then let whatever song comes up next rise from its ashes? If I could transport myself back in 1970 in the Moodies' recording studio and implant myself within the group as an honorary member, then that's exactly what I would tell these guys. To make my case more convincing, I'll take some fumigation-worthy 21st Century pot with me. They'll have to do whatever I say. ...Because even though I'm a 27-year-old man from 2010 who can't play an instrument to save his life, I know exactly how to improve this Moody Blues album.
But anyway, this is unquestionably a great album. The songwriting standard takes one mere step back from where it was on To Our Children's Children's Children, and the atmospheres don't intrigue me quite as much. But this album certainly earns its place as one of the strongest of the seven great albums they released in their classic period. And if you don't think those seven albums are great, then you and I are through as a couple. Don't even bother sending me flowers.
Read the track reviews:
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)
Album Score: 11
The lusher sounds are back! It's as though the barer sounds from their previous album, A Question of Balance, never happened. Perhaps they brought it back fully as a response to some disillusioned fans? Or maybe they just missed it themselves? ...Ah, I'm not willing to look through countless video tapes of interviews, so I'll probably never know. But whatever the case, here is another lovely batch of Moody Blues songs for you.
But there's a problem. Even though these songs are undeniably wonderful and there are a handful of gems among them, this album doesn't seem to be terribly inspired as a whole. Its problems start right at the beginning with the opening song, “Procession.” It's interesting to note that it is the first of their songs to be co-written by all five members of the group, but when I listen to it... well, it sounds like all five members wrote it. Specific sections of it might have been OK, but they didn't bother to gauge how interesting they would be next to each other. Musically, it's a mishmash of musical passages that attempt to show us the history of music. They take us from tribal chants, to sitar music, to harpsichord music, and finally to electric guitars. …Really, it's not that interesting. Perhaps, if it came with some sort of laser show, or something...
That said, I quickly forget about the existence of “Procession” after getting a load of the awesome song that comes next: “Story in Your Eyes.” In good Moody Blues fashion, it manages to be rock 'n' rollin' and lush all at the same time. Justin Hayward wrote it, which means we're also treated to the majesty of his golden vocal chords. That's a great way to start an album. (...since I've forgotten about the existence of “Procession.”) Unfortunately, nothing else in this album would quite be able to match it.
“Our Guessing Game” starts out as a lovely piano ballad before reaching into something louder and more bombastic. It's a good song, but it seems to be missing something. Perhaps the chorus isn't catchy enough, or the instrumentation is too ho-hum. Yes, they brought back the lush arrangements, but they seemed to have a rather been-there-done-that mentality toward them; very little about it pops out at me. However, I like the xylophone they brought out for “Emily's Song,” which gives it a nursery rhyme quality. I also like the fun, toe-tapping quality of “After You Came;” its only drawback is that the melody sounds a bit weak to my ears.
If you're looking for a very bombastic experience in classic Moody Blues fashion, then be sure to check out John Lodge's “One More Time to Live.” Easily my second favorite song of the album, it intertwines between a pretty ballad with flutes and acoustic guitar and a larger-than-life chorus with heavy Mellotron where they find a bunch of words that end with “ation” to rhyme together. It's nothing to scream about, but it's not bad!
Where this album actually gets disappointing is at the very end. (Well, “Procession” was disappointing, but it wasn't a song, was it?) Justin Hayward wrote “You Can Never Go Home,” which is a plodding ballad that he sings in an uncharacteristically muffled and sleepy voice. There are some nice elements to it, and it had the potential to be genuinely exciting, but they just couldn't seem to put their finger on its pulse. The closer “My Song” is a prog-epic that starts as a rather lovely piano ballad, but the lumbering and long drawn out excursions it takes us on, which includes a sequence of outer space noises, puts me right to sleep. It's not necessarily bad, but it lacks inspiration. Inspiration, of course, was something these guys used to have welling out of them like one of their Mellotrons.
Despite it, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is a very good album. Why? Because it was made by The Moody Blues between the years of 1967 and 1972, and all those albums are good. But this is clearly one their weaker ones, if not *the* weakest one. Even though the songs are pretty and well-written, it lacks the overall excitement, imagination, and the staying power of their previous albums. (I'm even including In Search of the Lost Chord in that, because “Legend of a Mind” had more imagination in itself than Every Good Boy Does Favour has altogether.) I'm recommending this album to you, but just note this is the point in The Moodies' discography that their inspiration started to run dry.
Read the track reviews:
Seventh Sojourn (1972)
Album Score: 13
By 1971, every member of The Moody Blues were tired of working with one another, and they needed a break. Who could blame them? After creating six beautiful and polished works of art in the span of five years, wouldn't you? However, they were contractually obligated to create one last record together, and so they complied. Many bands, when they're making an album when they'd rather not, might churn out a half-baked project. However, The Moody Blues ended up creating what's easily one of the finest albums in their discography. I, in fact, called this my favorite album of their up until about a month ago when I wrote that review of To Our Children's Children's Children.
What was their secret? My theory is that they used their yearning to get on with other things in life serve as their inspiration; these are some of the most melancholic songs I've ever heard in my life. Some people say that they're too downbeat and “moody,” but I say they are positively glorious. As a whole, they are so magnificent and soaring that they become airborne and take flight one-mile into the atmosphere. While they're doing so, they're gazing down at earth with lumps in their throats.
In good Moody Blues fashion, they drench this album heavily with keyboards. However, they sound different than they did in their previous records... That's because Mike Pinder bought a brand new gadget called a Chamberlin, which has a much cleaner sound than those muddier Mellotrons. And, by golly, he puts this instrument to excellent use. “New Horizons,” for my money, tops them all. Do you hear that beautiful string texture that Pinder subtly plays in the aftermath of Hayward's HUGE chorus? It's like magic, I tell you. ...And, really, that song as a whole is easily the most soaring and heartfelt ballad these guys had written since “Nights in White Satin.” ...That's really saying something.
A side-effect of the cleaner keyboard sound is that we can actually hear the drums and bass guitar much better than we could in previous records. That becomes especially useful in forceful and toe-tapping songs such as “Lost in a Lost World.” I mean... WOW. Listen to it. It's wonderful to be able to hear clearly that catchy bass-line as well as every single one of Edge's inventive drum fills at the same time that Pinder is playing a handful of lush keyboards in the background. ...But even without the brilliant orchestration, that would have been a good song, because the melody is wonderful and beautifully sung.
“For My Lady” is a ballad about being at sea and longing to be back home with the little lady. It's yet another one of my favorite songs here. Not only is the melody brilliant and begs to be sung along with, but Pinder comes up with a catchy and lively accordion-like line to play during the chorus. “Isn't Life Strange” is a six-minute power ballad, which is worth listening just for Hayward's soaring electric guitar. ...Man, '80s hair-metal bands, move over!
The album closer, “I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll band),” could be the most widely celebrated song of the album, and that's for good reason: It rocks. Have these guys ever rocked that hard before??? Really, everything about the song is catchy: the ultra-grooving bass-line; Pinder's multiple Chamberlin lines; and (of course) so the main vocal melody, which is taken on by all four singers at once. A similarly rocking and exciting song is “You and Me,” which features a melody so strong that I want to sing along with it. “Land of Make Believe” has a childish quality about it, and it's beautiful. The penultimate “When You're a Free Man” is a six-minute epic power ballad that goes Schooooooooooooooooom!!!
Maybe some people might think I'm overrating this album, but I don't care what people think; this is a beautiful album. I mean, I couldn't even bear to give any of these songs anything less than an A in the track reviews, which is a feat shared only with To Our Children's Children's Children. Indeed, not only do I think this album deserves a 13, but it's a solid 13. In many ways, this was their Abbey Road. (The difference is that The Moody Blues would reunite six years later for 1978's Octave. Er... yay?)
Read the track reviews:
Caught Live + 5 (1977)
Album Score: 11
Maybe I'm surprised. I had always figured The Moody Blues to be perfectionists, and thus I could have reasonably expected intense perfectionism to translate to their live shows. I was very wrong about that. This double-disc archival release of a 1969 concert shows The Moody Blues playing their great classics in a raw, and occasionally sloppy, state. ...And no, that's not a bad thing. Rather, that's exactly the reason a hardened Moody Blues fan ought to own this album. I mean, nobody wants exact copies of their studio originals, right? No, we want them played in a manner that we've never heard before.
The Moodies themselves have said they don't care much for this recording, and I can see why; they were stoned off their asses. I mean, just listen to them mutter to the audience between songs. The drug use might have also affected their singing, but to my ears, they only occasionally veer out-of-tune or get the rhythm wrong. Sometimes, the singing comes off as a little weird; the unusual enunciation of every other word in “The Sunset” is what comes to mind. But, you know, rock 'n' rollers usually get away with singing imperfectly when they're live, and further, it can be an exciting aspect of it. I even like their imperfect and sometimes off-kilter harmonizing through this disc. (Amazingly, they're even able to hit some of those extremely high notes.)
The principal reason I can embrace these imperfections is because this is The Moody Blues at their absolute peak, and they had only great songs in their repertoire. Virtually nothing they could have done would have ever destroyed these excellent tunes. But I also have to give them credit for their instrumental abilities; for a bunch of stoned hippies, they handle the complex musical structure of their songs extremely well and occasionally in some interesting ways.
It's a crass understatement to say that The Moody Blues weren't one of the most rockin' bands of 1969, but they actually rock out quite a bit here. Many of these songs are played in such a way that the audience could jump up and down along with them if they felt like it. And I'm sure they felt like it, because they were probably stoned off their asses, too. They start rocking out heavily with the opening song, “Gypsy.” They preserve the hardened riff of the original, except they intensify its gruffness. Mike Pinder continues to perform his sacred duty as the mellotron player, but he's taking the opportunity to rock out a bit. All in all, this live rendition of a great Moody Blues song is fun as hell.
If I came up with a dream set-list for them to do in 1969, I don't think I would have made too many changes to what's on this album, although I might have picked something other than Mike Pinder's “Have You Heard” and “The Voyage” suite. Everything else, however, is pretty much spot-on. One of the highlights of In Search of the Lost Chord, “Dr. Livingstone I Presume,” is here and slightly less fruity to boot. “Peak Hour” rocks harder than ever. Just because they were stoned, “Tuesday Afternoon” hasn't lost an ounce of its majesty. I still geek out over their tale about Camelot in “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” and this rendition here is gorgeous even though, unfortunately, it loses a bit of the original's hypnotic quality.
They seem to have saved their best three songs for last. “Nights in White Satin” is a highlight of course—even though it's nowhere near as pristine as the original, I'm thrilled to hear it in any format. “Legend of a Mind” is also one of the clear highlights; it was a very rambling song to begin with, and that rambling nature of it seems to me a bit more whimsical here. “Ride My See-Saw” is the thunderous and terrifically fun closer; Graeme Edge clearly went to town, playing those drums much faster and more intensely than they were originally.
The “+ 5” you see in the album title refers to five studio songs that they had recorded in 1967 and 1968, but had been left off of their respective albums. All of them are very nice and must-listens for all big-time Moody Blues fans, but the two that really stick out are “What Am I Doing Here?” and “Kings and Queens.” Neither of them are terribly unique for these guys; they have pretty melodies, heavy vocal harmonization, and soaaaaaaring choruses. But all the same, we don't care if they repeat themselves; these songs are nothing less than a delicious treat. ...About the rating, I was on the fence between an 11 and 12. Even though it's a lot of fun, it's probably not a great idea to give it the same rating as On the Threshold of a Dream, which is a much more powerful statement. Thus, an 11 it is.
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Album Score: 10
They cleverly titled it Octave, because it would make it their eighth studio album with the classic line-up. (I thought I'd bring that up just in case anyone thought it was named it after the Roman emperor Octavius... I mean that's what first came to my mind, anyway.) This was also their first new studio album since they had temporarily split in 1972. It was only six years, but six years for a rock 'n' roll band in the '70s was practically an eon.
The music scene had changed drastically since they left. Art-rock leaders from 1972 such as Genesis, Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull were on the decline, and gag-worthy bands like Styx, Kansas, and Journey had risen up to take their place. Punk-rock and new-wave musicians were also widely gaining popularity, and they were known to supplement their acts by claiming boldly that progressive-rock bands were good-for-nothing pompous bastards of yesteryear. So, the question is: Can the newly reformed Moody Blues rise to the challenge of creating an art-rock album that would resonate with modern audiences the same way that they connected with audiences from 1967-1972?
Of course not! Are you crazy? Octave sold pretty well at the time, but its reputation nowadays is that it's one of the most widely despised albums of their career. While I certainly wouldn't call it one of their better ones—I wouldn't rank it above any of their albums from their 1967-1972 heyday—it has its fair share of gems. And Justin Hayward is responsible for most of them. “Driftwood” is easily the best song of the album, it contains a soaring melody from his godlike vocals, and some lovely orchestration provided by a lightly strumming acoustic guitar and a symphony's worth of sweeping synthesizers.
Synthesizers? Oh yes, synthesizers. One of the major developments in prog-rock since 1972 was that musicians weren't using Mellotrons any longer, because they were old hat. The Moody Blues could do nothing but comply with the new trends. ...Unfortunately, I miss that classic Mellotron sound of theirs (or even the Chamberlin from Seventh Sojourn, which was nonetheless Mellotron-like). Those much cleaner synthesizer sounds were hardly a substitution for their classic sound, but anyway, I'll get used to them.
“Had to Fall in Love” is another wonderful Hayward ballad with a melody that's sweet and positively uplifting. He even brought in a harmonica to play around thoughtfully through it to keep things heartwarming. Hayward's “The Day We Meet Again” closes the album on a high note, but that song sure could have used a little more umph in the orchestration and vocals department. The only Hayward composition I don't care much for is “Top Rank Suite,” which is a chuggy rocker. Now, I like chuggy rockers in general, but I find that one to be rather forgettable and tiring.
John Lodge makes a nice showing with the album opener, “Steppin' in a Slide Zone,” which is one of the weaker openers of a Moody Blues album yet, but it nevertheless gets a nice toe-tapping groove going. “Survival” is a fitful attempt at a lush power ballad. I enjoy listening to it, but it doesn't quite sweep me off my feet. ...The real weak link on this album is Ray Thomas (sorry, dude) whose two contributions ranks among the worst songs The Moody Blues have ever done. “Under Moonshine” is a ballad that's flat, boring, and goes nowhere. Even worse is “I'm Your Man,” a lame attempt at smooth soul.
Oh, and this is where we say bye-bye to Mike Pinder. He would leave the band permanently after this album's release to settle down with his wife and kids. He also got a full-time job working on music synthesis for Atari... which would mean he's the one responsible for giving an entire generation of children migraines. But anyway, he wrote a nice song that I interpret as his farewell to the band, “One Step Into the Light.” The lyrics might be hokey, but its wandering and melancholic melody is great! ...So anyway, Mellotron man, you'll be missed.
When you line up all the Moody Blues albums in a row, this is without a doubt one of the worst of them. It's not just the lame Ray Thomas songs, but the overall feel of this album just doesn't move me at all. Of course it has a handful of minor gems that are worth hearing, but even those don't hit me over the head like grand Moody Blues songs used to so frequently in the past.
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Long Distance Voyager (1981)
Album Score: 11
Just when we thought The Moody Blues weren't even going to try to recapture their former glory, they go and create something like this, Long Distance Voyager, and totally redeem themselves. While it might still be a far cry away from something like To Our Children's Children's Children or A Question of Balance, it's in the same class. Without a doubt in my mind, if you like the classic Moody Blues, then there should be no reason whatsoever you wouldn't like this album.
Unfortunately now that Mike Pinder was gone, they had to import a keyboardist from Yes, Patrick Moraz. While I'm sure he's a fine keyboardist in his domain, he had a much different sound than Pinder. Pinder normally liked to develop atmospheres predominantly by playing long-drawn-out chords in the background, but Moraz has more of a tendency to create electronic arpeggios and loops. They're usually well programmed, but they also sound very dated to the early '80s, and they don't particularly mesh terribly well with the classic Moody Blues style. For example, “Talking Out of Turn” features all these blips-and-bloops that play incessantly throughout... The song itself is a rather brilliant and soaring power-ballad by John Lodge that's so good that it could have easily appeared in one of their early '70s releases. So what was the point of those blips-and-bloops? Just to sound modern? While they don't add anything, I can say that they don't take anything away either. We'll just have to put up with them, I guess.
Justin Hayward's “The Voice” is an excellent way to open this album, an exciting and lush pop-rocker with a vocal performance as lovely as ever. Hayward's second song, “In My World” is a slow and sweeping power ballad with all the important elements intact; a strummy guitar and lush back-up vocals. Perhaps my only problem with it is that it goes on for more than seven minutes, and it didn't really warrant such an epic length. Hayward's third song, “Meanwhile,” I'm less enamored with; its main instrument is a limp-sounding electric piano, and it never really catches fire for me.
The last five songs of this album apart from Lodge's lovely ballad “Nervous” generally seem more gimmicky. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The stretch begins with Graeme Edge's, “22,000 Days,” which sounds like it belongs in an '80s pirate musical. I'm not sure if it should, but that song amuses the hell out of me. The melody is a perfect, ye-hardy sea-shanty with plenty of hooks. The thickly laid vocals that sounds like everyone in the band, and maybe some others who happened to be hanging around in the studio, decided to don some pirate eye-patches and join in. I can picture them swigging mouthfuls of rum as they were taking breaths in between stanzas. Unfortunately, the '80s instrumentation makes it sound dated, in particular the thick synthesizers and drum machines. ...Or maybe that just adds to its amusing campiness? I guess it depends on what floats your boat, really...
I am a little shocked to read that some people have a distaste for Ray Thomas' “Veteran Cosmic Rocker.” ...On the contrary, I feel comfortable in deeming it my favorite song of the album. It sounds almost exactly like you'd think it would based on the title: it's weird, spacey, and ultra-dramatic. It's like a campy psychedelic space adventure. Thomas delivers a remarkably boisterous and hilariously dramatic vocal performance amidst a driving rhythm and some sitars are welling up in the background. In the middle we're treated to some similarly goofy and energetic solos from a harmonica, flute and a gypsy violin. ...It's a lot of fun. Thomas also goes neck deep in carnival music for “Painted Smile,” which I have a much more difficult time stomaching, because cutesy carnival music inherently creeps the hell out of me. It also doesn't help that after the song, there's a 40-second track of merry-go-round music as he talks a bit of spooky spoken-word poetry over it. It sounds like it should have been a part of the 1983 film Something Wicked This Way Comes... *shiver*... But that movie is much worth watching, if you haven't!!! (There's an inappropriate movie endorsement for you!)
This might not be the same thing as a classic Moody Blues album, but it's close enough that I'm sure it'll please their longtime fans. Even though Pinder wasn't participating in the group anymore who had been an integral part of the band's sound, there are too many good songs on it to ignore. I would understand why some people might have a hard time stomaching four of the final five songs on here—I admitted to not being able to stomach two of them very well—but they are nevertheless amusing. Maybe they'll amuse you, too.
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The Present (1983)
Album Score: 11
As The Moody Blues were getting themselves deeper into the '80s, they were more compelled to write music that matched the times. That is why you'll find in here an abundance drum machines, forceful synth-bass lines, and cheesy synthesizers. Sometimes when old bands adopted such sounds, they are completely out-of-their-element. However, the first two songs of The Present, everything seems like a strangely perfect fit for The Moody Blues.
Let this serve a lesson to everybody: If you're going to use the synth-bass, let it play an interesting pattern! That's what Justin Hayward did in “Blue World,” this album's rollicking and memorable opener. The synth-bass line is so mesmerizing that I could probably just sit here and listen to it all day. Making it even better of course is that the melody is extremely catchy and soaring in that way that showcases Justin Hayward's voice in the most magical way possible. Moraz's synthesizer arpeggios also adds to the song's decoration in a very cool way (particularly at the beginning of the song where he finds such an inspired pattern... don't expect that to happen so often). The album's second song, “Meet Me Halfway,” was a collaboration between Hayward and John Lodge, and it's equally as fantastic as the opener. Perhaps the synth-bass doesn't mesmerize me quite as much, but it's still an integral part of the song's captivating texture. Also, the melody is gorgeous and sung, yet again, in Hayward's trademark, soaring manner. (I believe Lodge and Hayward are singing it together, but it's Hayward's vocals are the ones that stick out, naturally.)
Unfortunately after that point, the '80s instrumentation are more boringly run-of-the-mill and even sometimes confused. The synth-bass in “Sitting At the Wheel” boringly plays eighth notes, and the drum machine is very loud in that stereotypical 1980s way. ...Fortunately, the melody is catchy and John Lodge's singing is properly spirited, so it ends up not being such a huge deal. Where it gets pretty bad, though, is “Under My Feet,” which is a mid-tempo song where the bass plods around in an awkward and goofy manner, and Lodge's vocals are distractingly choppy. ...But on the positive side, the song does pick up steam in its final third thanks mostly to a full-fledged horn section that pipes up, which was probably merely a last-ditch decision to save the song, but an appreciated one. It's the worst song of the album for me, but I couldn't bear to give it anything lower than a B- in the track reviews.
“It's Cold Outside Of Your Heart” is an OK Hayward ballad with a melody that isn't memorable, but it's nicely sung all the same. Unfortunately, Patrick Moraz decided to ruin whatever potential it had with a stupidly low-pitched synthesizer, in which he only plays whole notes with one finger, and he makes it plod throughout the entire song. Why?!? Much better is Hayward's ballad “Running Water.” It's not even close to being one of his most inspired ballads, but it makes a good listen all the same; the melody is soaring, as you would expect, which makes it pretty. Graeme Edge gets his obligatory song, and I'm dismayed that it's not anywhere close to being as enjoyable as the pirate song from their previous album. Frankly, it's a bit bloated, and the melody isn't memorable in the slightest. But with that said, it make a nice listen, and I find that call-and-response thing Edge has going with the chorus to be rather charming.
Ray Thomas, the band's mystical one, takes the final two songs. For my money, they are some of the highlights of the album. “I Am” is flute heavy and ridden with synthesizers that sound vaguely like sitars and tamburas. Thomas does some performance-art over it, spouting out lyrics about God or something, and you'll also hear him overdub himself in creepy, whispering voice, which is a throwback to some of the songs he'd written for The Moody Blues in the late '60s. ...I suppose someone should have pulled him aside at some point and told him that the '60s were long over, but why spoil his fun? Thomas also writes a normal song, “Sorry,” which closes out the album, and it is pretty fantastic. It starts out as a ballad, but in the middle, it suddenly switches into an upbeat pop-rocker. The melody is catchy, and Thomas's vocal performance is passionate. It's easily the most epic song of the album, which I suppose makes it a mightily solid closer.
As far as the album score goes, it's solid 11 from me. It's not quite as solid as the 11 I awarded to Long Distance Voyager, but it's very close. Without a doubt, a hardened fan of classic Moody Blues might be he hesitant about picking it up, since the band has reportedly denounced this album, but I hope at least the first two songs on this album are enough to prove to you that they could combine their classic sound with synth-pop surprisingly well when they felt like it.
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The Other Side of Life (1986)
Album Score: 8
This is where The Moody Blues were following even more closely the ongoing synth-pop trend. I thought they had struck a pretty nice balance with that in their previous album, where there were a number of songs that managed to combine their classic majestic and flowing style with drum machines and synth-bass patterns. Here the drum machines and synthesizers are frequently so stiff that there's hardly any room for their classic sound to permeate up into the stratosphere. Of course I have nothing against stiff synth-pop. The style worked exceedingly well for pioneering acts like Gary Numan and Human League. It just wasn't always such a good fit for The Moody Blues.
Easily the worst thing about this album is that they had completely given up trying to develop interesting textures. Most of these songs contain nothing but simple one-two, one-two drum machine patterns and a plodding synth-bass that seems content merely to play repetitive eighth notes. I'm making an understatement when I say that Patrick Moraz wasn't the most tasteful keyboardist in the rock 'n' roll world, and he's pretty much hopeless when it comes to developing actual textures. Case-in-point, the opening instrumental section of “Your Wildest Dreams” is a corny '80s sci-fi thing, which would have been appropriate for Jack Horkheimer's opening title screen for his show. I mean, the theme they did use is nearly the same thing. ...But we all give Horkheimer's production team a pass since that was a PBS show; this is The Moody Blues.
By the way, “Your Wildest Dreams” is a really good song. It was just the intro to it that I'd ever complain about. It's very close to the spirit of the opening two songs to The Present, a delightfully toe-tapping song where Justin Hayward sings a cheery, free-flowing chorus with that beautiful voice of his. ...I can't even count how many times they've written songs like this, but I somehow love it every single time.
The stiff boringness beings with Track #2. “Talkin' Talkin',” a collaboration between Hayward and Lodge, has a decent melody, but the instrumentation is repetitive and annoying. The synth-pop instrumentals even get in the way of enjoying their vocals, which are still thickly layered and harmonized as they usually are. “Rock 'N' Roll Over You” suggests that they were giving up. On a base level, it's sort of a fun synth-pop ditty with a driving beat and primitive melody, but that was only enough juice to give it two minutes' worth of momentum. Since the song drags on for nearly five minutes, there's quite a lot of time I spend just spacing out.
Tony Visconti was brought on for production duties for this album, which is news that I would normally have met with open arms. The man has quite a resume, being involved with some of the most well-loved pop-rock albums of all time. However, I'm not entirely sure why he thought it was a good idea to put all these cluttery sound-effects all over a song like “I Just Don't Care.” Maybe the idea stemmed from Hayward, who was probably getting weary of writing the same sort of soaring ballad over and over again. The song undeniably has a nice melody that's sung beautifully—we've heard him do better—but those sound-effects spoil it for me.
A John Lodge ballad, the album-closing “It May Be Fire,” is nicer, but it's still not the great shakes. Its melody is pretty, but it doesn't make a huge impact on me. At least they refrained from cluttering it with sound effects this time. Graeme Edge has his obligatory song, “The Spirit,” except he teamed up with Patrick Moraz to create it. ...It could be one of the more creative tracks of the album, because the melody meanders all over the place and drum machines aren't boringly uniform. Unfortunately, the song never seems able to catch a foothold on anything, and it comes across as a confused and scattershot experience.
By the way, whatever happened to our favorite mustachioed hippie, Ray Thomas? He's effectively not a member of the band anymore. I guess they checked him into the nearest mental institute for always thinking it was the '60s. According to Wikipedia, he only provided background vocals, but he didn't write any of these songs. He doesn't play the flute in here, either. ...That means it was basically just Hayward and Lodge who were writing the vast majority of the songs now. I wouldn't call either of them geniuses, and spreading themselves out more thinly over their albums is sure to result in weaker material. While The Other Side of Life has plenty of well-written songs on it, it only has one song worth going out of your way to hear: “Your Wildest Dreams.”
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Sur La Mer (1988)
Album Score: 7
Or otherwise known as Sure Lamer to people who bought this album, listened to it once, and never listened to it again. I'd imagine that covers quite a few people. I think we all know what happened to The Moody Blues in 1988 and perhaps even understand why they would release an album like this, but that won't do much to lessen the pain of this album's existence. It was the late '80s, a horrible time when pretty much every aging band had to streamline their sound to fit the times. The Beach Boys you may or may not recall released “Kokomo” that year. Well, that's a decent song, but have you listened to everything else on that album?
This is an adult contemporary album where the synthesizers are smooth and sterile, and the drum machines are boring. Perhaps that wouldn't have been such a big deal if their level of songwriting were still up to par, but it is my sad duty to inform you that it just isn't. Granted, there are a few nice numbers. The album opening “I Know You're Out There Somewhere” is OK to sit through; it's a hooky song where Hayward sings majestically through the smoothed-over instrumentation. ...It sounds a lot like the openings of their last three albums, but ...eh. Just like all Bond movies must have Bond girls, all Moody Blues must open with a bright and soaring Justin Hayward song.
Poor Ray Thomas. All he had to do with the creation of this album was to show up for promotional photo shoots. Graeme Edge was probably just there for show as well, since there's no actual drumming on this record. He didn't even get to write and perform his obligatory one song! Patrick Moraz's boring synthesizers are all over the place, although he's significantly toned down in this release; the synthesizers aren't allowed to have any character whatsoever and don't even come close to overpowering anything. ...This album had might as well not be The Moody Blues at all, but a Justin Hayward and John Lodge collaboration. (They had done that before... in an album called Blue Jays), and it's only too apparent that they spread themselves too thinly over this album.
The duo collaborated over “River of Endless Love,” and it's terrible. ...Well, OK, maybe terrible is going to far, since I can generally sit through it without wanting to cry that much, but it's nevertheless entirely devoid of memorable pop hooks and it's instrumented with boringly typical drum machines and synth-pop rhythms. Lodge, in recent albums, had been taking it upon himself to compose all the “driving” songs, and he does so with “Here Comes the Weekend.” Except it's so tepid and plastic that I just cannot get myself into it. It certainly doesn't help that its synth groove is obnoxious as all hell. ...As much as I want to give this album the benefit of the doubt, it's really hard for me to listen to that song without having an expression on my face as though I had just eaten a lemon.
Easily my least favorite song is the penultimate “Love Is On the Run.” Just in case anyone is curious, love is on the run from that song, because after hearing that song, you might never want to love again. It's such a tedious, mid-tempo affair instrumented with the world's most tepid synthesizer and drum machine grooves, and Lodge sings such a stilted melody that it wouldn't even pass on a cut-rate children's album. (And yes, I've heard enough of those in the late '80s. I was about six, so count me as an expert.) Another disappointing creation is the seven-minute album closer, “Deep,” which is pretty much a bore throughout its entire run. The only thing that keeps me from spitting venom at it is that it gets a mite more soaring by the time it reaches its conclusion. But still. Zzzz...
Hayward's “No More Lies” was released as a single at the time, and it's so cutesy that it gives me the same sensation in my stomach that I used to get as a kid when I ate too much cotton candy. Nevertheless, with all things considered, it's one of the better moments of the disc. “Vintage Wine” also is a pretty good song, but it's still quite cutesy and air-headed. At least they orchestrate it mainly with an acoustic guitar and Hayward's forever-pleasing voice drives it.
In contusion, this is the most disappointing Moody Blues album yet. This band was formerly among the most creative rock 'n' roll bands of all time, but in Sur La Mer, they betrayed that reputation. It might have fared well with a few listeners from 1988—and I read a number of reviews on amazon.com of people who still rush to its defense—but as someone who had really fallen in love with their '60s and '70s albums and at least liked some of their early '80s stuff, this just doesn't seem like them. Fortunately, they would get back on track in the '90s. ...That was a good decade for old bands to get back on track.
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Keys of the Kingdom (1991)
Album Score: 10
Keyboardist Patrick Moraz was out and a fellow named Paul Bliss was in. (Not Mike Pinder? ...Did they even ask him?!?!) I guess Hayward and Lodge weren't too happy that Moraz had criticized them for writing simplistic music, so they saked him. ...And yet, listening to Keys of the Kingdom, it's apparent that Hayward and Lodge actually took his advice and stepped up their game in the songwriting department. Not only does this album contain some very nicely written songs, but they got creative once again with their instrumentation. Sure, many of them still use synthesizer tones and programmed drum beats, but it's nonetheless far closer to matching the level of a classic Moody Blues record as opposed to either of their previous two albums.
Unfortunately for them, the record didn't sell too well, but that wasn't as much their fault as it was the fact that all '60s and '70s rock bands had become elder statesmen by the '90s, which means that their records wouldn't sell a whole lot anymore. (Where the big money would be made was in live concerts, which they would soon discover!) ...Nevertheless, this album is widely available for purchase, which is something, and if you're a huge Moody Blues fan, then I have a feeling that you're going to want it.
Listen to the opener and try to resist. ...It's a bouncy and soaring Justin Hayward song. I don't think such an opener would come to anyone as a surprise, because that's how every Moody Blues album opened for the last 10 years, but do we ever get tired of it? The melody is good, the instrumentals are thick and soaring. Hayward takes out an electric guitar and noodles as though he were royalty. ...If I were to complain about one thing, it's that it isn't terribly infectious; it doesn't hold a candle to the openers of The Present or Long Distance Voyager. But at least it makes an excellent listen, and I'm happy with it.
For my money, the power-ballad “Bless the Wings (That Bring You Back)” is even better; its heavily atmospheric and sweeping instrumentation is a perfect match for Hayward's majestic and soaring vocal performance. It has such a pretty melody that, if I were to listen to a few times, I might find myself tempted to sing along with it. “Say What You Mean (Parts I & II)” is an attempt for Hayward to return to synth-pop, and fortunately it's a good one! The melody is fitfully catchy, the synth-grooves aren't too bad, and the synth-strings and synth-horn flares come in at the right times.
Easily, Hayward is the band's #1 shimmering star in the songwriting department here, but John Lodge pulls off a few formidable pieces on his own. “Lean on Me (Tonight)” is a pleasant and bouncy piano pop tune. Unfortunately it never quite catches fire for me, but it's a nice listen all the same. Better is his pretty power-ballad “Shadows on the Wall,” which might not make a huge impression on me, but I enjoy the experience of sitting through it. Lodge loses some points with me, however, for a synth-pop song that is woefully reminiscent of the material on Sur La Mer. “Once is Enough” features a bland rhythm section (despite the best efforts of a grooving horn section!) and a completely forgettable melody. His “Magic” isn't much better; it wants to be a rock 'n' roll song, but it doesn't rock, so it pretty much falls flat on its face.
For good measure, they let Ray Thomas compose a song, something called “Celtic Sonant.” As you'd expect, it's pretty nutty, and I'm tempted to classify it as New Age. It features spoken-word poetry and overblown lyrics, and despite all its pretentiousness, I can't help but love it. Its instrumentation is so THICK and Thomas' vocal performance is so MELODRAMATIC, that I find myself drawn into his convictions. Besides which, the melody is interesting and the Celtic overtones are strong, and therefore, it ends up being handily the second or third most memorable moment of the album.
Even though this album marks a massive improvement for The Moody Blues from the lows of their previous album, it still isn't anything close to matching the level of songwriting and creativity displayed on their classic albums. I can't even say it's quite as good as The Present or Long Distance Voyager, but at least it has a number of songs on it that approach that level. So with that, I'll give Keys of the Kingdom a lukewarm recommendation. It's only good for people who have a deep-seated fondness for this group.
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A Night at Red Rocks (1993)
Album Score: 11
Now that The Moody Blues were getting old and their studio albums weren't selling as well as they used to, it was time for them to go on massive touring campaigns with full orchestras to lure in lucrative ticket sales from as many nostalgia seeking, middle-aged fans as they could. ...And of course there's nothing wrong with that; if anything, I'm jealous as hell that so many people got to go to one of their concerts, and yet I couldn't have been one of them. (Though truth be told, in the '90s, it's doubtful I would have enjoyed such an experience other than being able to scan the crowd with my eyes and make fun of people in my head.) But anyway, giving concerts with a full orchestras was giving their audiences something especially novel since it wasn't since 1967's Days of Future Passed they've worked with such instruments.
And I can see why some people would be excited to hear them sing with a full orchestra again. Personally, I would have rather heard them bring out an old Mellotron, but perhaps I'm in the minority! Usually, the orchestra sounds pretty nice. Ray Thomas sounds pleasant amidst the full orchestra in “For My Lady,” John Lodge's “Emily's Song” is as pretty as always, and Justin Hayward sounds wonderful performing “Bless the Wings (That Bring You Back)” from their latest album.
Usually, Hayward's vocals are pretty great, as you would probably expect. He hits those high, soaring notes in “Nights in White Satin” about as brilliantly as we could have ever hoped for. But unfortunately, he experiences a few hiccups now and again. We're willing to forgive him in live performances, aren't we? I have no doubt that he required multiple takes to get everything right for the albums. Notably, that falsetto in “New Horizons” is awfully shaky... but that doesn't ruin the song, or anything, since that's still nearly as majestic and soaring as the original was. If any song made excellent use of the full orchestra, it was that one, particularly since the original's keyboards sounded more close to a real orchestra than their classic Mellotrons. I might complain a bit about “Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon),” which is the first time we hear Hayward sing on this album; perhaps it took him just a bit to get warmed up?
They also perform songs from their rock 'n' roll repertoire where the symphony is pretty much given a rest. And thank goodness for that, because the last thing I wanted to hear was a full orchestra trying to do rock 'n' roll! Not surprisingly, they perform the opening songs to most of their 1981-1991 albums, since those were obviously the highlights of their respective albums. However, I do have a list of complaints about their rock 'n' roll songs. First and foremost, those drums are still in '80s mode; they're huge, blocky, which is usually not at all like the originals. That even becomes a problem with the songs that actually came from the '80s. Although I love that Graeme Edge actually performs the drums live, as opposed to a drum machine, it isn't the most energizing thing on the planet. I certainly could have done without the drum solo he gives us at the beginning of “I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band.” But at least Hayward makes up for it with a rip-roaring guitar solo. Everybody likes guitar solos, right?
Ray Thomas is given a chance to shine in a few places in this album, most notably during his iconic hippie classic, “Legend of a Mind” where you can hear him give a pretty fantastic live flute solo (for those of us who want to hear such a thing). For my money, that's one of the highlights of the album! The orchestra does a nice job providing some liquidly textures in the background as Edge goes at it with his drum kit. Thomas' vocals are still that excellent, baritone, wobbly tone that has always sounded so perfectly fit for the hippie music that he always liked to write. (I'm a bit disappointed, somehow, that he didn't get to perform “Celtic Sonnant!” Again, I'm probably in the minority there.)
This is a mightily decent live collection, but it unfortunately doesn't show these guys in tip-top form. When I listen to these songs, it's a bit too obvious to me that the studio versions of them blow the live renditions away. Nevertheless, the performances are usually quite good and I'd imagine that all hardened Moody Blues fans would like to own this and, moreover, pull it out and listen to it now and again. Maybe I'm not a hardened fan, but I enjoyed this overall.
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Strange Times (1999)
Album Score: 11
After an eight-year gap between studio albums (1991-1999, or roughly half my childhood), The Moody Blues are BACK and ready for action! ...Well, don't expect a boatload of miracles from this album—it's as solid of a record as a record can be, but I wouldn't place it in the same league as their Magnificent Seven. However, it's good enough that I'm sure fans of those albums would like this as well. Should I call this a for-fans-only release? ...Sure. However, everyone should be a Moody Blues fan.
Certainly, they hadn't lost their identity over the years; all that's changed is updated instrumentation and production standards. Those background synthesizers, keyboards, and drums have never sounded more crystal-clear! In fact, sometimes these songs sound so flawless that they start to grow stale. Particularly at the beginning of this album, which is stacked with so many sterile pop-rockers that I wouldn't be surprised if those alone turned many people off of this album. Fortunately, things pick up steam midway through the delivery of several uplifting and soaring ballads! Well, for me, anyway.
I don't want to make it seem like the first six or so songs on this album are terrible. Generally, they're well written with pretty melodies. It's just that some of them seem are so cutesy that they could have been the theme song to a children's show. I can't listen to “Sooner or Later (Walkin' on Air)” without picturing the cheese-eating grins they must've had on their faces when they were singing it ...It's not a bad song at all (it gets an easy A- in my book), but it's still not getting the full endorsement that it probably could've gotten. “English Sunset” is a throwback to their '80s synth-pop era with its tight drum machine rhythm. Again, it's not a terrible song, but I find its textures to be monotonous. It's also nowhere near as infectious as some of their previous synth-pop songs were, like “The Voice” or “Blue World.” I do enjoy listening to “Wherever You Are,” but why do those drums sound so much like ticking clocks? Ticking clocks for percussion rhythms aren't a bad idea—Alice Cooper did that—but all it does in that Moody Blues song is make me realize how slow-moving it all is.
As I said, the album picks up something fierce in the middle where three especially good ballads occur in a row. The first is “Love Don't Come Easy,” which is probably one of the prettiest ballads that John Lodge ever wrote. (That's not such a surprise, only I would have expected such a song to be a Hayward composition.) Lodge sings its uplifting melody in a sweet and earnest manner while an acoustic guitar strums and some synthesizers swell subtly in the background. Hayward comes along with a brief electric guitar passage—it seems like he could have done more, but maybe he didn't want to steal the show for his good friend's finest ballads?
The second excellent ballad is “All That is Real Is You.” If I described it to myself before ever listening to it, I would probably wonder why I liked it. The melody—especially at first—sounds like a 19th Century hymn that people would sing in church. However, the sensitive way in which Hayward delivers it makes that quality of it seem even more charming to me. And then, of course, the song is supplemented with a soaring chorus and atmospheric string section in classic Moody Blues fashion. The third, and probably the best of them all, is the title track. That certainly sounds more contemporary than the previous two since it has updated drum machine rhythms. If it were an ordinary song, I probably would have complained about it. But the melody, is fantastic, as it takes quite a few twists and turns that piques my ears. I also like that Hayward could still sing those high notes! It might have taken a few passes, but there it is!
After those three songs, the album more or less fizzles out. But I still at least *like* every single one of them. Although I'm a bit disappointed in the album's only Ray Thomas song, a simple folk ballad called “My Little Lovely.” He's the one who's most known for having the wildest ideas of the group, but there's nothing wild about that at all. It's not even two minutes long at that! ...And just to prove to the world that they hadn't forgotten that they used to do this in every single one of their albums, they close the festivities with a spoken-word poetry track, written and read by none other than Graeme Edge. Instead of orchestrating it with trippy Mellotrons, he's using staler synthesizer tones, but … eh, it's not too bad. Hayward and Lodge eventually start singing a simple melody, which picks things up nicely for a solid conclusion.
Lastly, I'm going to complain about the length of this album. It has a lot of nice songs on it, but at the end of the day, I get a bit bored with it. There might have been the potential here for a 12-rating, but there's still too much fat on here that could have been cut. With that said, this is a substantial improvement for them and probably constitutes their best album since 1981's Long Distance Voyager.
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Album Score: 10
Oh dear. The Moody Blues made a Christmas album! Christmas albums are typically nothing but cash-ins that artists do after they've completely lost their artistic ambition. Woe be to artists who release Christmas albums! (And even bigger woe to artists who have made their entire careers out of it. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you assholes.) ...With that said, in rare cases, there will be an artist who actually makes it work. Joan Baez, for instance, had a pretty nice one. Bob Dylan had a hilarious one. ...Um Elvis? Classic. ...Er, I guess that's it.
Well rest assured, this is one of those good Christmas albums. There's also a high probability this'll be the last ever Moody Blues studio release, and I'll have to get on my knees and thank God's good graces that they didn't exit on an embarrassing note. With that said, this album isn't without its glaring problems, but I'll get to those later. The #1 thing that The Moody Blues did right was not relying on those tired old standards that seem to infest every Christmas album. You know those terrible songs people pretend to like every year: “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Sleigh Ride,” etc. (although I admit to still liking that last one... which probably means I should kill myself...). There's just one instance when they let their guard down and do a cover “White Christmas.” Barf! (Does anyone else think it's weird that Bing Crosby's illegitimate granddaughter had sex with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. And yet I see some pictures of Bing Crosby in which he bears an uncanny resemblance to Data? It's like something screwy happened to the space-time continuum.)
“White Christmas” sucks, but everything else is alright. They're either new Moody Blues originals or covers of contemporary songs that hadn't quite made it into to overplayed territory yet. Another exception to that, you might argue, that John Lennon's “Happy Xmas (The War is Over)” is overplayed, and it's certainly on the verge of it. But I still happen to like it, especially in that soaring way that The Moody Blues cover it here, which almost matches the original's. My only complaint about it is that it wasn't long enough! They do such a nice job generating that momentum, that I felt a bit robbed when they let it go just after two-and-a-half minutes! Anyway, the original songs aren't anything to flip your lid over, but if you liked Keys to the Kingdom and Strange Times, then I think you'll probably enjoy these, too. They certainly fit that mold.
I also think John Lodge was beginning to outshine Justin Hayward in the songwriting department, just slightly. Though I might be somewhat biased in that assessment due to the simple fact that none of Lodge's songs contain those adult-contemporary drum machines that infest Hayward's compositions like herpes. “On Christmas Day” is such a pretty, atmospheric and mellow tune that rather warms the old heart when I put it on. “The Spirit of Christmas” is more of the same thing. ...I suppose I could complain that I can't really tell those songs apart, but remember this is also a late-period Moody Blues album!
Hayward does have an excellent moment with the album opener, “Don't Need a Reindeer.” However, the cynical are going to have a difficult time refraining from puking in its first seconds where you can hear jingle bells and cutesy keyboard-vibe sounds. I know I was! However, after giving it a few listens, I eventually warmed up to it, especially since it picks up into a more conventional and upbeat pop-rocker after that intro. Furthermore, those lyrics are quite evocative. (“Do you remember long ago? And how we loved when we were children? / Let's be like children / This Christmas time”) Other Hayward compositions, unfortunately, don't do as much for me. “December Snow” is a ballad with orchestration as thick as PeptoBismol, and it seems to go on forever. “Yes I Believe” has some of the most overblown drumming I've ever heard—The Moody Blues must've had their reverb knob there turned to 11.
So, in short (if that's even possible), even though this is a Christmas album—93% of which are known to suck—this Moody Blues one is alright. Surely, it's not as bad as I'm sure many people were expecting it to be. I have a feeling that their longtime fans won't find much of an occasion to ever play this—not even during Christmastime—but I'd wager to say that it makes a good thing that I'll pull out every once in awhile.
Read the track reviews:
Lovely to See You Live (2005)
Album Score: 12
Well I'll be pickled and put in a pickle jar! (I'm now using my reviews as a means of trying to achieve fame by coining famous phrases. Most of them won't catch on, I suspect, but please, if you're reading this, do me a favor and casually drop that in your next conversation with someone.) The Moody Blues released so many live albums in their late career that you might be tempted to call it insane. This is actually the third live album released since 1993's A Night at Red Rocks. The second is Hall of Fame, which I haven't reviewed, but I might pick it up later.
However, the huge factor that sets this album apart from the others is the fact that there is no orchestra here: They bring back that hearty old Mellotron! Now, nothing against real orchestration, but they had their day back in the time of Beethoven. Who needs them, now that we have Mellotrons? Especially since Mellotrons let the Moody Blues ROCK OUT and yet still has enough clout to let their respective songs soar when they need to. Just listen to “Tuesday Afternoon.” Isn't that moody Mellotron everything that it ever needed? It doesn't get in the way of the texture of the strummy acoustic guitar, bouncy bass guitar, the woody drum track, or the majestic singing.
Speaking of majestic singing. Man! If you thought rock stars lost some of their range as they got old, just listen to how Justin Hayward can still seem to reach nearly every single silky-smooth note as he did when he was in his 20s. I don't even hear him getting tired at all toward the end of the concert, which is what I end up hearing in plenty of live albums I listen to. He's even apparently singing more powerfully than he did in A Night at Red Rocks despite the fact that he was about 12 years older. I mean, listen to him totally bring down the house with this rendition of “Nights in White Satin.” I suppose if you're going to nitpick, he does hit a few rocky notes, but... well, are you really going to nitpick when you're listening to a song like that?
Unfortunately, this live album was recorded after Ray Thomas had left the group. He was replaced by a capable flutist by the name of Norda Mullen. Now, she's the same person who played the flute in December, which I really didn't like at all because it always sounded like she ingested a bag of magical jellybeans whenever she played. But here—as she's playing through some of the band's greatest classics—she's excellent. Hardly an equal replacement for Ray Thomas, but they had to replace him with someone, after all! She also does an excellent job singing back-up vocals, only ever really coming in to help build up the crescendos. She also sounds a bit like Kate Pierson.
Another complaint I have is that there is an awful lot of songs on here from their '80s albums. It's most of the good ones... “The Voice,” “Talking Out of Turn,” “I Know You're Out There Somewhere,” and “Your Wildest Dreams.” There's also “The Other Side of Life,” which I hated in its original incarnation. The live version could be the worst song of the entire set, but at least its loud and menacing rhythm section in that rawer live arena marks a great improvement over the wussified original. Other songs they cover that are OK, but I wish they wouldn't have included in favor of some of their other songs are “December Snow” (thankfully their only cut from their most recent release), “Steppin' in a Slide Zone,” and “Lean On Me (Tonight).” But once they get all of that nonsense out of their system, they cover songs from their Magnificent Seven, which closes out this live album on the highest note possible.
“Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band” completely cooks. I mean, it cooks so much that I have to pick it over “Nights in White Satin” as my favorite song of the album. If people in the audience weren't jumping up and down on the floor, then they didn't deserve to be there! Other terrifically danceable picks from their golden era are “Question,” “Ride My See-Saw,” “The Story in Your Eyes,” and a staggeringly good performance of “Higher and Higher,” which features a charming vocal introduction from the slightly cockney voiced Graeme Edge. I also love that they recreated that charming, warm atmosphere of “Are You Sitting Comfortably.” I love all those fast-paced tunes, but this shows that maybe they should have done more of their ballads! ...One interesting moment is their decision to cover “Forever Autumn,” a song from The War of the Worlds a concept album/musical by Jeff Wayne in 1978, which Hayward had provided his vocals for. That's a beautiful song! I never heard that album before, so I guess I should.
As with almost any live album I review, I wouldn't dare recommend this to anyone who isn't already a well-versed Moody Blues fan. However, I don't think every Moody Blues fan out there actually owns this disc. They should! The Moody Blues might have been waaayyyy over the hill at this point, but this shows it as clear as day that they were hardly ready to throw in the towel. Really, I hope they go on for another 20 years keeping on doing what they do.
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Live at the BBC: 1967-1970 (2007)
Album Score: 11
As so many people have said before, God bless the BBC for recognizing that all those live music recordings that they had lying around in their vaults for so many years actually had value. If not for that, then Caught Live (the concert recording in which The Moody Blues were famously high as a kite throughout the proceedings) might have been their definitive live concert album. These BBC recordings show the band in a much nicer state, and the recording quality is pretty good, too.
However, one of the major strengths of BBC compilations is also one of its weaknesses. This is EXTENSIVE. So extensive that it's daunting. There are forty-one songs on here, many of which are repeated. Four songs are repeated three times each: “Nights in White Satin,” “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume,” “Voices in the Sky,” and “Ride My See-Saw.” Another set of four songs are played twice: “Peak Hour,” “The Best Way to Travel,” “Lovely to See You,” and “Fly Me High” (an early single that you'll find on the bonus tracks of Days of Future Passed). I can't imagine there are too many people who find occasion to sit through all of this at once! Well, there was me, but I was forcing myself to, so I'm not a good example. These tracks are given in chronological order, also, so listening to this seems more like I'm sifting through a catalog than listening to a cohesive work of art.
On the other hand, isn't it easy these days to just delete the relatively inferior copies of songs off your iPod (or segregate them into a separate folder)? I'm sure hardcore Moody Blues fans would scoff at me for suggesting such a thing! Lest you forget that I consider “Nights in White Satin” to be one of the greatest songs ever written, and yet I still have trouble making it through three separate versions of the song all in one sitting. The final version of the song is especially difficult to take since Mike Pinder's Mellotron was greatly overshadowing Justin Hayward's vocals in that pivotal crescendo.
By far the best thing about early BBC recordings is that their quality was generally fantastic. By no means would it be superior to a recording of today, but for the 1960s, this is amazing. Now, that won't stop me from complaining that sometimes the bass and drums sound like they were mixed in a little too loudly... and other times they're not mixed in loudly enough... Then again, I suppose if I'm not ready to accept occasional flaws here and there, then we should probably just listen to those perfect studio versions for the umpteenth time. Which I shall!
However, I do have a valid complaint. There are a couple of tracks that feature an annoying British announcer who—oddly enough—sounds like he might have been the very announcer that Michael Palin was imitating in practically every episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I have nothing against things that remind me of Monty Python, but I could always hear that announcer so clearly, but The Moody Blues performance that ensues sounds like they were playing behind a wall. Could it have been in that guy's contract to have a cleaner sound than the talent?
Easily, the most represented album is of Days of Future Passed. The least represented albums (woefully enough) are To Our Children's Children's Children and The Question, each with a measly one song each. I suppose The Moody Blues didn't have quite so many radio appearances as they got on in their careers and when they did, it was mostly to perform songs from their older albums! They also interestingly include a bunch of songs from their transition between their mod origins to becoming one of the world's premiere art-rock groups. (One of those songs, I already mentioned, was in here twice.) While it's cute they included those songs, they easily constitute the least memorable bits here. What's more, these songs actually open this collection, which doesn't really do our attention spans any favors!
It probably sounds like I didn't care much for this release! On the contrary, I'm glad to have this thing around, and many performances of their classic songs sound great. I'll certainly probably poke through this collection every now and again. Surely the quality of the recording and the quality of the songs themselves are worth that 11 alone. But considering I don't think I'm ever going to sit through this the whole way through, how would anyone expect me to give it the mightiest endorsement?
Read the track reviews:
Live at the Isle of Wright 1970 (2008)
Album Score: 11
Well, this was a nice surprise! Who knows why they decided to release those Caught Live recordings in 1977 when they also had this performance from 1970's Isle of Wright festival just lying around in the vaults? ...Well, actually, there could have been a number of reasonable explanations for it. For one, that Mellotron sounded a bit rough here—sometimes it would play ominously in the background and then LOUD in unexpected spots as though Mike Pinder didn't really have control over it. It was also bending around very unnaturally—veering out-of-tune and then back in-tune. At one point, as I was writing the track reviews, I thought it sounded like he was unintentionally scoring a haunted house movie, or something. (Well, that out-of-whack Mellotron would have sounded perfect for a haunted house movie... that was on an extremely low budget, that is... But aren't those the best sorts of horror movies sometimes?)
But I'm sure the main reason it took so long for them to release this live album was that the recording quality was quite sketchy. Caught Live at least sounded pretty clean and it had a cool stereo effect. However, if this thing was recorded with anything better than a mid-priced hand-held recorder, then I'd be surprised. (I know next to nothing about recording equipment, but I'm sure I could have gotten this recording quality from a cheap tape recorder I owned in the '90s.) At the very least, it does sound like the tape recorder was actually on stage with them! Some live albums I've heard were obviously bootlegged from someone sitting in the audience. No... this was purely legit.
Now, the recording quality isn't bad enough for it to ever ruin this listening experience for me—it won't even come close to it. If anything's going to ruin the listening experience for you, it would be the quality of the actual singing. You could also say that about Caught Live. While The Moody Blues' studio albums were practically next-to-none as far as perfection goes, their live performances weren't always that spectacular. (Exceptions to that can be discovered in Live at the BBC, but that was sort of a catalog of brief performances and didn't really come together as a cohesive whole. Say what you want about this live album—at least it was a cohesive set.) The biggest problems the vocals have is when they get DROWNED out by all those dramatic crescendos that The Moody Blues like to put in their songs. Yeah, they definitely didn't hold back on their crescendos, and I can bet it was more than just a tad difficult making your voice overpower them.
Almost like clockwork, The Moody Blues perform the song you think they should. I just saw these guys in concert last week, and they still close their live shows with the exact same songs! Well, I didn't hear them perform “Legend of a Mind” toward the end like I do in this album, but I assume that's only because Ray Thomas wasn't with the band any longer. Had he still been there, I could bet my britches that I would have heard it. (Oh! Couldn't he have rejoined them for one evening? Just for me?) However, I did hear “Nights in White Satin” and “Ride My See-Saw” right at the end of that concert. Now, Hayward's vocals are quite shaky in “Nights in White Satin,” but never for a moment do I think the guy lost his spirit. That's really what matters. ...So his voice wobbles around and he misses a few notes? Who cares?
“Gypsy” is the song that opens this live performance, and it ROCKS. Oh, the rough recording quality means that it'll never pack the same sort of punch as the studio version, but I'm betting any hardened Moody Blues fan would still get a kick out of hearing it in this more primitive form. That's really who this album is for, anyhow. The similarly awesome-rocking “Question” also suffers—mainly because that famous bass-line I love hearing so much can only barely be heard. But eh! If we really require perfection, then we should just put this live album aside and pull out the studio albums once more.
One of my favorite moments of the album is that beautiful ballad “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” It comes off better than some of their more widely loved songs on this album just because there aren't any crescendos, and Hayward's lovely performance can be heard uninterrupted. Probably my least favorite moment of the album is Mike Pinder's “Have You Heard?” which has a tendency to drag. But you know, that's still a good song! Remember, this album was recorded in 1970 when these guys were at their absolute peak. These songs are massively good.
But it still gets an 11. Albums that get a 12 have to be able to bend space and time. At no moment do I ever forget that I'm listening to an old Moody Blues concert that somebody recorded on a portable tape recorder. Nevertheless, I'm ecstatic this thing exists, and I wholly enjoyed the experience of listening to it.
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Moody Blues Live: Woodinville, Wash. June 4, 2011
I'm more happy than anyone that The Moody Blues are still alive and up to the task of doing live shows. As someone who was born in 1982 and enjoys music that stems from my parents' childhoods (does that make me a dork?), I'm ecstatic there are still remnants of that era still lingering around. Do you know how many '60s and '70s bands there are I wish I could go see in concert, but I never can thanks to my inability to conquer that pesky space-time continuum? Hundreds. Maybe thousands. (I have this fantasy that when I die, I'll become a sort of floating, invisible entity that can travel back and forth throughout time and anywhere in the world so that I might discover all those tantalizing mysteries of humankind that has puzzled me over the years. ...And while I'm doing that, why not also take in a Hendrix concert, or a pre-Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Elton John concert? If only life and death could be exactly what I want them to be...)
But anyway, there they were, The Moody Blues, playing right there in front of me in Woodinville, Washington. They might have been all in their late 60s and early 70s, but they were still up to the task of doing what they loved all the way into 2011, the future. Of course, it was sans two of its original members.
There was one thing I was pretty sure about before going to the concert, however: There were not really going to be any huge surprises. I knew very well that the first half of the show was going to be mostly their '80s pop tunes, and then they would slip into their more classic songs by the end. I even knew that “Nights in White Satin” and “I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band” were going to be the signals that the concert was nearly over. And do you know what? I was totally right.
But why did I have to sit so far back? Not only that, but I was off to the side. If you drew straight lines out of both sets of speakers on the edges of the stage and then colored between them, I would have not been colored in at all. For that reason, the sound, while perfectly loud and audible, always seemed like it was off in the distance. It felt like I was peaking in the concert over a fence, or something, except it cost me $45 per ticket for the privilege. But I'm complaining about something that I could have avoided if I only had a more competitive personality! Why do I always want things to come easy to me in life? I decided I didn't feel like standing in line three hours before the show. There's always preassigned seating right up front at that venue, but those tickets go fast and usually goes to people who pay for pre-sales ticket privileges. (I did manage to score B-52s/Human League tickets in that area for a show in September! They were expensive. $250 for three of them. And it's in the corner of the last row. Eek!) But for the time being, I had to sit in the back with all the plebs.
Now, I still enjoyed the show. Don't get me wrong! I wasn't able to make out the details of any of the band members' faces, but I could tell who was who. I know that was either Justin Hayward or Fabio there with the electric guitar, looking as slim as ever wearing white pants and with long white/blond hair. There was John Lodge all dressed in black and with a beer-gut the size of Jupiter who liked to wave his arms in the air during the synthy intros of their '80s pop songs as though he were halfheartedly conducting them. And last, but not least, there was Graeme Edge who could still pump away at those drums like the pro that he was.
...Now, of course, The Moody Blues supplemented themselves with other, more younger band members. There was a young female keyboardist and a female flautist, one of whom I definitely remember hearing in back-up duties in that 2005 live album I reviewed recently called Lovely to See You. (She's the one who sounded so much to me like Kate Pierson!) I'm pretty sure it was the flautist with that voice, but I could never quite tell which of those ladies were singing. There was also a second drummer who was visually more wild and energetic than Edge could ever be (and understandably so). However, I did appreciate seeing him, because even from that great distance, I could find amusement in seeing his animated body hitting those hi-hats during the dramatic moments of their songs. Also at one point, he and Edge were tossing drum sticks at one another. ...They were on opposite sides of the stage, which made that quite a spectacle. (Did they drop one? Really, it's a miracle I was even able to see those projectiles, which were practically microscopic to me!)
Do you want to know more about the songs they played? ...Well, you pretty much know it already if you read my review of Lovely to See You. They pretty much stuck to the standards. Really, there was only one song that I never would have expected in a million years that they would pull out of their wood-works. And that was “Driftwood” from Octave. That might not have been their best album, but that sure is one hell of a great song. With that said, Justin Hayward introduced it with some disappointing words to the audience... He said a few days ago something happened to him that eventually happens to all singers (adding that it wasn't that his ego-box was deflated): He said he lost the ability to sing the top four notes of his voice. He said they might return one day, but for now, they were gone. However, to my ears—at least being a great distance away from those speakers—I thought he went through that gorgeous ballad mightily well!
Perhaps he said that about his voice so that we wouldn't be too disappointed when he would later have to opt out of those iconic, soaring high notes in that mighty crescendo of “Nights in White Satin.” Well, it prepared me for that, at least! ...He sang through most of it normally, his voice still somehow sounding golden after all these years, but he had to revert to low notes during the crescendo when the fake-Kate-Pierson took over the duties. But still, assisted or not, it was so cool hearing them do that song in person! The audience had a huge response to it, too, some of whom seemed like they were hearing it for the first time in their lives. Maybe it took some of them back to that time? But then again, some of them were probably high on something. (One guy in front of me was in his late-20s/early-30s but he dressed like he came from 1969. He was burning incense sticks and doing a strange wobbly dance throughout that performance. What was that all about? Another gentlemen, in his late '60s, was doing a remarkably slow dance during “I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band,” bending his knees and twisting his arms all the way around his body while making circular motions with his wrists. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I dubbed it the three-toed-sloth dance.)
But seriously, people in Washington State must go to concerts for different reasons than I do. Throughout most the show, EVERYONE around me was talking to each other loudly, and—with the exception of the three songs at the end—were really only half-watching. My motivation for concert-going is to experience music that I like with the artists who made it. But these guys were treating it as though it were a backyard barbecue. I don't want to make it seem like I'm telling people what to do, but why not have an actual barbecue, then? The food's far cheaper, and 15 minutes after you eat, you can take a dip in the swimming pool. You want to half listen to The Moody Blues? Dust off your old vinyl collection! ...But clearly I was in the minority there. (I went with my parents by the way... We watched...)
So anyway, I bring that up because whenever Justin, John or Graeme talked to the audience, it was really tough for me to hear what they were saying throughout those rumbles of conversation around me. I literally squinted my eyes at the stage as if that would help me hear them. I did fortunately manage to hear them most of the time, thankfully, and I usually liked what they had to say... My favorite bit was when Graeme Edge got off his drum tower and started talking to us. That's a guy with a lot of folksy charm about him as he informed us that he'd recently turned 70, which that was met with considerable cheer from the crowd. He said that age sounds old, but he really only considers it turning 35 twice. Only this time, his teeth were made out of porcelain and his hair turned white. He then made some sort of a Viagra joke, but I couldn't quite make it out. After he was through with his monologue, as I very well expected, he started to read the poetry introduction to “Higher and Higher.” He had a tambourine with him, and as that intense rock 'n' roll riff started to take off, he really started to get it on. I mean, it was amazing watching him dance around on stage in such an intensely spirited manner as he did; if believers carry tambourines with them in the return of Christ, they would probably look something like he did.
That leads me to my next subject: Justin Hayward might not have been able to hit those high notes, but he really, really, really could rip up that electric guitar. He did it through “I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band,” “The Story in Your Eyes” (I'm not 100% sure he sang that one... call it 80%...), and a wildly fantastic performance of “Ride My See-Saw,” which was the mere song they performed in the encore. Another great rock 'n' roll moment was “Peak Hour,” which was the only other representative of Days of Future Passed besides the obvious one. Did they also perform “Question?” They might have, but I can't remember for sure. I had that bass-line running through my mind all the way on the drive to the concert, and that has evidently clouded my mind about whether I'd actually hear them do it! (I suppose I could have written this stuff down, but … for heaven's sake, why the hell should I take notes at a rock concert? I might be a dork, but I'm not a geek. ...Well, the sort of geek who would take notes at a rock concert, anyway...)
However, I do know—as a stone cold fact—that John Lodge gave us all a hearty rendition of “Lean on Me (Tonight)” early on in the show. When he announced he was going to perform something from their early '90s album Keys of the Kingdom, I only heard a few scattered whistles from the crowd. (Oooo? I guess the general populace doesn't know of such a record?) However, what a sweet rendition that was! I sure didn't care for that particular song on the album when I reviewed it, but hearing Lodge sing it live on stage was utterly charming. One woman who was sitting in front of me sat through the entire show reading a book and—I swear—turned to her husband at the beginning of every single song and asked him with quite a harsh look in her eyes: “Do you recognize this? I don't recognize this!” To that, he would always passively nod his head whilst keeping his eyes transfixed on the stage. ...Come on, lady! If the guy can recognize a song they explicitly stated came from an album in the '90s, isn't it a safe bet that he knows everything they've ever done? The real icing on the cake happened when The Moody Blues were in the middle of “Nights in White Satin,” and she turned to him and said: “Is this their famous song?” ...I sure hope that guy raises hell with her the next time she drags him to a flower show or whatever the hell it is she likes doing.
That couple was older than my parents (who are in their mid 50s), but there were also quite a few in the audience in their early-to-mid 40s who I noticed especially got excited whenever The Moody Blues performed one of their pop songs from the '80s. And those albums were well represented, too. The concert venue staff must have been on instruction from John Lithgow's character in Footloose to not allow anyone to get up and dance during the show until the final three songs. However, that wasn't going to stop a scattering of 40s-ish women from standing up and waving their arms high in the air like sprite-possessed trees during those moments. The opening song of the whole concert was “I Know You're Out There Somewhere” from Sur La Mer. Later on they sang “The Voice,” “Talking Out of Turn,” and “Your Wildest Dream.” (Despite my constant making-fun of the Jack Horkhiemer synth introduction of “Your Wildest Dreams,” I admit to getting just a little bit excited to hear it start up at the concert. I must have made fun of it so much that I've grown to liking it!) However, they didn't get to perform anything from The Present. Why??? But I did at least hear “Blue World” pipe up over the loudspeakers before the concert.
Their second song they performed that evening was “Steppin' in a Slide Zone,” which ROCKED the non-existent house down. (Did I mention that this was an outdoor venue?) It's so close to the summer solstice right now and Seattle is so far north of the equator that it was still dusk by the time we made it back home, which was a little after 10 p.m. I also have to give Mother Nature some props for giving us beautiful weather—it was sunny, clear, and about 70 degrees. One day I'm going to go there for a concert when it's raining. Woo! That'll give me about another page of text for one of my concert reviews.
One of the highlights of the show was when John Lodge started to sing “Isn't Life Strange” from Seventh Sojourn. That was closer to the end of the concert when the staff was getting less successful at getting people to sit down. I saw a few (mostly men, this time) getting out of their seats and thrusting their arms in the air like the Sorcerer from Fantasia when he was making the flood waters in that basement subside. Even though I am almost pathologically introverted, I could understand why those guys were doing that—the constant barrages of crescendos they gave us throughout the piece were AMAZING. With that said, I would have much rather heard them play “New Horizons” from that album. It's my second favorite song of theirs ever. I did my best to try to channel my psychic energies at them to try to entice them to perform it, but it was to no avail. I do wish I had supernatural powers sometimes. (My favorite song of theirs, I'm pretty sure they're contractually obligated to play. It goes to show, if you write a song like “Nights in White Satin,” you're going to be singing it until the day you die. But Hayward apparently has such a massive ego that he probably likes it the more he sings it. He'll sing it once more on his deathbed just so that it'll be the performance of his life...)
It wasn't a terribly long concert, only lasting about two with a half-hour break in the middle. That makes it by far the shortest concert I've ever been to. Also at $45 to sit all the way in back, it was one of the priciest. I could have done without all those people around me who were treating the concert as though they were watching a fireworks show in their backyards. But I can't say they ruined the experience for me. Really, they didn't even have a fighting chance to. ...It probably seems to you that I spent most of the time watching the people than the concert! No, that was only about 10 percent of the time! The rest, of the time my eyes were transfixed on that stage in the distance. Especially when Hayward got to singing “Driftwood.” I'd forgotten I liked that song so much. (Seriously, though, next season, I'm paying for pre-sales privilege. It doesn't matter who it is, I'll be seeing the whites of their eyes.)
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