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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Moody Blues fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Moody Blues fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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I was relatively new to the Moodies, I confess, when I started this page, and really hadn't had the chance to absorb their music with as much tenacity and zest as, say, that of Jethro Tull (no kidding). However, I did have enough time to take some serious listens and draw some interesting conclusions which are no doubt your only excuse for opening this page. So let's have it this way: you take my comments seriously and I'll try not to be neither too sceptical nor too pathetic. Okay?Before I proceed to the actual reviews, I'd like to notice this one little peculiar thing about the Moodies' music. The Moody Blues are often dubbed 'prog-rockers' and put into the same bag with bands like the above-mentioned Tull, Yes, Genesis, etc., etc. Now I really don't know that much about the exact genre terminology, but it seems to me this is no less than a fatal mistake. The Moodies were made of an entirely different dough than all of these mature 'proggers' (hey, good word! sounds almost like 'frogger', doesn't it?) First of all, their music never even approached the level of complexity that was absolutely necessary for being called 'prog'. Their instrumentation, even though it did heavily rely on keyboards and/or orchestral arrangements, was deeply rooted in happy British pop of the early Sixties, with bands like the Hollies providing inspiration for most of the Moodies' songwriters, while Yes and company usually ventured into a much deeper past - medieval music and stuff like that. Second: the famous 'conceptuality' of the band (practically every album they made, at least in their 'golden years', had a central theme) was generally understandable - sometimes too naive, sometimes thoughtful and intelligent, but always clear and explainable to the average listener, unlike the twisted, mystical, and often purely nonsensical 'concepts' of prog-rockers. So were the lyrics: sometimes unbearingly banal and derivative, but sometimes quite fascinating - and always straightforward and, once again, easily understandable. Both of these factors certainly contributed to the Moodies' sell-out status in the late Sixties/early Seventies, but both of these factors also contributed to their (also very popular) image of lame artsy guys with lots of pretension and bombast but little real talent, an image mainly fostered by Rolling Stone, whose staff has probably hardly ever gotten further than Graeme Edge's lame 'poetic' introductions at the beginning of each album, and the likes of it. You decide who to side with. Actually, at times I'm a bit puzzled as to why the Moodies receive such a lot of hatred in their address. Deep down inside, I feel that this hatred is pretty much artificial - it's easy to choose somebody as a symbol of rock's past failures and flaws, and the Moodies are one of the obvious candidates. I mean, some people prefer to poke at Yes or ELP instead, but these bands' fans poke back at their critics by emphasizing these bands' virtuosity and sheer rockin' power. So the Moodies fall easy prey to art-rock haters since they are quite limited as to what concerns their instrumental skills. The fact that all the five members were undisputed professionals, and Mike Pinder was one of the most creative and intelligent Mellotron tamers in history, is somewhat disregarded, of course. But the Moodies can't play fifty notes per second like Steve Howe, right? They can't play fifty different synths all at a time like Keith Emerson, right? And they are pretentious, stupid and vain. Naturally, they suck big time. Well, I'll just tell you that I never cared much for such simplistic 'logics' and will probably never care for it. Don't bother arguing with me on that one. One thing's for certain: the Moodies are unique in many ways. Whether that uniqueness is something to like or something to shrug your shoulders about - that's up to the consumer. I don't tend to idolize them (as lots of hardcore fans do), and I don't tend to underrate them (as even more scepticists do). The classic Moodies' sound is somewhat uniform to my ears, but you can't deny the catchiness and melodicism of quite a good percent of their output. Not to mention the fact that they really can sing, especially Justin Hayward, and do it with gusto - unlike, say, Jon Anderson. It's also interesting to note that the band was a truly democratic organisation - a phenomenon which is quite rare among art rock bands. Everybody contributed to the band's sound, trying to make it as diverse as possible. Oh well - it wasn't their fault that they mostly failed at that. Their 'classic seven' albums mostly follow the same formula, and in a certain way, they just kept re-writing the same stuff over and over again, being more or less the art rock equivalent of AC/DC. SPECIAL WARNING: It is worth noticing, thus, that I haven't yet seen not even two Moody Blues fans whose views on the band's best/worst stuff would coincide; a typical case for bands whose albums all sound the same - the accent is then carried over to nitpicking and saying 'I hate this song because the vocals sound ugly' or 'I love this song because there's a nice Mellotron bend'. In my reviews, I have tried where possible to evade this approach: of course, it's not always possible, but my primary opinion is that the Moodies were good as long as they weren't totally ripping off themselves, because their rip-offs always tend to be less catchy and memorable than their 'originals'. It should also be said that, while my own personal ratings of the Moodies' 'classic period' differ rather seriously, it doesn't really matter where to start and where to finish with it - the differences are never crucial. The Moodies were very highly formulaic; but, of course, their main difference is, unlike AC/DC, they never stopped using brains, not brawns, to produce their music... Let's move on to the lineup, shall we? Here's the original Moody Blues as nobody knows them: Denny Laine - guitar, vocals; Clint Warwick - bass guitar; Mike Pinder - keyboards, notably Mellotron; Ray Thomas - guitar, flute, different thingamajigs; Graeme Edge - drums, dumb bits of dumb poetry. This lineup was formed somewhere around 1965, recorded one (or more) albums and dissolved in a year or so, with both Laine and Warwick quitting for good (Laine kicked around for a couple of years more before becoming McCartney's sideman in Wings). They were replaced by Justin Hayward (guitar, vocals) and John Lodge (bass, vocals), thus forming the second lineup (as everybody knows them). Er, I just noticed I assigned 'vocals' to Hayward, when it's really incorrect: everybody had his share in singing. Hayward's was just the most prominent one. The band dissolved in 1972, then reformed as an 'oldies act' in 1978, spewing forth an album (Octave). In 1981 they reconvened again, having replaced Pinder with Patrick Moraz (ex-Yes keyboard jester). The latter, however, didn't stay for too long, having quit by the time they started recording Keys Of The Kingdom in 1991, and they've carried on with side players since then. Hey, seems like they're still around and kickin'! Ain't it fun? Let me warn you, though, that all that 'reunion' stuff, beginning with Octave, is really only necessary for you if you adore the original 'big seven'. The Eighties and Nineties stuff has some particularly high points and some particularly low ones, but it's all rooted in Eighties' production values, and even the best of it stands so close to the border that separates 'cheese' from 'class' that I fully understand people who dis every single album of the 'Newdy Blues', even if I don't always agree with them. Wanna try your luck? Start with The Present and see if you can tolerate the rest. Oh, their latest product is quite good, too; you might pick up that one (Strange Times) without too much fear.
Listenability: 4/5. Accessible
and gorgeous melodies, for the most part, but the Moodies were often on
the brink of falling into "schlock and pap", and sometimes crossing
Resonance: 4/5. Hard to deny that the Moodies are always up and down on your emotional centers, but sometimes the sap gets too much.
Originality: 3/5. Their first album was a revolutionary masterwork, but that's pretty much everything they did - they spent the next thirty years of their career coasting on its success. Great coasting, though.
Adequacy: 2/5. Anybody wants to argue? Get me Mr Graeme Edge for personal execution.
Diversity: 2/5. Oh boy. If the Moodies didn't have a FORMULA, with all capitals, then nobody had.
Overall: 3.0 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
A good enough, but not very distinguishable pop & blues record. You like early Sixties white-boy soul-pop? You get this.Best song: GO NOW
Track listing: 1) I'll Go Crazy; 2) Something You Got; 3) Go Now; 4) Can't Nobody Love You; 5) I Don't Mind; 6) I've Got A Dream; 7) Let Me Go; 8) Stop; 9) Thank You Baby; 10) It Ain't Necessarily So; 11) True Story; 12) Bye Bye Bird; 13) Steal Your Heart Away; 14) Lose Your Money (But Don't Lose Your Mind); 15) It's Easy Child; 16) I Don't Want To Go On Without You; 17) Time Is On My Side; 18) From The Bottom Of My Heart (I Love You); 19) And My Baby's Gone; 20) Everyday You Don't (All The Time); 21) This Is My Home (But Nobody Calls); 22) Life's Not Life; 23) He Can Win; 24) Boulevard De La Madelaine.
Like every other group of the British Invasion in the early/mid-Sixties, the Moodies had a hell of a discography. Recent archaeological excavations have allowed us to formulate a hypothesis that their first British LP was entitled The Magnificent Moodies, whereas its American counterpart was dubbed Go Now (in strict accordance with the grand American tradition of emphasizing the hit single), with, quite naturally, some of the weaker stuff taken out and replaced by some hit singles (notably, the title track). However, archaeological findings are severely confusing in that there actually seem to have been at least several different Go Now's (possibly several Magnificent Moodies, too) circulating on this planet of ours; for instance, the one edition I had for a long time didn't exactly match the track listing on the original release.However, at long last the situation has been sorted out - if you are able to lay your hands on the current British CD edition of Magnificent Moodies. An ultra-long (but still fitting nicely on one CD) collection of twenty five tracks, it assembles together absolutely everything the band had recorded in 1964-66 with Denny Laine as frontman - both the original LP and all the surrounding singles. (The missing link - the first Justin Hayward/John Lodge lineup singles before the band crashed into Days Of Future Passed - can be either found on the somewhat hard to find LP Prelude, or, if you happen to be a Moody Blues fan and a rich person at the same time, the Time Traveller boxset). It could, therefore, be a marvelous money investment for hardcore Moody Blues fans - one of the best Anglo-American 'solutions' of the 'British Invasion recordings problem' (still highly active for the Rolling Stones, for instance). Turns out, though, that hardcore fans usually either despise this record or just don't even suspect of its existence, dismissing this lineup of the Moodies as something absolutely unrelated to their listening experience. But no, here it is, and there's no need to be ashamed of it. Sure, it doesn't display that much of a unique identity, apart from maybe Ray Thomas' occasional use of the flute, an instrument never heard among the early British Invasion bands; but that's merely one good reason not to hold it too thoroughly to the standards established by the Beatles or the Stones. There's a lot of ground to be crossed from that level to the disgrace of early Manfred Mann, and the Moodies are midway through. Contrary to what people usually say about Go Now/Magnificent Moodies, this is not an album by an entirely different group from the one that did Days Of Future Passed. This is actually the same group, even though it still doesn't feature Justin Hayward. Mike Pinder. Ray Thomas. The pretentious drummer boy, still years away from taking his bad poetry out of the wastebasket and raping some of the decade's loveliest music with it. It's just that the band is still in its early, 'childhood' stage. Complaining about that 'this is not the Moody Blues' is certainly the equal to complaining about the Beatles of Please Please Me fame that 'this is not the Beatles'. Bands evolve, and evolution is a natural thing. In fact, it's not even true that the band's sound changed immediately after Hayward and Lodge joined it: for about a year or so, they'd been playing the same barroom tunes as ever... but that's another story, really. We're talking Denny Laine here. More exactly, this is a stage at which they were still mostly doing covers - straightforward love songs, sometimes with a gospelish twang to them (title track; the unbelievably catchy 'It's Easy Child'), straightforward "driving" R'n'B numbers (the wild harmonica workout 'Bye Bye Bird') and straightforward excourses in soul music (James Brown's 'I Don't Mind'; er, 'Time Is On My Side'). Rock'n'roll was not their forte, and they never tried it (another important link with the 'classic' version of the band, whose idea of rock'n'roll never got them further than 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock'n'Roll Band', good song though it was); Denny Laine, however, seemed to think that his voice was strong and emotive enough for the band to hit it heavy on the blue-eyed soul side, and he had a point there, although not a very big one. That said, his soul singing was certainly far more convincing than Pinder's. Sometimes the band's performances are actually better than one might imagine ('I Don't Mind' is far superior to the Who's version of this song, just because Pinder doesn't even try to emulate James Brown like Roger Daltrey does), and quite a few of them boast strong hooks ('It's Easy Child' is dang near a classic!), but this is certainly not the kind of material you'd put on for a friend in order for him to get an idea what the Moody Blues were really all about. Just like the story is with about every second-rate British Invasion band of the epoch, this record is obviously nothing more than a quickly tossed-off cash-in on the fame of 'Go Now'. Only very occasionally do they manage to raise me an eyebrow with this material - yup, when Ray Thomas suddenly takes lead vocals (probably his first, and by far not the worst lead) on Gershwin's 'It Ain't Necessarily So', the effect is plain marvelous. Never even guessed how well Thomas could do gospel-style chants. Way to go, Ray. But then again, for every 'uplifting' tour-de-force like that there's a big letdown - the choice of covers, for instance, can occasionally sink down to embarrassing heights. 'Steal Your Heart Away'? Why take somebody else's shameless - and poorly thought out - rip-off of Ray Charles' 'I Believe To My Soul' and perform it as an almost parodical effort? Please give me the Animals' version instead and leave this one where it belongs (gutter). Another James Brown cover, 'I'll Go Crazy', is a plain disaster - where Mr Soul's band would probably handle these changes in tempo as lightly as a feather, the Moodies strain themselves so hard, they probably had to take a shower after the recording. However, some of the many Laine-Pinder originals on this album do indeed point to the direction the band would be off a-takin' in just a couple of years. Some of the tracks are so echoey, creepy and, well, moody (you asked for it), that they outjefferson the Airplane: 'From The Bottom Of My Heart', for instance, is an incredibly gloomy, solemn tune, with a booming bassline and a rumbling quasi-African drum rhythm in the background. And yes, I have little reason to suggest Marty Balin ever heard the song in the first place, but somehow most of the Takes Off album still sounds like a carbon copy of this song; even Denny's vocals sound exactly like Marty's. Other numbers borrow the excitement and intensity of James Brown without lamely trying to steal the intricacies of the musicianship - 'And My Baby's Gone' is simple, but effective, with an upbeat, dizzy piano line, great vocal harmonies and youthful enthusiasm a-plenty. Finally, some songs are just solid, solid pop ditties, like 'Stop', the first quality Moodies original I count in their backpack. It's not even simplistic - the song structure is much more complex and twisted than required, and the refrain manages to combine the complicatedness of the song with a quirky Beatlesque catchiness. Don't miss that one. In fact, I could easily say that these originals are at least on equal footing with most of the covers, if not better; it's a shame they didn't write more at this point in their career. With a little bit more boldness and a little bit more hardship and toil, they could have easily blown away at least the Hollies. And it is obvious that toward the end of their Laine period the Moodies were already moving away from generic R'n'B standards - one needs only to listen to the final track on this record, the French-style ballad 'Boulevard De La Madeleine', dominated by accordions, French horns, and tango rhythms. It's not at all similar to the Moodies' later work, but that only makes the thing more intriguing: God knows where the band would turn if the single hadn't flopped miserably - as it was, Denny Laine actually quit in desperation, and things went a wee bit different. The major hit (their only serious hit of the Laine epoch) was 'Go Now' itself, a song which I used to despise (primarily because I'd only heard it live in a horrible version on Wings Over America), but grown to respect and maybe even love. A good pop song with nice keyboards, croaking vocals and muddy production - which, nevertheless, manages to emphasize Laine's vocals, giving them a delightful and convincing down-to-earth "rough twang". Soulful. Classic. In fact, it might just be the best pre-Van Morrison era "blue-eyed soul" track to come out of the entire Invasion, which was usually far more focused on rock'n'roll, Britpop, blues, and bubblegum.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967Record rating = 9
Much of this sounds dated, but never again will you encounter four guys with a great sense of melody at once...Best song: NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN
Track listing: 1) The Day Begins; 2) Dawn: Dawn Is A Feeling; 3) The Morning: Another Morning; 4) Lunch Break: Peak Hour; 5) The Afternoon: Forever Afternoon/Time To Get Away; 6) Evening: The Sun Set/Twilight Time; 7) The Night: Nights In White Satin.
Since the band wasn't really producing any more hits, Denny Laine quit in desperation to pursue a solo career or whatever (pathetically, he ended up in Wings), and Clint Warwick followed suite. The remaining Moodies didn't give a damn, though, having picked up the angel-voiced, harmony-drenched Justin Hayward and the not less prodigious bassist John Lodge, and hoopla! suddenly, with everybody quite unaware of the fact, the band was packed to the brim with talented, competent songwriters. What they didn't at first realize was that most of them had a heavy penchant for romanticism and sappiness - and spent a whole year moonwalking in the steps of Denny Laine and playing the same R'n'B formula that was getting more and more tired and more and more shitty with each new day. Eventually, though, the floodgate broke open - you can, in fact, easily see the band's slow maturation as witnessed by the early singles on 1987's retrospective Prelude, reviewed on this site a few notches below.The only problem with Hayward's, Lodge's, Pinder's and Thomas' newly-evolving songwriting schticks was that they didn't have a distinct style which would clearly separate the songs of one from the songs of others, so that the result is most of the Moodies' records still sound as if they've been written by one person. You can easily mistake a Lodge song for a Thomas song, or a Pinder song for both of them. Hayward's contributions are usually slightly more eminent, but maybe that's just because his singing is the most remarkable of all. Really strange. Good tunes, though. The album broke new ground back in 1967 by combining the Moodies' happy (or not so happy) pop tunes with some full-scaled orchestral arrangements that were probably designed in order to put the Beatles to shame - which they didn't. The album was recorded together with the London Festival Orchestra conducted by Peter Knight, who wrote most of the arrangements and the opening 'The Day Begins', a kind of an 'overture' for the entire 'suite'. A truly innovative and daring move at the time, in retrospective it seems like a fatal mistake. The orchestrated parts which dominate the beginning and the end of the album and also crop in between almost every song sound like they've been lifted from an MGM soundtrack, and not the most inspired at that. In other words, they're utterly banal, and this spoils the picture so much I had to punish the band by depriving them of one point. Sorry, guys. You should have known better. The fortunate thing is that the orchestra never tries to mess with the actual songs, being limited to intros and outros and links between tunes. Also, the overture is very cleverly constructed, with small bits and pieces of every tune on record in orchestral arrangements; unfortunately, these bits and pieces are repeated so frequently on record that you almost get the impression of Peter Knight painfully looking for every tiny hole to squeeze these theme exploitations into. BUT... if one manages to forget all the orchestration, as well as the even more banal and grossly derivative and ridiculous bits of poetry that drummer Graeme Edge inserts into the beginning and into the end of the record, one can't go wrong with the actual songs. The album is a conceptual one, exploiting the subject of analogy between the times of day and periods of life, and the songs usually follow the pattern quite solidly, with their melodies really setting 'dawn', 'afternoon' and 'evening' moods. And they're catchy! Not bad for the first truly conceptual art rock album. Mike Pinder sets the scene with 'Dawn Is A Feeling', a slightly sad, but charming little ditty that's among Pinder's best - he rarely managed to sound with such a solemn, melancholic majesty, and listening to this song will never lead you to understanding why some fans dislike him so much. Later on, Pinder passes on the relay baton to Thomas with his hilarious childish prankster 'Another Morning' - at this point Thomas was the 'silly funny dude' in the band, not their 'solemn cosmik mind' as he would become later on, especially in the Eighties - and the gentle flute melody is nearly irresistible in its catchiness. And it's only the beginning - morning is followed by the 'lunch break', during which bassist John Lodge contributes the fastest and most 'rocking' piece on here: 'Peak Hour', a jolly, groovy, Beatlesque song with an unforgettable chorus. On the second side of the album, do not forget Lodge's 'Evening Time To Get Away', which people always tend to neglect due to its unfortunate 'unification' with the hit 'Tuesday Afternoon' under one track; but it's a great tune nevertheless, with an amazing falsetto middle eight - Lodge rarely used that singing style afterwards, and I do see why: his voice is not really suited for such a high pitch, and he really strains to squeeze the notes out, but at least he manages to succeed. And kudos to Pinder again, who gets another point for 'The Sun Set' - a song with obvious Indian and maybe even primal influences, so you can picture it as a musical reflection of some primal ceremony happening at dusk; finally, Thomas' 'Twilight Time' is really moody and dark, setting a special 'twilight' atmosphere, with its evidently dangerous but also mystical and majestic vibes. The truly high points, however, belong to Hayward-the-Lord-of-Bombast. 'Forever Afternoon (Tuesday Afternoon)' and especially 'Nights In White Satin' are unbearingly pompous and overblown to the very point of bursting, but Hayward truly compensates for it - primarily with his incredible singing voice and really good arrangements (particularly should be noted the gorgeous climactic raise in pitch on the line 'chasing the clouds awaaaa- aaaa - aaay!' - if I could, I would picture these 'a' letters rising up, up, up high into the sky! - and the tear-inducing flute solo on 'Nights'). So it really works. If you listen to the radio, you might already be bored to death by these two, but they really deserve it - they just sound like they were written specially for FM. Anyway, better to be entertained by Hayward than by, I dunno, Lenny Kravitz? Eh? What really amazes me most about these songs is how perfectly they set exactly the desired mood that corresponds to a certain period of the day. The band made numerous concept albums after this one, some of which had more intelligent and interesting concepts and some less, but they never succeeded in matching actual 'ideas' with actual melodies and arrangements in such a perfect way. 'Dawn Is A Feeling' has you slowly and hazily waking up from your sleep; 'Another Morning' has you jumping around and running round the yard welcoming the early morning sun; 'Tuesday Afternoon' catches you in the state of romantic meditation after dinner; 'Evening Time To Get Away' has you returning home from work in a somewhat relaxed, satisfied mood; 'Sun Set' has you preparing for sleep; 'Twilight Time' has you taking a last peep out of the window onto the darkened, and now a little scary, world; and 'Nights In White Satin' - well, that's night romance for you, what else? Of course, the concept has an even deeper meaning - the 'periods of day' are supposed to symbolize 'periods of life' and trace a man's life from childhood to death ('Nights In White Satin' is supposed to be about death, in particular, not love), but I wouldn't really know about that. I want to have this concept album as I see it - after all, conceptuality exists only in the mind of the listener. Let me just add, in a sorta little conclusion, that nobody sang like Hayward in 1967 - at least, not in the rock world. And as for later singers, the only dude worthy of Justin that comes on my mind is Greg Lake - but that wouldn't be until at least in two years time...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968Record rating = 7
Too much pseudo-psychedelia for my tastes, which really spoils the melodies...Best song: RIDE MY SEE-SAW
Track listing: 1) Departure; 2) Ride My See-Saw; 3) Dr. Livingstone I Presume; 4) House Of Four Doors; 5) Legend Of A Mind; 6) House Of Four Doors (part 2); 7) Voices In The Sky; 8) The Best Way To Travel; 9) Visions Of Paradise; 10) The Actor; 11) The Word; 12) Om.
A conceptual misstep, by all accounts. For once, the Moodies have abandoned their own, mildly artistic and totally independent, path, and decided to cash in on the flower power movement. Unfortunately, they arrived somewhat too late on the psychedelic scene (which, moreover, was already starting to slowly dissolve itself - both the Beatles and the Stones already left the bus) and didn't take enough lessons on psychedelia in 1967. So the whole album ends up sounding like a clumsy, naive and overly lightweight, childish take on psycho basics: Timothy Leary, mantras, tripping and the Om chantings abound on the record, but the band didn't really have the guts to neither write innovative psychedelic lyrics nor back them up with genuine flower power melodies. Again, it's not bad or anything, but it's plainly a little ridiculous. It's especially ridiculous if you consider the general concept: the band sets out on a journey to recover the famous Lost Chord (an idea later put to better, but not the best, use by Pete Townshend in Lifehouse) only to discover that the Lost Chord is really... OM!! Don't know, really, but looks stupid to me. A good subject for a little kid who's listened to too many Donovan albums.Nevertheless, no Moodies fan should be without this record, because, trite and novel as it is, some of the tunes are still damn marvelous - one should essentially close one's eyes to the conceptual debauchery and just enjoy the melodies. After skipping the obligatory Graeme Edge poetic contributions ('Departure' - yuck), you'll see that side A features lots of lovely beauties. Thus, Lodge's 'Ride My See-Saw' is an upbeat, joyful, harmonic rant in the vein of 'Peak Hour', replete with optimistic vocal harmonies, self-assured rocking guitar parts and an overabundance of Mellotron; from now on, the orchestration is gone and Pinder is working to replace a whole orchestra - successfully. Ray Thomas contributes two winners as well: 'Dr Livingstone I Presume' is yet another in his series of catchy childish ditties, naive and pleasant, with an 'All Together Now'-type of refrain ('we're-all-loo-king-for-someone!') and more guitars that also turn out to rock in the most unexpected moments (the song is, however, given a far more rockin' treatment on the Caught Live album). He also supplies the moodiest piece on here: 'Legend Of A Mind', even though it does feature dumb lyrics devoted to Timothy Leary, is still written incredibly well and might be the most notorious example of acid rock they ever did, not to mention its complexity and... funny, I've always felt that it was the most 'un-Moody Blues' song ever written by the band, because I can't feel the band's identity on it all that well. Which is a compliment: the song is so monumental that it doesn't sound dated to my ears, even if lyrically and conceptually it should be even more dated than 'Om'. And I tip my hat to Pinder's Mellotron sound on that one, too; nobody on my memory ever captured the 'astral' atmosphere better than the old boy did (listen to his solo on the third minute). Plus, Lodge's two-part 'House Of Four Doors', illustrating human progress in the development of musical genres (with the 'doors' serving as allegories for different periods of different dominating genres), features one of the most wonderful chorus you'll ever hear on a Moodies record. Delicate, subtle harmonies which put the Byrds to shame: the contrast between the 'high' and 'low' voices there is just the way that a solid harmonizing should be constructed. Oh well, not bad for a lame parody on a psychedelic album, eh? Unfortunately, the second side refuses to match the first one, which is a real disaster. Sure, it does feature the beautiful ballad 'Voices In The Sky' with Hayward again showing us what a formidable singer he was in an epoch when vocal cords were always deemed secondary to instrumental mastership. But the rest of the side is dominated either by painfully clumsy and conventional Pinder attempts ('The Best Way To Travel', which everybody seems to recognize for a solid psychedelic rocker, but which sounds scattered and disjointed to me; the horrid 'Om' which sounds like a totally talent-less band's take on 'Within You Without You'), or by far less successful Hayward compositions with a very feeble shadow of melody ('The Actor' is more or less saved by fantastic singing, but 'Visions Of Paradise' is definitely not a great song as well - the idea of singing and playing flute in unison resulted in both 'instruments' overshadowing themselves), or by more Edge poetic absurdities ('The Word'). So for an album that commenced on a really high note, that's a darn shameful ending which makes me really disappointed. The dated pseudo-hippie crap, contributed by Edge and Pinder, enmeshes itself with the feeble Hayward compositions and mars the whole positive effect of the first side. Even though there's no more MGM orchestration, the boys still found a suitable way to fuck it up - and they would fuck it up just the same on their following release, demonstrating a surprisingly high stability in repeating all their errors for multiple times. Next.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969Record rating = 8
Away with proto-psychedelia, back to the past! But hey, we've had it all before! And better! And where's Justin?Best song: DEAR DIARY
Track listing: 1) In The Beginning; 2) Lovely To See You; 3) Dear Diary; 4) Send Me No Wine; 5) To Share Our Love; 6) So Deep Within You; 7) Never Comes The Day; 8) Lazy Day; 9) Are You Sitting Comfortably; 10) The Dream; 11) Have You Heard (part 1); 12) The Voyage; 13) Have You Heard (part 2).
This album might be considered an 'antidote' to the misguided hippiism of Lost Chord. Throwing away the pretentiousness, mysticism, mantras, Timothy Leary, Om and, well, pot, the Moodies return to craft a tight, well-played and well-conceived set of power pop ditties (okay, so the last third of the album is pretty pretentious, but we'll get around to that eventually). Technically speaking, this is a concept album just like its predecessors (and successors as well), but, if you forget the usual Graeme Edge noodles at the beginning ('In The Beginning', more exactly), the concept really doesn't show itself up until somewhere about the third song on side B.Up till then, it's really nothing more than a collection of simple love songs and such-like. There's one good thing to be said about them, though: they're all Moody Blues love songs and such-like, and that means the melodies are, as usual, crisp, sharp, flashy and memorable, and, well, generic as hell. The only serious innovation is that the main songwriters have suddenly decided to change functions. Ray Thomas, for one, while mostly having stuck to childish ditties and 'astral planes' on the previous records, emerges as the epithomizer of the 'moody' spirit in such dreary tunes as 'Dear Diary', a Mellotron-drenched, slow, sad and disspiriting lament on life's meaninglessness, and 'Lazy Day', which is somewhat more cheerful lyricswise, but really incomparable to the kind of nursery rhymes Ray'd been known for, with its gospel-like 'aaaah-aaaah' choruses. Maybe he'd been experiencing psychological difficulties? 'Dear Diary' gives me chills, and can truly be called the most depressing of all the Moodies' compositions. In sheer contrast, John Lodge abandons his bombast and conceptuality, contributing two of the most lightweight, but charming love anthems on here (the very similar in style rockers 'Send Me No Wine' and 'To Share Our Love'). Even Mike Pinder makes a brave stab at a love song and manages to come up with the somewhat banal, but decent and listenable 'So Deep Within You' which people like very much to deride for the Freudist lyrics but that's all right by me, because it's kinda natural for a rock'n'roll kinda guy. Take a listen to this first half of the record without turning it over and you'd thought you put on a late-period Hollies album, only with a slightly more rich variety in arrangements. Really! Hey, but what about Justin Hayward? Oh, that's right, that's the exact point. See, this is probably the only album in the Moodies' catalogue where Hayward's talents really aren't that much on display. His opening ballad-popper, 'Lovely To See You', is undistinguishable, without his trademark high pitch and a half-baked, feeble melody; while I love to chant 'lovely to see you again my friend' along with the friendly chorus, there's not much else I can remember about the song. The soothing ballad 'Never Comes The Day' is much better, with a great singalong (and clapalong) chorus, but again his singing is kinda weak; and what's even more frustrating, the advantages of the song never really hit me until I finally heard it performed live on Caught Live. And why? Because the bloody bastards have buried that incredible harmonica riff in the chorus deep deep within the sound - you won't be able to discover it if you haven't previously heard the live version. Finally, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?', which is the song that really introduces the conceptual part of the album with its invitation to return to the golden age of Camelot, is just a stately pompous bore, and again, there's nothing really Haywardish about it. Sorry, but this is an unpardonable crime. This is partly why the album is rated lower than Days Of Future Passed: the main talent of the band is starting to slowly decline. Apart from 'Are You Sitting Comfortably', the conceptual part is dominated by more Graeme Edge poetry (yuck) and by Mike Pinder's lengthy 'Have You Heard/The Voyage' suite. Now this is the real pain in the ass - what I mean is primarily the 'Voyage' part which obviously is destined to invite you on to a surrealistic trip onto the threshold of your dream, but instead invites you on a morphaeic trip onto the depths of your yawning. For the most part, it consists of atmospheric, but primitive and highly dated, monotonous Mellotron noodling and elementary piano playing, and I don't really understand how anybody can speak out in favour of the tune, let alone love it. So, despite the fact that Mike's warm singing on 'Have You Heard' has gradually won over my heart, I still strongly advise everybody to cut out that part of the album and discard it, even if it leaves you with less than thirty minutes of music. Whatever. At least, these are thirty minutes of real solid music, not just some pompous, but melodyless and thoroughly unoriginal pieces of waste. I still have one last complaint to voice, though. Thirty minutes of real solid music aren't enough to make for a stupendous listen. The Moodies may have successfully avoided the mistakes of Lost Chord, but a full-scale return to the formula of Days wasn't that enlightening, either. Most of these songs are inferior to the Days tunes, and quite naturally so: they're built along the same lines, set the same mood and, as it usually happens, arouse a little less interest. There's a very narrow formula here, and even less diversity than on the previous record; I miss the childish ditties and Hayward's lush singing, for instance. Still, they were good lads. They wrote good songs. Can't really argue. Can't really knock the album. Except that Graeme Edge and Mike Pinder should be sued for threatening the existence of good taste. But other than that, can't really say nothing nasty. Except that Justin Hayward should have made better use of his voice on here. Other than that - it's a really swell record.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969Record rating = 10
Maybe the tunes aren't as well written as the DOFP ones, but this is a somewhat more 'serious' listen...Best song: GYPSY
Track listing: 1) Higher And Higher; 2) Eyes Of A Child I; 3) Floating; 4) Eyes Of A Child II; 5) I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Hundred; 6) Beyond; 7) Out And In; 8) Gypsy; 9) Eternity Road; 10) Candle Of Life; 11) Sun Is Still Shining; 12) I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Million; 13) Watching And Waiting
Don't get me wrong. I'm not head-over-heels-in-love with this album - I give it the highest possible rating based on its overwhelming glossy look rather than on the huge emotional impact it has on me, because Days Of Future Passed has a much bigger emotional impact over me. In general, Children continues the same old line and follows the same old formula, and, once again, this means that the songs are not as captivating as the ones on their groundbreaking Days album. However, this one succeeds in many areas where Days couldn't even hope to succeed. First of all, this is probably the Moodies' most ambitious and overblown project ever. The obligatory concept this time is about aging and ages and eternity and all that stuff, which means it has a universal character. However, unlike In Search Of The Lost Chord, this time the 'universalism' is much more mature, thought out and generally attractive, not just a parody on the hippie movement. I'd even go as far as to say that their pretentiousness is mostly matched by the quality and presentation of the actual material. And it does make sense, unlike most prog albums; the lyrics, cliched as they are, are actually fun and sometimes thought-provoking. In all, this is an extremely successful case of 'pomposity completely matches statement', and it's rather hard to laugh this record off like it was possible to laugh off The Lost Chord - unless, of course, you're some kind of Rolling Stone moron who's able to laugh off anything as long as it doesn't have the obligatory three chords and features word combinations like 'forever changing' or 'waiting for rebirth'..Second and most important, the songs are all good. None of them are as gorgeous or even as memorable as their best 1967 efforts, but there's not even a single serious stinker to be found around, and therefore Children wins first place if only through its amazing consistency. Even Graeme Edge and Pinder have managed to redeem themselves. The first one does contribute the usual bit of dorky poetry, but at least this time instead of setting it to a generic 'psychedelic' sonic background he sets it to a gruff, cosmic melody with screeching lead guitars and a good ol' 'rock' atmosphere ('Higher And Higher'), while 'Beyond' might remind one of their worst moments on 'The Voyage' and such-like, but at least it does rock and thump - not just drag you along some uninspired Mellotron screwing. I can easily tolerate the atonal sections of it because it's interesting to watch them flow in and out of the main rocking theme. Thanks, Graeme. As for Pinder, 'Out And In' sounds weirdly like a Pink Floyd song, for some strange reason it reminds me of 'Comfortably Numb', only it's better, because it has a good memorable melody and a wonderful aura about it - this is Mike at his friendliest and most 'angelic', delivering his words (which some sick fans believe to be about screwing again, but to heck with them, they're just Freud-obsessed); 'Sun Is Shining', on the other hand, returns us to the Indian motives, but no 'Om' this time around, just some sitar riffs and a catchy pop melody. Thanks, Mike. The most significant thing, however, is the 'return' of Justin Hayward. A return with a bang - the dark, mind-boggling rocker 'Gypsy', the best known song out of here and maybe for a good reason, too. Together with 'Question', this is Hayward's best effort at a convincing rocker, not to mention its relative complexity - with intricate harmonies, breathtaking vocals, and a subtle, delicate guitar riff in between the verses (although I certainly prefer the Mellotron riff on the live version). Of course, the concept of a gypsy flying through time and space might seem rather strange to some, but isn't that an allegory? I guess. There's also the nice album closing ballad 'Watching And Waiting' with some more of those beautiful vocals that we haven't heard since 'The Actor' (although choosing it as a single from the record was one of the band's strangest decisions ever - similar to, say, the Beatles deciding to release 'Good Night' as a single from the White Album!) Thanks, Justin. I don't really care for those short snippets of yours ('I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Gazillion' or something), because they are rather clumsy, but they're also quite short. Plus, Lodge and Thomas come up with good songs, as well. As usual. Comme toujours. Como sempre. 'Eyes Of A Child'? Now that's a good song, I tell you! It has a genuine folkish feeling to it, and yet it's one hundred percent Moodyish, and quite lovely, too. The 'rocking' reprise holds up just as well. 'Floating'? A weird one. But you gotta dig that singing style. Childish, again - Thomas seems to be in a good mood again, and he gives it some kind of a wonderful Peter Pan aura that works. 'Eternity Road' and 'Candle Of Life' are catchy, well-written, quite original efforts at universalistic anthems, and they all qualify. All prime stuff. Consistent to disgust. No timeless gems of 'Nights Of White Satin' or 'Question' quality here, but no 'Voyage' or 'Om', either. Still, like I said, not brilliant. Lots of songs resemble each other, and all those clever gimmicks of DOFP are gone forever. Darn! I loved those gimmicks! Don't worry, though: the only thing it means is that you just gotta have a couple more listens than for Days in order to get through to this record. Or maybe it's just me. But one thing's for certain: this is the Moody Blues at their most serious, most deep, most professional, most experienced and most high-spirited. In other words, get this album first if you want to know what them Goody Clues were really all about. If you just want to hear some magnificent songs, get Days first. Even though you won't get any crappy orchestration on here.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977Record rating = 8
They rearrange the tunes nicely - I don't even mind the band's clumsiness.Best song: NEVER COMES THE DAY
Track listing: 1) Gypsy; 2) The Sunset; 3) Dr Livingstone I Presume; 4) Never Comes The Day; 5) Peak Hour; 6) Tuesday Afternoon; 7) Are You Sitting Comfortably?; 8) The Dream; 9) Have You Heard? (part 1); 10) The Voyage; 11) Have You Heard? (part 2); 12) Nights In White Satin; 13) Legend Of A Mind; 14) Ride My See-Saw; 15) Gimme A Little Somethin'; 16) Please Think About It; 17) Long Summer Days; 18) King And Queen; 19) What Am I Doing Here?
The Moodies never actually released the gig, played at the Royal Albert Hall on December 12th, 1969, themselves, and it was only released eight years later as 'archive' stuff without their immediate consent with five 'bonus' previously unreleased studio outtakes from the Children sessions. These 'five' will be discussed later on in the review of Prelude, since it's better to review them in a 'rarities' context than in the context of a live show they are not really related to. Suffice it to say here that they're mostly nice, but do not really deviate the rating from its steady 'eight'. So let's concentrate on the live performance instead.First and foremost: the Moodies are a shitty live band. Surprised, after that incredibly high rating? I like to speak in paradoxes. I suppose that should be the end of my review, but I suppose certain people will still want a clarification. Okay, so what I really wanted to say was that while the Moodies perfected and polished their studio production, they obviously did not spend that much time rehearsing for gigs, at least in the post-Laine era. None of the band are virtuosos, and about the only more or less professional live player in the band is Pinder, who is able to magnificently control the Mellotron throughout and often saves the day even in the most dire conditions. For instance, his instrument now acquires a whole new meaning when it comes to numbers like 'Gypsy' - where he deftly replaces the acoustic guitar with the mellotron and makes it swirl, rock and blaze at the same time. But Justin's guitar skills at this point don't go far beyond rudimentary, and the old drummer boy really annoys me - his drum sound is so ugly that the songs sound like they're falling apart all the time without even having started. It's not that he's missing the signatures or something, but he's so undextrous and straightforward, just bashing away at the kit without much thought or self-control, that it's totally unsettling. I mean, yeah, Keith Moon did more or less the same, but this isn't the Who for Chrissakes, it's the Moody Blues, and they're supposed to be 'moody'. All the more amazing is the fact that the ensuing album is so wonderfully entertaining. Dumping the immaculate, well-polished arrangements, trying to create rock'n'roll excitement when the last time they really rock'n'rolled on stage was aeons ago, they somehow manage to always preserve the most important essence of all the numbers and always bring it to the surface - that is, when they're not changing the arrangement so drastically it no longer resembles the studio version at all. Wisely, they don't try out the most complicated numbers; that's why Children, the album which they should have been promoting, is only represented by 'Gypsy' with the already mentioned Mellotron craze. But the 'simpler' numbers are for the most part absolutely delightful. Thus, Days are represented by four numbers - 'Peak Hour' goes off splendidly, with a little bit of chaos in the middle eights as compared to the original but that only suits the 'rambling' structure of the song; 'Sunset' is focused and has one of the tightest arrangements on the record, probably due to its untrivial slow percussion rhythms; and the obligatory Hayward vocal spots ramble quite a bit, but the main attraction - Hayward's vocals, of course - is firmly in its place. Justin even manages to pull off the lengthy strong notes in 'Tuesday Afternoon' without losing it - kudos to Justin. The Lost Chord numbers are all rearranged, with 'Dr Livingstone' 'suffering' the most changes. In fact, it is almost transformed from the childish ditty it was into an all-out rocking number, with fierce guitar solos and 'violent screaming' all around (I'm not joking!). 'Legend Of A Mind' features not Thomas, but Pinder as the main hero: his Mellotron bends are exemplary and perfectly recreate the trippiness of the original onstage. And 'Ride My See-Saw' (the encore - so it turns out to have been a crowd-pleaser) suddenly becomes an acid rock hymn instead of the innocent pop rocker it originally was. The Threshold material is the most controversial. On one hand, for an unhappy reason the band decides to recreate the entire boring suite that ends the album, including 'The Dream' and 'The Voyage', which is why I don't rate the album a nine; any record that has these two tracks on it has to be docked one, maybe two points. On the other hand, there's 'Never Comes The Day'. I tell you, it's this live version of the song that actually opened my eyes to its potential, not the least because of the beautiful harmonica riff that's been reinstated. Now I can't get rid of it constantly playing in my head... In short, I can't even decide would it be better or no if the band had actually been super professionals and managed to play all the numbers more or less exactly corresponding to their studio originals. This would result in something beautiful, no doubt, but also excessive, like Genesis Live or a Pink Floyd live record. But since they weren't professionals, well, they just had to resort to preserving the essence and making the arrangements simpler and more 'stage-accessible'. Which is alright by me. I don't really get why this album is always rated so low by other reviewers - it's as inventive and amusing a live record as can be. And don't forget the '+ 5' part, as well, but see the Prelude review for more details.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970Record rating = 9
Harmonious eco-rock, but the melodies are overall much more entertaining than on most of their previous efforts.Best song: QUESTION
Track listing: 1) Question; 2) How Is It (We Are Here); 3) And The Tide Rushes In; 4) Don't You Feel Small; 5) Tortoise And The Hare; 6) It's Up To You; 7) Minstrel's Song; 8) Dawning Is The Day; 9) Melancholy Man; 10) The Balance.
Apparently, Children invigorated the band, so they decided they were strong enough to try and duplicate its success. And, darn it all, they almost succeeded - they were on such a high songwriting roll that, formula as it was, it was still nearly impeccable; I sort of view this record as a special Magical Mystery Tour-type 'extension' for Sgt Pepper. The sound might have changed a trifle (less Mellotron and less hi-tech overdubs on this one, apparently, to make it easier to reproduce some of these numbers on stage), but the essence is still the same. What distinguishes the album is its concept: for the first (and last) time in their existence, the Moodies try out a straightforward take on ecological problems (that's what 'Balance' is all about). However, as much as I hate eco rock for its brainwashed nature and (usually) dorky lyrics, there's really little to complain about this particular concept: the 'save-the-world' problems are taken on a global, cosmic scale, with innocent philosophical allusions tied in now and then and lyrics masked by the Moodies' artistic and ontological pretensions (oh well, what else could one expect?) On top of it, Graeme Edge gets the one and onely reasonably attractive piece of text-writing ever: the spooky 'Don't You Feel Small', although his closing Biblical stylization ('The Balance') ain't that nauseating either - so much for maturation.Of course, it isn't really the concept that matters here, rather the songs themselves. The first side of the album is truly awesome - maybe the greatest side of material recorded by the band since Days, and definitely the band's best 'democratic' side - five songs, each by a different band member. It all starts with an absolute Hayward classic - the upbeat acoustic rocker 'Question', with an intoxicating 'aaah' now and then, and a vocal melody that forms a perfect optimistic counterpoint to the pessimistic aura of 'Gypsy'; both songs are otherwise very similarly structured, with verses and 'aaah's interchanging with each other over a fast steady beat, backed by a 'wall-of-sound' Mellotron backing. Unlike 'Gypsy', though, 'Question' also has a middle romantic acoustic slow part which is quite endearing too, although I fear the balance between the two parts is a little too far shifted in favour of the slow part. Pinder contributes the dark, 'labyrinthic' (if you know what I mean) meditation 'How Is It (We Are Here)', one of his catchiest ditties ever, and introduces the ecological topic - although I'm a bit puzzled as to what is meant under 'her love'. Is it the Earth he means? Possibly. In any case, the symphonic effect in the instrumental part of the song is admirable, with the Mellotron forming a perfect duet with Hayward's strangely encoded guitar solo. If you ask me, that passage is at least ten times as good as the band's stupid cluttering with their instruments on 'The Voyage'. After the 'depression', Ray Thomas comes up to soothe us and becalm us with the beautiful 'And The Tide Rushes In', reminiscent of his style on Days - same shaking vocals, same stunning harmonies, hey, it could have easily fitted onto their debut, it's on the same level. Except that it's actually different: this is the first time Ray managed to come up with something of a truly operatic character, not giving his voice even the slightest restraint, and it's also very personal-sounding - after all, it's just an acoustic ballad with some Mellotron in the background. As for the already mentioned 'Don't You Feel Small', this disturbing shuffle could have been Edge's masterpiece, if not for the utterly nasty loud whispered voice echoing the band's singing - it mars an otherwise excellent vocal melody. Kudos to Graeme anyway for writing the first true song in his career - after all, even his best contributions so far on Children have mostly been instrumentals with an occasional bit of declamation. Finally, Lodge's 'Tortoise And The Hare' is yet another minor-key rocker, with a suspicious, disturbing sound and suspicious, disturbing lyrics. I love hearing the band go 'it's all right it's all right' with that paranoid beat, and I love hearing Justin deliver a short grizzly solo, completely up to the point. It should be noted, however, that 'Tortoise' is the first example of Lodge showing a passion for disco-type monotonous rhythms and thus leads to 'I'm Just A Singer', which in turn leads to 'Sitting At The Wheel' which in turn leads to 'Here Comes The Weekend'... oh me, oh my. Getting back to pleasant things, I must reiterate that this side has it all - it's slow ('Tide'), it's fast ('Question'), it's sad ('How Is It') and it's funny ('Tortoise'), it's dark ('Don't You Feel Small') and bright ('Question' again) at the same time. If you ever needed to demonstrate all of the Moodies' talents in one twenty-minute session, this would obviously be the best choice. Unfortunately, the second side, as is quite often the case with the Moodies (see On The Threshold Of A Dream for further reference), just doesn't sustain the heat. For me, it contains just two songs that can be qualified on the same (or nearly the same) level: Lodge's 'Minstrel's Song' is a nice little 'pastoral' shuffle with hippiesque overtones and an excellent vocal melody structure, and Pinder's 'Melancholy Man'... I know some people prefer to detest it, but I just think it's a perfect example of a lyrics-melody match: the song is supposed to be slow, dreary, long and muddling, as it is dedicated to depicting the 'process' of melancholy, and, well, it is. Plus, those backing vocals are moody, and why should we expect anything else from a band with the word 'Moody' in it? Nah, I like the song, even if it's more than five minutes long. It's also heavily influenced by French chansons, as is my hypothesis, and thus - quite naturally - provokes an Anglo-Saxon to rebellion. What I don't quite like are Hayward's contributions to this side. Both 'It's Up To You' and 'Dawning Is The Day' are quite pretty by themselves, but they're just not too substantial, ya know. Once again, Justin fell into the atmospheric trap of harmonizing and romanticizing without any truly creative melodies. In fact, I know it might sound strange, but at this point in his career Hayward was much better at 'rockers' than at gentle songs (aren't 'Question' and 'Gypsy', two of his best songs, proof enough?) Also, just as the album opened on a high note, so it closes with a downer: 'The Balance' is obviously just a piece of conventional crap, even if the Edge poem is not the worst he'd ever written. For some reason, though, I'm about the only person on Earth who dislikes the number - seriously now, do all you people really fall for that unmelodic chorus and Pinder's pompous declamations of the old drummer boy's poetry? Still, none of the other nine songs are really bad, and so, being in a good mood, I gently deprive the album of just one point. Blame it on the ecologists.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971Record rating = 7
The album's main flaw is that it has nothing to add to the Moodies' legacy. Other than that - depends on how much you enjoy the style.Best song: THE STORY IN YOUR EYES
Track listing: 1) Procession; 2) The Story In Your Eyes; 3) Our Guessing Game; 4) Emily's Song; 5) After You Came; 6) One More Time To Live; 7) Nice To Be Here; 8) You Can Never Go Home; 9) My Song.
Now this is what I call 'unoriginal', see? This isn't a bad album by any means; frankly enough, I quite appreciate it. It's just that it refuses to present me with new ideas - musical, conceptual, lyrical, production-wise, whatever. Not a single one; practically every song on here invokes visions of its predecessors, at least one and sometimes two and more. The well had clearly run dry. Anyway, what the boys do here is trying to re-create a carbon copy of A Question Of Balance, albeit with (quite naturally) much less appealing results. The concept, once more, deals with the problems of age and life stages (see the album cover for references). Why they were so obsessed with aging is beyond me. After all, none of them were responsible for lines of the 'hope I die before I get old' type, so what the hell? Days Of Future Passed already said it all.Ah, but you probably wonder why I'm so bothered about the concept. See, it inspired them for the lengthy introductory piece ('Procession') which can truly rival Graeme Edge's lyrics in terms of obnoxiousness. Of course, all of these sound collages will appeal to diehards, but, taken on an objective level, they are clearly useless. There are some cool themes explored, and the way the Indian sitar part, the medieval flute part and the church organ part flow into each other is ingenious, but on the whole they'd have done better to keep it off the album. Not to mention that there's nothing more corny than shouting trisyllabic and quadrisyllabic Latin words into the mike as if they were a magic incantation or something. I don't see how some people actually get their kicks out of this crap; being consistent, I dismiss it just like I previously dismissed every bit of Edge's poetry and their "metaphysical" activities. And the real songs? The real songs are another matter - they're mostly good. But don't you get me wrong: that's not a compliment. Like Children, the album is extremely even, with no truly high or low ('cept 'Procession', of course) points; but the overall quality of the songs is really just 'okay'. Reason? Why, lack of originality, of course! And lack of serious melodic and emotional hooks along the lines of their previous two releases. Let's take them track by track, and you'll see for yourself. Hayward's 'The Story In Your Eyes' is a good, thumping rocker with the old romantic blazing on his electric - one more confirmation to my hypothesis that he'd completely metamorphosed into a would-be boogie-woogie chanter by that time. But... the song doesn't have anything to add to 'Gypsy' or 'Question': it's taken at the same tempo and doesn't have any distinguished vocal hooks. Who needs it? Not on my desert island, at least. And his second contribution, the ballad 'You Can Never Go Home', is simply insipid: just as 'Story' is slightly better than anything else on here, so 'You Can...' is slightly worse than everything else. Where are these charming vocals? Hidden deep in the mix and behind backing vocals. Dumb. Thomas' songs are even more generic. 'Our Guessing Game'? A rip-off of 'The Tide Rushes In': same quiet, light melody, 'shaking' vocals and overall feel, except that the vocals are actually hidden in the mix and are never as obviously clear and expressive as on 'Tide'. 'Nice To Be Here'? A rip-off of both 'Dr. Livingstone I Presume' and 'Another Morning': yeah, I like his childish tunes and I'm not angry that he'd returned to that same style he hadn't exploited since 1968, but why re-write them and pretend it's a different song? Stupid. Lodge gets in 'Emily's Song', a very pretty, though totally unsubstantial, ditty, and 'One More Time To Live', which begins as a beautiful guitar ballad (very Beatlish, in fact), but quickly degenerates into a puffed-up conceptual chant, reprised from 'Procession'. Cut that crap out and you'll get yourself the best song on the album. As it is - no such honour. Edge contributes 'After You Came' (the old boy has finally begun to stick to regular songs instead of banal poetic excourses), and it's also 'okay': worse than 'Don't You Feel Small', in fact. And Pinder's 'My Song' suffers from the same thing as 'One More Time To Live': that is, beginning as a simple, but pretty 'pastoral' tune and transforming itself into uninspired noise-makings in the middle. Poof! I like the main melody because it's taken in the same style as 'Melancholy Man', with obvious French influences, but the middle part tries way too hard to recreate the atmosphere of "Voyage", and I never was a fan in the first place. In all, this is pretty mellow. Not being a Moodies diehard, I'll probably not be putting it on for a very long time now - why should I, when there's To Our Children's Children's Children lying right beside it? But if you are a diehard, this is an absolute must. At least they rarely embarrass themselves on here. Fine. The 7 is given in a good way. But could their next (and last for a long period) album be better? Ah well, that's a rhetoric kind of question. Well, you'll learn the answer right after you scan through the readers' comments where they all disagree with each other about what constitutes the crappy section and what constitutes the brilliant section on EGBDF. How can one decide, anyway? These songs are all alike. Go see my intro paragraph for that one.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972Record rating = 8
Unfortunately, this album doesn't sound as fresh after the previous six ones... eh, well, the previous didn't sound as fresh as the previous five ones, either.Best song: NEW HORIZONS
Track listing: 1) Lost In A Lost World; 2) New Horizons; 3) For My Lady; 4) Isn't Life Strange; 5) You And Me; 6) The Land Of Make-Believe; 7) When You're A Free Man; 8) I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band).
Hey now, I've just visited the Rolling Stone Guide page to see what these guys think of the Moodies, and now I'm really at a loss for words. You know, I'm not the greatest Moodies fan in the world, but to put them down like they did, wow... if the RS Guide had the ultimate word in this world of ours, the band would probably never be let in a recording studio again, and its shows confined to local barrooms and bordellos. What's even more interesting is that they level them with the ground on the grounds that they were much too artsy and pretentious, with their albums always following the same scheme. So what, I say? You know, I already got sick of the word 'pretentious' when applied to rock bands. Who the hell decided what is pretentious and what isn't? And, first of all, why can't an artist be pretentious when he wants to? Art always was pretentious, all genres of it. If the Rolling Stone Guide thinks pretentious artists shouldn't exist, we should burn the books of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski and Camus; rip apart ninety-nine percent of Renaissance pictures; and finally, discard classical music as a genre, because it's pretentious almost by definition. Why do we let other people be pretentious and deny the honour to rock musicians?It's not that anybody can really 'get pretentious'. Anybody can try and make an overblown conceptual album, of course. The question is whether the pretentiousness gets justified or not. And this is where the personal factor sets in. Close To The Edge, for example, isn't justified for me: not only doesn't it have any sense at all, but it's also dull and lengthy, with robotic singing and multiple unnecessary instrumental passages. However, I do admit it might mean a lot to other people. Tarkus is justified, not because it has any sense (it hasn't), but because it's built in an extremely intriguing way, with lots of hooks to hold your attention (and hoopla! don't forget the singing!) The Moody Blues' records are justified, because there's simply a lot of catchy, harmonic, pleasant ditties to be found in the catalogue. If the RS Guide limited itself to criticizing the band's specific flaws, which it certainly does have - Edge's banal poetry, for instance, or the Hollywood orchestration of Days, or, at least, their striking uniformity and the fact that they ran out of truly creative and innovative ideas by, er, 1968 - I would understand it. As it is, I'm pretty much sure the morons who write this stuff never even listened to the records in the first place: they probably got the order from somewhere above. I mean, it's fashionable to praise the Sex Pistols for saving rock'n'roll and condemning the Moody Blues for attempting to destroy it, isn't it? Well, forget that. Not on my site. The Moodies, 'banal' and 'pretentious' as they were, were still a ten thousand times better than the Pistols. And as for the RS Guide - well, it can simply go to hell with all their stars (not that the Moodies have gotten much of 'em). One more last thing before I stop my digressing: they say that nobody could 'parlay nonsense' as well as the Moodies. Speak for yourself! Apparently, they mistook Hayward for Jon Anderson. Anyway, what have I got to do with RS? They don't even have Ten Years After listed in their pages! THE BASTARDS!!! All right, so I was going to speak of Seventh Sojourn, the last of the seven classic Moodies' albums. Well, regardless of what I just said, this just isn't an exceptionally good album - even if it's a relative improvement over the complete stalemate of EGBDF. There's totally nothing offensive about it, but it finds them still exploring the same themes and recycling the same melodies as ever. If you adore their previous efforts, you're sure to like this. If you liked their previous efforts mostly for being so unique, you're sure to get bored. It took me a lot of listens to appreciate most of the material on here, and I'm still not too excited. There can be no doubt that by 1972 the band was completely exhausted, creatively, physically, in every possible way, whether the reason be incessant touring or just, well, having to see each other's mugs most of the day (personally, I know I'd be really pissed off if I had to contemplate Lodge's slick physionomy every forkin' day of my life. But that is, of course, a matter of pure personal taste). And the album looks, smells, feels and sounds like it, starting from the grim, shabby album cover and ending with the title (Seventh Sojourn? Are they just getting bored? 'Hey, it's the seventh time already...'). Of course, the songs are as melancholic as possible, with only Mr Thomas and occasionally Mr Hayward cheering us up for a little while; and thus, the depression factor sinks in. That said, depression sure can be a good thing, because in the Moodies case, it provides loads of wonderful atmosphere that you can't get in any other case. While only about a third of these songs have really strong, solid melodical hooks, even those that don't have any still have a strange way of getting under your skin and unsettling a couple of very delicate nerves. Takes time to appreciate it, though. Anyway, on the plus side ( = 'when it comes to praising a truly creative melody'), Hayward's ballad 'New Horizons', dedicated to his parents, is God-like, with a brilliant refrain that almost recaptures his early 1967-like singing style. It sure sounds a bit too radio-friendly, but thankfully, I don't hear it on the radio all that much; here, in the context of all those other ballads, it's placed perfectly. Thomas' 'For My Lady', delivered in his usual sentimental shaking tone, tries to be a lush medieval ballad, and even though he overdoes the trick a little, with all the orchestration and sweetness and suchlike, it's still very nice - another big success for him along the lines of 'And The Tide Rushes In'. And Lodge's two contributions are both attractive - the bombastic 'Isn't Life Strange' shows us that he's still got some cards up his sleeve (again, I don't think I ever heard such magnificent choruses since Days or, at least, since Children), and the closing rocker 'I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock'n'Roll Band)' sounds exactly like the kind of fast Europop rocker ABBA would be a-doin' in three or four years' time (yup, substitute 'em Moodies with the girls and you got yourself a fine tune for inclusion on The Album or wherever). If you think that's a sneer, go your own way. Me, I like ABBA a lot, so I suppose it's a compliment. Plus, it's the only (good) rocker on the entire album, and so leaves you without any competition. It's quite telling, actually, that their last record in five years was to end with a 'proto-disco' rocker, heralding the Moodies' ambivalent 'rebirth' as Eighties 'pop stars'... On the minus side, melody-wise Pinder falls face flat down: 'Lost In A New World' and 'When You're A Free Man' are melancholic monsters, once again supporting my suspicion he's been listening to a lot of French chansoniers lately (this influence first became evident on 'Melancholy Man' two years ago). But he pulls 'em off if only by the power of his weary, yet strong and convincing voice - the line 'when you're a free man... again' has ultimately won over my heart. The man is a real miracle when it comes to showing the world how deep is your despair and cynicism. That leaves only two songs that I don't appreciate at all - yup, once again the Moodies have only contributed eight of their compositions, extending them beyond measure and necessity. One is Ray Thomas' rocker 'You And Me': rather catchy on the skin-deep level, but totally undistinguishable, a bleak copy of stuff they'd been endlessly perfecting everywhere else ('Story In Your Eyes', 'Ride My See-Saw', etc., etc.). The other is Hayward's second contribution, 'The Land Of Make-Believe', which painfully reminds me (after the wonderful 'New Horizons') why I never liked a lot of his contributions in the first place: when his vocals aren't in full force, they are simply incompetent. People often wonder why they had to disband, being at their commercial peak and all, but to me it's no serious question. Listen to all of their albums in chronological order and you'll see they just had nowhere to go. For five years they'd already been remaking the same album over and over again, and Seventh Sojourn steps out of the formula only because it has no clear concept and isn't introduced by some stupid Edge composition. That doesn't help much, though. There's not even a tiny attempt present to diversify the sound or the 'vibe'. Maybe they were afraid their fans would betray them if they recorded something else instead of endless clones of 'Nights In White Satin' or 'Dr. Livingstone I Presume', but I fear they just couldn't do anything else. The guys were certainly wise enough not to remake the record again. Artistically they were at a dead end. They had to wait and see, to get back in touch with life and come back in the Eighties with a new type of sound... not that all Moodies' fans like that new sound a lot... And Seventh Sojourn? I originally gave it a seven, but I still like it a bit more than that, and mainly because Pinder's songs finally broke through to me, I up it to an eight. Whatever, guys. No problem.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978Record rating = 6
Tasteless moody pop with barely enough ideas and 'charm' to make it listenable.Best song: SURVIVAL
Track listing: 1) Steppin' In A Slide Zone; 2) Under Moonshine; 3) Had To Fall In Love; 4) I'll Be Level With You; 5) Driftwood; 6) Top Rank Suite; 7) I'm Your Man; 8) Survival; 9) One Step Into The Light; 10) The Day We Meet Again.
You know, I find it very hard to prattle about pop music. The thing is, nobody knows exactly what is good pop music and what isn't. Everybody knows that there is good pop music and there is bad pop music, but the number of opinions on that point coincides with the number of people that have 'em at all. Even if we exclude those that think the Spice Girls are good pop music from the number of 'people with some kind of taste', that still leaves quite a lot of pain in the ass to sort it out. One good man thinks well of all 'classic' pop; another good man thinks well of the Beatles and the Beach Boys and puts down Fleetwood Mac as 'pap'; yet another gentleman praises Fleetwood Mac and says 'this is so much better than ABBA'; and the next reverend person objects, 'hey, I love ABBA! Now the Carpenters..', and so on and on, ad infinitum. Where does that borderline lie that separates Pop from Pablum? Takes a really wise long-bearded person to find out, or else just takes time. Time, as the only judge respected by everybody, will sort it out. Currently time has upheld my idea about ABBA being much better than everybody thinks they were and ground to dust former hip stars like Pat Boone or Frankie Avallon. But who knows, that might yet change in a million years...Now why am I holding this rant'n'rave? Just for the reason, see, that in my humble opinion the Moodies are walking a very dangerous plank on this album. While their 'classic seven' have always been seemingly above 'pablum' due to super-slick mega-professional archi-bombast, phenomenal singing talents and clever, well conceived conceptual lyrics, there is too much left to be desired about their 'reunion' album. Namely, none of the factors listed above are present here. These ten numbers are just a collection of average pop and clumsy rock songs that could never hope to gain an equal status with the early stuff, let alone overshadow it (even if the album is called Octave as if the six-year breakup was just a little pause in recording). Some of them are nice, but it's a clear loss of face, and only a diehard fan would argue about that. Now what about the entertainment value? Well, it's uncertain. There are a couple beautiful ballads on the album that might call for careful listening: Lodge's 'Survival' is maybe the closest thing to a 'classic' number because of the raising chorus, gentle and heart-warming beyond belief, and Hayward's 'Driftwood' is emotionally high as well - but where's that angelic voice we know and like? Forget it. If you were expecting these guys to be able to rise to the former heights of, say, 'Gypsy', or 'Nights In White Satin', just forget it. The rest, unfortunately, ranges from solid background music to passable soundtrack music to terrible bullshit crap. Hayward's ballads mostly fall into the first category: 'Had To Fall In Love' and 'The Day We Meet Again' give me the impression that he's been listening to quite a lot of French chansons recently because some moments sound exactly like Charles Aznavour or the like. Good, solid love songs with very little to get truly excited about if you're not ready to get excited just about anything; too 'artificially beautiful' for me, utilizing pretty harmonies, lush synth backgrounds and echoey guitar solos to a pretty generic effect. And the ridiculous 'Top Rank Suite' is at least driving: I'm particularly impressed with the guitar sound on that pseudo-boogie song, but the saxes are quite fine too, and it might be the only genuine lounge anthem they ever performed. Finally, Lodge's 'Steppin' In A Slide Zone' takes off where 'I'm Just A Singer' has left: a fast Europop rocker much more suitable for ABBA than the Moody Blues. It ain't a real rocker, of course, but who cares? It's listenable. However, Ray Thomas has unquestionably crossed the plank, with 'Under Moonshine' and 'I'm Your Man' sounding like a deaf man's parody on 'For My Lady' (disgusting, bland, banal sap with not a single attempt at true creativity), and Edge hits a new low with the murky 'I'll Be Level With You', another stupid Europop rocker that successfully shatters his reputation as a potential songwriter. 'I'll be level with you... if you want me to', I want to add always remembering the Beatles' 'Love You To'. What a great song that was. What a piece of shit this one is. Finally, Pinder's 'One Step Into The Light' is just boring - a lengthy, noodling shuffle with nothing to recommend it except for maybe the almost self-parodying lyrics ('cosmic circles ever turning?' Dude!). Yeah, I know Mike had always been the cosmically conscious one, but that's taking cosmic conscience a bit farther than necessary. Give it up, Mike. (And he did). And the sound? What about these quirky Mellotrons and flutes and stuff? Nope. The sound is mostly synth based, with guitars hidden deep beneath (the only time that a guitar really steps out is in 'Top Rank Suite'). No flutes, no cowbells, no mandolins (okay, I know they never or almost never played mandolins, but wouldn't it be nice to have a good mandolin in the middle of 'Had To Fall In Love' so that it could somehow stand out?), just your average mid-Seventies pop production values. And you call this a reunion? Hah! Mike Pinder was the only sensible person in the band, because he left right after the album's release in order to avoid touring it. A good thing for him and a bad thing for the band because it had to recruit Patrick Moraz instead. Of course, they could have broken up right there, without further thinking, but then we wouldn't have 'Gemini Dream'! And just think about the happy fans! Keep it up, Justin and company! Oh and, by the way, despite all the complaints, the album is not THAT bad - at least, not as awful as some fans often describe it. Without the hideous Thomas contributions, it would actually garner a strong overall ten: there's nothing particularly offensive about all these songs, they're rather well-written, they just lack any kind of spark. The magic is gone. Together with the Mellotron and the angelic voice of Hayward.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1981Record rating = 7
The first glossy, clean and totally artificial 'Newdy Blues' product: eatable, but verrry second-rate.Best song: THE VOICE
Track listing: 1) The Voice; 2) Talking Out Of Turn; 3) Gemini Dream; 4) In My World; 5) Meanwhile; 6) 22,000 Days; 7) Nervous; 8) Painted Smile; 9) Reflective Smile; 10) Veteran Cosmic Rocker.
So Mike Pinder is gone and they replaced him with Moraz. Big deal, you say. Nope, the deal is actually quite big. This album is certainly far less horrendous than Octave: the boys have embarked on one more journey for catchy hooks, truly emotional singing and memorable melodies, and they don't fall into self-parody like they did on some of Ray Thomas' numbers three years earlier. But there's a much more serious problem waiting in the closet: where Octave managed to preserve at least a few shreds of the 'classic' sound, like on 'Survival', Long Distance Voyager presents the band as a Mainstream Eighties Keyboard Pop Band, and only their undisputable talent helps them somehow stand out from among other representatives of this genre - one of the most miserable genres of all time, along with hair metal and technopop. In other words, Octave inspires remarks like: 'Hey! They used to be the Moody Blues, didn't they?', while Voyager mostly makes me scream 'Get me the hell out of here! Carry me back, ten years before this tripe!'I even thought of giving this version of a band a lower overall rating - at the most, a two; but, after all, it ain't fair, because the gents are still the same, and let's face it, Justin and John are still capable of writing good melodies. So for lack of better offerings, let us just content ourselves by saying that repeated listenings bring out some hidden potential. You see, none of these songs are bad in the 'where's the toilet?' sense; it's just that I feel kinda shy and confused about admitting I kinda like some of the stuff on here. Much too often, for instance, it sounds exactly like ABBA: the 'rocker' 'Gemini Dream', for instance, borrows the melody off ABBA's disco excourse 'As Good As New', while the chorus sounds suspiciously close to their last single 'Under Attack' (okay, I know 'Under Attack' came out a year later, but is this a coincidence? Hell no!) It's stupid, but it's also catchy, and, while it's at least a couple of heads below the 'classic' level, it's still danceable and enjoyable. Still, rejoice: 'Gemini Dream' is the only "blatant" Eighties tribute on this album; the rest of the songs, tacky as they might be, still have acoustic guitars a-plenty and luvvable harmonies just like... well, not just like you used to love them, but real real close. Anyway, don't you know what this kind of "usual stuff" is, if it's the Moodies we're babbling on? Slow, synthy ballads, some of them moving, some not. Among the moving ones I'd probably list... let's see, first of all there's 'Nervous', a beautiful, utterly beautiful Lodge ditty about feeling bad... then there's 'Talking Out Of Turn' that goes on for seven minutes but produces the effect of a four minute song... it's still memorable and cute... the vocals sound muffled but what the hell if the melody is good and the hook is firmly in its place... yup. Funny how it begins with a little synth line that's almost borrowed from the segment that closes ELP's 'Karn Evil 9' and thus becomes one of the most deceptive intros to a Moody Blues song. Hayward's 'In My World', though, is a stately bore - no hooks. Again, atmosphere and all. Take this song to Mr Hitmaker and make it good, I don't need it as such. Lots of people like this one, but in this case, seven minutes are a joke - it seems that they just forgot to turn off the recording equipment and just kept rolling on and on with that adult contemporary pap. Me, I sure don't listen to the Moodies for atmosphere. For atmosphere, I listen to Brian Eno. If a Moody Blues song hasn't got a decent hook, it's like it never existed for me. Way to go - I just laid bare my main criterion for rating Moody Blues works. NOW MY REVIEWS WILL BE COMPLETELY PREDICTABLE AND BORING. Don't say I didn't warn ye. Oh, and Thomas hits one more LOW point with 'Painted Smile': funny, I can almost see him trying to recapture that old grandiose style he used to pull off so well and failing, failing with this pedestrian 'waltz'. Hrr-hmm, now there are the rockers, I guess I'd better tell you about the rockers. Edge's '22,000 Days'... wait, I can't tell you anything about that one. Every time I put on this record, it manages to escape me and fly out the window - even though I had quite a few listens. Beh. I don't suppose it's a good song, after all. I only remember it had martial rhythms in it - suitable enough for the old drummer boy. 'Gemini Dream' I already told you about: good, but low-range. 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker' is the kind of song one should be shot for: the verses sound like a popmeister's take on Jefferson Airplane's 'Plastic Fantastic Lover', while the synth jam in the middle is purely detestable. Pity, I really think Thomas is the second best singer in the band after Hayward, and what kind of material does he pen for his voice? Somebody disteach him how to write! Actually, the best song on the album is Hayward's 'The Voice', the 'rocker' that opens it all (I hope you don't mind my putting the word 'rocker' in quotes all the time, no? They're not really rockers, see? They're really pop songs speeded up and set to a good beat, 's all. The Moody Blues never made a single real rocker in their life, at least not in the Hayward/Lodge days). I just think that it has the greatest melody on the album, and Hayward shines as a vocalist again, although his voice is certainly giving way already. More proof that he was better at fast songs than slow ones at the time. In all, if you've collected all the 'classic seven' Moody Blues albums and wonder if you should pursue their career further, let me just warn you: be careful. Set your expectations low. Don't expect any broken ground. Listen to ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' on the radio and convince yourself it's a good one (it is, by the way). Find Long Distance Voyager for one dollar. Wait until you're alone. Take the CD off the deck before 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker'. And, God help us, you might even be turned on to the Moodies' Eighties output. PS. Okay, repeated repeated repeated listenings do tell me that 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker' ain't as abysmal as I thought it to be earlier. Supposedly it's "intentionally cheesy", or whatever we like to call songs that we know are objectively bad but we still like them so we find interesting ways to cover our asses. Hey, I do it all the time - and you probably do, too. Anyway, the album does deserve a seven, believe it or not.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1983Record rating = 8
Quite glossy, too, but at least the main accent here is on songwriting, not 'fitting in with the times'.Best song: BLUE WORLD
Track listing: 1) Blue World; 2) Meet Me Halfway; 3) Sitting At The Wheel; 4) Going Nowhere; 5) Hole In The World; 6) Under My Feet; 7) It's Cold Outside Of Your Heart; 8) Running Water; 9) I Am; 10) Sorry.
Amazingly, this one's even better - I give it an eight with no remorse at all. And why? Because it has such a cool album cover! Ooh, verrry sexy in that romantic old Greek style, although the album's title hardly fits in with the artwork. I realize I could possibly finish the review right here, but as a bonus to the artwork comes a set of ten crappy wastes of tape that somehow seem to demand much more of the buyer's attention than the artwork, so with a deep sigh I'll probably need to set out reviewing the Pop Stinkers of the Eighties Moody Schlock. Again.No, not again. Apparently, I was pulling your leg a little, because these songs are mostly good. Perhaps the best thing about this whole deal is that the record ain't so much production-oriented as before. Yeah, it's still bogged down with hi-tech synths (Captain Moraz goes marauding again), electronically enhanced drums and all that shit, but the keyboards are NOWHERE near as prominent as last time around - Present is quite guitar-oriented, in fact. Electric, acoustic, you name it - this is perhaps your best bet for checking out the Moodies' post-classic guitar work. And some of the songs are fabulous, let me make a statement here. They do not try to rock out - at all, except for the somewhat stupidly sounding 'Sitting At The Wheel', where John Lodge gives his best Bjorn Ulvaeus impersonation (no kidding): the song is so ridiculously 'pop', so hilariously silly and so idiotically catchy that I can't but congratulate the boys at their best attempt at making complete fools of themselves. That's actually taken in the good sense of the word, so no need to bother. Plus, it boasts a totally devastating guitar solo in the end, so what else do you need? I only occasionally cringe at Mr Lodge roaring out "rock and rooooll!" in between the lines of the chorus, because this is as far from true rock'n'roll as can possibly be. Elsewhere, the album is chockful of beautiful, haunting ballads. Well, not 'chockful'. Forget 'chockful'. As a matter of fact, there are two of them (which is still 'chockfull' for an Eighties' album). The album opener, 'Blue World', is great, great, great... the vocal melody, the one that presents Justin Hayward in a state of utter despair and pessimism, still stands as one of their best. Initially I was kinda afraid that the bouncy, synth-treated disco bassline that holds up this song woul spoil all the fun, but in the end it emerged as one of the number's better attractions. And what better way to follow it than with the pretty, gentle 'Meet Me Halfway' that, while not having anything particularly attractive about it, like an especially beautiful 'ah-ah' or something (although I do love the romantic way Hayward twists the word 'halfway'), simply boasts a moderate, but impeccable amount of everything - from the guitar melody to the vocal harmonies? Super duper, man! It does get a bit boring as it progresses, though. And, while Hayward is incredibly in his best possible form throughout, I can't but regret the inevitable: his gradual loss of vocal power. I made the mistake of first listening to 'Running Water' in headphones, with the volume turned up loud, and it's a number where he sings almost accappella - a big, big mistake. The song could be as outstanding as the previously mentioned two; but what I don't understand is why the band didn't give it a bit more orchestration, to conceal Justin's fading voice. He just can't hold these high notes fine enough any more - his poor voice trembles, shakes and quivers, almost dissipating into an old man's whisper at the final notes of the chorus. If you do not listen that carefully, you'll still get your necessary dose of catharsis; but for me, this first listen spoiled all the following enjoyment. I am now looking for a superb cover version by some fine-voiced white male. Directions, anybody? To compensate the sad loss, Graeme Edge tosses in yet another superb number - 'Going Nowhere' may reek a trifle of banality, especially lyricswise, but you can't deny the melody. Lodge's 'Under My Feet' is forgettable, but the introduction to it, the instrumental 'Hole In The World', has some fine guitar as well - fine guitar that makes me cry. Sometimes. Sometimes, in fact, when I don't get distracted by the out of place war march drums. Ray Thomas is quite the opposite - the short intro 'I Am' sucks (how can a 'song' with lyrics like 'Yes I am - beautify earth and scream I AM' be good?), and the long one, 'Sorry', is quite fine. A bit messy, perhaps, but fine. It's a bit fishy, though, that they only let Ray share one real song on the album - was he too washed up to come up with more? Hmm. I'm re-reading this now and I realize I've been a little bit crabby about an album that certainly deserves an eight. But never mind! Eighties' Moody Blues albums deserve to get crabby about. The melodies are still mostly okay, but the production, the voices, sometimes, the instrumentation... well, you know what I mean. This is certainly not stuff for the unprepared - you have to shell these melodies out of the dreck they're all clammed into. In another age Present could probably stand up as proudly as Days Of Future Passed. In this age, it also proudly stands up... as proudly as Long Distance Voyager. Hmm. Once again, this didn't make much sense. But at least the artwork is great! Tell me who painted it if you happen to know, woncha?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1986Record rating = 6
Are there any acoustic demos of this stuff? Chalk me up for the "Other Side Of This Life Sessions" boxset when it comes out.Best song: YOUR WILDEST DREAMS
Track listing: 1) Your Wildest Dreams; 2) Talkin' Talkin'; 3) Rock'n'Roll Over You; 4) I Just Don't Care; 5) Running Out Of Love; 6) The Other Side Of Life; 7) The Spirit; 8) Slings And Arrows; 9) It May Be A Fire.
In 1986, bands with a 20-year work stage - like the Moody Blues - should have taken a hint and gone in for a long, long period of hibernation. After all, they probably had enough fat stuffed in their paws to last the long winter of cheesy third-hand synth pop. Alas, nobody had the chance to offer them a time machine at the time, rendering it impossible for them to take a short trip into the nearest future - "other side of life" indeed - and see the many odd and unpredictable ways of lambasting that people have invented since then for this kind of dated, ridiculous shit. The best I can say is thank God at least Justin Hayward, much to his credit, never considered raising his hair five feet high - of the five dated, ridiculous dudes on the back cover, he alone looks like a perfectly normal guest cameo in Sex And The City. The rest... never mind, it's 1986, it's pretty much obvious, you may finish it up for me.History, as seen from today's viewpoint, has so far confronted us with three major questions: a) who's afraid of Virginia Wolf, b) who framed Roger Rabbit, and c) who the fuck snubbed Ray Thomas. The respectable gentleman and his moustache do occupy a certain position on the already mentioned back cover, but the respectable gentleman's voice as well as preferred instrument (flute) are nowhere to be found, nor does he get any songwriting credits. The traditional answer is that the record company opted for a marketing strategy that would fully concentrate on Lodge and Hayward as the two most likely candidates to make little Eighties' girls reach pubescence before prescripted time, and somehow words like "beautify earth and scream I AM" never tied in all that well with that strategy. There was probably no way to make the man shave his moustache, either. So he was kept along as nostalgic baggage - but I suppose that he didn't mind too much as long as he got something out of the deal, because otherwise there'd be little reason for his staying in the first place. With the band's creative flame thus successfully spat upon, the powers-that-be proceeded to mold the Moody Blues into a romantic synth pop outfit. Not a "New Romantic" outfit, mind you: this is not a Duran Duran type of image we're talking here, this is something far more cheesy and offensively straightforward. In the age of epic hedonism, the Moody Blues had to personify it, which meant sappy ballads (courtesy of Justin The Sweet) and audacious ballsy rockers (courtesy of John The Rough Guy). Both genres had to feature as many keyboards as possible to cram inside a computer program in the age of nascent technologies, and by "keyboards" I, of course, mean "drums", meaning that everybody's favourite poet probably never used a real drumstick during the recordings. The supreme ironic twist of it all is the choice of producer behind this mess: Tony Visconti. Yes, the Tony Visconti that is responsible for producing all those old classic records by artists ranging from T. Rex and David Bowie to Gentle Giant. Thus the most accursed year in the history of pop music ended up ruining the reputation of both the band and its producer. The funny thing is, I used to think that, unlike bands, producers were relatively free from that kind of corrosion, being much more conservative with their overall styles of work and all. With The Other Side Of Life, the last bits of my trust are thus scattered to the wind, once and for all. Now here's the stunningest revelation of them all: all the nine songs on this record are good. That is, they could be good, had they been recorded in a different age, with different arrangements, played with different instruments, sung with different voices, produced by a different producer, and preferably played by a different band. As it is, they're pretty bad. Repeated listens do help though, especially once you have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father, er, I mean, that there's nowhere to run from the synthesizers, virtual drums, and Patrick Moraz' haircut, and that the only thing that remains is to relax and enjoy the concept of this album rather than the album itself. I do like the three ballads. They're all quintessential Moody Blues material, semi-butchered by the production but still giving out serious signs of life through the iron lungs. 'Your Wildest Dreams' is the one acknowledged classic from the album, a big audio and video hit for the properly remarketed band - rather unfortunate, that, as it was probably the success of the song that convinced the record company that the Moody Blues should continue with the same image, which, in turn, led to Sur La Mer and everything that surrounded and followed it. But it's much more alive and humanistic than the ensuing cold cold heart of 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere (In Between All The Electron Activity)', helped out, among other things, by some niftily arranged vocal harmonies. It would really help if they brought Justin's voice out front, though - but in 1986, it wasn't very cool for a man not to sound like a robot. Not that you could effectively break dance to 'Your Wildest Dreams', though, which only makes the decision to tone down the singing even more ridiculous. The other two ballads are less upbeat, but the Moodies had been going at it too long to let them suck all at once. Justin's pool of talent is still deep enough to make the main vocal melody of 'I Just Don't Care' amazingly catchy; it sounds like an outtake from his Songwriter sessions - a good outtake - and his processed guitar solo has the advantage of merely replicating the vocals, which is always preferrable for guys who can't pull off a Hendrix or a Clapton. Again, it wouldn't have been noticeable on a better Moodies album, but out here, it's the only place where they actually let Justin Hayward prove to us that he is still Justin Hayward, not a faceless studio employee who could have easily replaced with Glenn Hughes with nobody noticing. As for Lodge, he's entrusted with penning the "grand finale", and I think he does the job well, coming up with 'It May Be A Fire', not an outstanding composition by any means, but decently playing the part of a grand finale. The rhythmics, vocalizing, and arrangement reek seriously of the Electric Light Orchestra circa a decade ago, and that's good; nobody does bombastic pop hooks better than Jeff Lynne, and if Lodge is not beyond taking lessons from the guy, more power to him. I actually like the lyrical twist in the song's chorus - 'it may be a fire, but you gotta get it into your heart' - it rises just a few steps above trite, and that's all that is needed for the anthemic mood to kick in. Well, that and the fine solo from Hayward (no longer replicating the vocal melody, but there's not that much to replicate this time in the first place). It's also the least technophile experience on the album. In any case, it's much better when Lodge imitates Jeff Lynne than when he imitates... never mind, I don't even remember the names of whoever they might be imitating here. I am not going to concentrate the fire on all the boppy synth-poppers on here; they're all way too similar and they all end up sounding like nursery rhymes disguised as cool rockers (occasional extra embarrassments include recognizing the riff of Marc Bolan's 'Bang A Gong' on 'Running Out Of Love' - hello, Tony Visconti?). Let me just stop for a moment on the band's biggest stunner up to date: 'Rock'n'Roll Over You'. Zing! The title alone opts for a guillotine. Zing! The actual lines go: "LIKE A ROCK I'M GONNA ROLL OVER YOU". Throw in a boiling cauldron. Lodge's vocals seem to come from the perspective of a freshly lobotomized kid (of the 'Igor, the fluid!' variety) who, for some reason, takes a subconscious liking to the Great Masters of Cock Rock. Add a few 14th century torture devices. But the most hideous thing of all is that it's actually a well-written song. So it probably took five minutes to write, but it's got strong, reliable hooks. The skeleton can stand on its own; it's the innards and the skin that have been completely irradiated. And why the stupid tape games at the end? "Ooh, we can make the recording stutter, this is so hip-hoppy of us!". The only song that stands out from the sonic muck of the "rough" material, in the end, is Justin's title track. Long, bluesy, repetitive, with a primitive backbeat and not enough lyrics to make up for two verses, it's still got some bleak personality of its own. But Justin overestimates its strength and tries to make a mindblowing seven-minute epic with an idea that's hardly worth more than a three-minute single, and is therefore forced to occupy a lot of space with boring guitar solos and pointless atmospheric synth passages. Mark Prindle's comparison of the tune with post-Waters Pink Floyd (which hadn't even begun) is right to the point, except that Gilmour and Wright were seasoned pros when it came to building up an ominous, apocalyptic atmosphere, whereas the Moodies were anything but. Still, decent song, nice enough ballads, the whole bunch. Heck, I don't even hate 'Rock'n'Roll Over You'. I almost end up getting a weird brand of kicks when it comes along - so utterly sub-moronic it gives me the giggles. After all, it's not like there's some kind of law that all rock veterans have to have released their worst album in 1986. Rod Stewart, for instance, released his two years in advance. And the Moodies, on the opposite, would have two more painful years to go before stagnation and disenchantment would totally kick in, with Lodge effectively dumping the songwriting skills in the toilet and Justin flushing them down the pipes. With an elegant flair.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1987Record rating = 8
A superb collection of rarities from the good old days. What more is there to say?Best song: ....... so it's a collection, after all.
Track listing: 1) Fly Me High; 2) I Really Haven't Got The Time; 3) Leave This Man Alone; 4) Love And Beauty; 5) Cities; 6) A Simple Game; 7) Gimme A Little Somethin'; 8) Please Think About It; 9) Long Summer Days; 10) King And Queen; 11) What Am I Doing Here; 12) Late Lament.
A strange one. Apparently, it isn't in print any more (not in the US, at least), and where the tracks from it have gone I don't know clearly. This one's more or less roughly divided into equal parts. The first one combines early singles' material from 1967 and 1968, with some songs originally released even before Days Of Future Passed and thus offering us a quick insight into the first days of the 'new look' Moodies with a freshly installed Justin Hayward and a freshly installed John Lodge. The second part consists of the famous '+5' bit of the Caught Live+5 album, originally issued in 1977 and presenting the public with a live Moodies recording plus five previously unreleased outtakes from the Children's Children session. The Caught Live album seemed to have gone out of print by the time of Prelude itself, so it seemed logical to preserve the 'plus five' bits for a bit longer. Where they can be found now, I don't know. Don't even ask me - and I hate it when a band gets its catalog all messed up, like this one, or like the Stones, or like... well, like almost anybody. Blame it on the record company, of course.In any case, this is quite a good one. The first six tracks, for instance, that come from the 'pre-glory' days, are simply excellent - and what's interesting, they confirm my idea that it is quite wrong to draw a definite line in between the Denny Laine Moodies and the Justin Hayward Moodies. 'Fly Me High', the number that opens the album, is a happy, simple pop ditty penned by Hayward that could have easily fit on their debut album - hey, it even rips off the Beatles: have you noticed that strange familiar piano riff that opens the song? It's the main riff of 'She's A Woman'! Ha! Not to mention Pinder's 'I Really Haven't Got The Time' - a jolly boogie-woogie tune that, it has to be believed, was recorded with the Hayward-Lodge lineup. If that's indeed so, this is a unique case in the 'new look' Moodies' history - the only boogie-woogie ditty they ever recorded. It's hilarious, by the way, and far from generic. Do not forget that out of the 'original' Moodies, Pinder was the most creative - and he proves it further with two of his best songs, the gorgeous 'Love And Beauty' and especially the 1968 B-side 'A Simple Game', a song that beats every single tune on In Search Of The Lost Chord to hell. It's one of these typical 'climactic' Moodies' numbers, when the song starts off quietly and unpretentiously, and then suddenly wheez! - and it turns into a swooping anthem with angelic backing vocals and a tremendous level of energy and emotion. But 'Love And Beauty' is good, too; the main melody is a little bit primitive, but a perfect example of 'moody blues'. Come to think of it, Pinder was indeed the soul of the Moodies - whatever some of the more diehard fans have against him and his childish tunes, the band was never the same without him, and if there is one member of the band who can proudly wear the badge with that name on his chest, it should be ol' Mike. And dig that chorus in 'Love And Beauty'! Admire its sharpness! Respect its wonderful construction! That's true creativity for you! Much better than two other contemporary Hayward rarities - which are quite good in any case. 'Leave This Man Alone' sounds a bit stupid to me, what with that incoherent guitar riff beating on your brains and the refrain going 'leave him, leave him, leave him, leave this man alone', but it's still exciting, and 'Cities' is one of their better mystical ventures of the period. Now, while I certainly like the 'plus five' bit on here a good deal less (yeah, so sue me), it's still worthy. Of course, it shares all the problems that outtakes usually share. The main problem, as you might have guessed, is that they're just outtakes, after all. And it's easy to see why a song like Pinder's 'Please Think About It' didn't make it onto TOCCC: dang, it's a dated R'n'B sendup! Apparently, while Mike was really the creative soul of the band in the early days, he became kinda, er... well, archaic later on. Even me, his best friend in the world, don't like it at all (and I'm the only person in this world who appreciates 'Melancholy Man'). Lodge's only contribution to this album is 'Gimme A Little Somethin'', an unspectacular, but very, very nice harmony showcase, and again, three of the 'plus five' songs are penned by Hayward. 'King And Queen' is the best on here, a pity that it didn't make it onto any of the regular albums: a shattering, ultra-romantic love ballad with a thoroughly memorable structure and clever hooks, like the breathtaking pleading intonation on the middle eight, of the type that they really only cared about on Days; 'Long Summer Days', for me, is quite forgettable and unoriginal, but the gloomy, mystical 'What Am I Doing Here', with its Eastern undertones combined with a nearly-requiem mood, makes a perfect ending for the album. Er... would make a perfect ending, if only these dumbasses in the record company hadn't decided to end it with an 'unabridged' version of Graeme Edge's crappy poetry piece from Days, proudly and pompously calling it 'Late Lament'. Well, everybody needs a spoonful of dirt now and then, so it seems. Me, I just shut off the CD before the old drummer gets on my nerves, so I don't pay that much attention to it. A fine, fine, fine rarities collection, but you won't find it, don't even try. Maybe in a couple hundred years, tho...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1988Record rating = 3
Atrocious. If you ever wanted to see a good band crash deep down into Eighties' production dung, this is the best choice.Best song: VINTAGE WINE
Track listing: 1) I Know You're Out There Somewhere; 2) Want To Be With You; 3) River Of Endless Love; 4) No More Lies; 5) Here Comes The Weekend; 6) Vintage Wine; 7) Breaking Point; 8) Miracle; 9) Love Is On The Run; 10) Deep.
I've been warned that this is bad; however, I really had no idea about how bad this could be until I actually picked it up and forced myself to listen to it (of course, I had to wait until I was alone in the apartment). This is indeed the lowest point in the Moodies' career, and something they ought to be ashamed of for the rest of their lives. Now, as far as I know, the boys themselves aren't to be blamed. It was the Eighties, see. They had a contract. They had to be marketed. They had to program everything and try to sound stylish and 'cool' (what a horrendous word when applied to the worst musical decade in history). Furthermore, this isn't a true Moody Blues album - at least, no more than Blue Jays is. All the songs are written exclusively by Hayward and Lodge, with the other two out of the studio. Who needs Graeme Edge's powerful drumming, after all, when you program every darn beat? And who needs that flaky dude, Ray Thomas? Rumours have it that he didn't even visit the studio during the recordings. Oh, sorry me; I forgot all about Patrick Moraz. Well, if it's him that's really responsible for all the vomit-inducing, gurgling synth noises on this record, I'll really have to believe in his 'demonic' function - as the Black Evil Being that picked up a good band and gradually turned it to shit. On the other hand, I think that Moraz or no Moraz, Sur La Mer couldn't have turned out otherwise. Beware of French titles, friends: as soon as a formerly respectable band comes up with some fishy LP sporting a romantic French title, it's bound to be crap (Renaissance's Azure D'Or is another obvious case).There are two statements I'd like to make about the material on here, above all. One: it is not true that this stuff is all faceless, melodyless crappy schlock. Well, maybe faceless - but certainly not melodyless. Most of these songs have melodies, and moreover, they're all fairly distinctive and even memorable. The other statement is less appealing, though: there ain't even a single good song here. With the possible exception of the pretty throwaway 'Vintage Wine' (which would have been judged as complete filler, were it met on any regular Moodies release, but here it's several heads taller than everything else), every number is built according to the principle: take a simple, okayish melody and screw it with tasteless, banal arrangements, teenybopper (or worse) lyrics and an unashamed pretentiousness like in the days of old, and watch people with good taste fill up the used bins. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if the Moodies were to perform this complete record unplugged, hell, even if they were to come up with this material twenty years ago, it would have worked all right. As it is - no. The result is that, at their best, they end up sounding like mediocre ABBA, while at their worst, they end up sounding like bad Modern Talking, which is really bad, I assure you. Lodge contributes two solo numbers - 'Love Is On The Run' is an unremarkable, forgettable ballad, but 'Here Comes The Weekend'? Ah, that one gotta rate as the most dreadful crap ever met on a Moody Blues record. Murky Eighties power-pop - this is a 'synth-rocker', in fact, and there can hardly be anything more disgusting. Aw Lord, was I ever right when I was having my doubts about 'I'm Just A Singer' and 'Sitting At The Wheel'. I mean, these are good songs, but deep inside them was lurking 'Here Comes The Weekend'. And now it has come out - like a pop Cerberus eating out your brains. Hayward, on the other hand, has four solo numbers: 'Vintage Wine' is one of them, and, like I said, it's indeed pretty, though rather pedestrian. 'No More Lies' is marred by rather dorky love lyrics ('I need you like you need me/Truly and completely' - Justin, Justin! Truly and completely!), but holds up somehow, over a thread of melody; not so with 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere', a muddy Eurodisco popper with nothing, not even an ounce of creativity, to redeem it. Okay, I mean it has got a melody, too, but it's hidden deep beneath the synths and the drum machines and the slick production that makes the song fit for a night club but unfit for my CD player. And 'Deep'? Come on, 'Deep'? 'Deep'? What the shite is that? Seven minutes of robotic drum machines over which Justin keeps on wishing to go deep? (And deep, and deep, and deep... get the drift?) Moreover, after he'd only sung two verses, you have to sit through a bunch of 'creative' noises (selected bass grunts, Moraz shufflings and 'variations' on the theme of Drum Machines), probably emulating the procedure of Hayward going deep, and... aww. It's about sex, you know. Fairly unimpressive. On several numbers, John and Justin collaborate, as usual, but this one's an obvious case where one plus one equals zero. 'River Of Endless Love' and 'Breaking Point' are hardly any better than 'Here Comes The Weekend': awful beyond words. Excuse me, but my heart is too weak - if I keep on rambling about this stuff, I'll probably end up in a hospital and you won't be able to get any new updates for half a year. So I'll switch gears and say that 'Want To Be With You' is okay, a gentle, relatively stripped-down tune with at least half a sip of freshness. Together with 'Vintage Wine' and 'No More Lies', if you disregard its lyrics, this song barely earns the record its rating of three out of ten. Now pardon me, I'm gonna go listen to ABBA's Voulez-Vous right now - what a perfect moment to emphasize that album's importance and genius. Oh my Lord, I have just noticed that it also sports a French title... bummer.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1991Record rating = 5
No longer fostered by the Draconic Laws of Eighties' production; rather suffering from a lack of self-generated ideas.Best song: SAY IT WITH LOVE
Track listing: 1) Say It With Love; 2) Bless The Wings (That Bring You Back); 3) Is This Heaven?; 4) Say What You Mean (parts 1 & 2); 5) Lean On Me (Tonight); 6) Hope And Pray; 7) Shadows On The Wall; 8) Once Is Enough; 9) Celtic Sonant; 10) Magic; 11) Never Blame The Rainbows For The Rain.
I don't particularly agree with the All-Music Guide when it only gives this record one star out of five, but I fully understand their position. It's not even that it's really hard to get into it or something: most of the melodies, textures and ideas are absolutely transparent at the very first listen. It's just that everything depends on your predisposition. It's easy to totally dis every single one of these eleven tunes, just like I dissed most of Sur La Mer: nearly everything here is completely predictable, sometimes exciting, sometimes dull, but rarely raising above 'mediocre'. You have to be in an initially good state of mind to enjoy Keys, and get rid of each and every bias towards generic eighties/early nineties pop. In which case, the record will at least turn out to be not completely hopeless.There were huge changes made in between it and the last album, though. The band sacked Patrick Moraz - he had the nerve to complain about their sound being stale and conservative, and the Hayward-Lodge combo didn't really appreciate. Funny, I have always considered Moraz to be one of the ugliest factors in Eighties' Moody Blues... maybe it's just his ugly mug, though. Anyway, the record certainly breathes - in places. It's nowhere near as slick and robotically impenetrable as Sur La Mer, and THERE ARE EVEN REAL DRUMS ON ONE OF THE TRACKS! Now that's what I call 'progress', heh heh. (We won't pay attention to the fact that the track in question is one of the worst songs on the album). And it also marks the return of Ray Thomas, even if for only one song (he did collaborate with Justin on the album closer, though). The bad thing is that now that they don't clad everything in the chrome-smelly clothes of hi-tech production, the main weaknesses come out on the surface - and what are these weaknesses? Why, the guys can't really write enough good songs! Hayward, in particular, hugely disappoints me here, although I can't say that Lodge strikes me with his genius either. The most curious thing about the record, though, which struck me as a lightning on second listen, is the sequencing of good/bad songs. Now I know that such kinds of opinions are often subjective and debatable, but believe me, I ain't making this up. For me, the album follows a rigid pattern: good song/bad song/good song/bad song and so on, right to the very end. Of course, both 'good' and 'bad' songs may differ in quality themselves, but essentially the rule knows no exceptions. Let me just show you and maybe convince you... man, it's groovy, it's the first album I ever heard in my life (I think) to feature such a strict sequencing. We open with a good song - Hayward's upbeat, catchy, and very energizing 'Say It With Love'. It's my favourite on the record, and certainly Justin's major tour de force in this period. We follow it with a bad song - I mean, 'Bless The Wings' ain't particularly offensive, but it sounds horrendously generic, with loads of these 'heavenly synths' that are able to turn the best song in the world into crap, and the melody makes it fit for a Phil Collins solo record. Easily. A good song comes next: the two Big Boys present us with a lovely acoustic pastiche, 'Is This Heaven?', whose cutesy little bassline sounds very sixties-ish and which also has a groovy tap dance in the middle. But don't hold your breath! They follow it with a horrendous song - the Europop stylization 'Say What You Mean', which is nearly as bad as that 'Here Comes The Weekend' crap on the last album. The horror lies in that it was actually written by Hayward, not the traditional 'false-rocker' Lodge. Eww, what a trashy idea, to pump out corny, uninspired synth-pop and try to pass it for 'rock'. 'Say what you mean, mean what you say'. Seems to me that the guys didn't really follow their own advice. Okay, not all is lost; the horror of this song fades away, making way for the pretty, although passable, ballad 'Lean On Me (Tonight)'. Lodge tries to make it as pompous as possible with real orchestration and classical stylizations, and sometimes I'm even impressed. Rarely, but sometimes. It actually paves the way to his superior stuff on Strange Times and, IMHO, marks the final transition of John: the lameass 'rocker' is now a subtle, expert ballad writer. Which can't really be said about Justin: the next song, 'Hope And Pray', is just as insipid and utterly forgettable as 'Bless The Wings'. He goes for something vaguely David Bowie-style on this track, I'm not sure why, by setting some pretentious and universalist lyrics to a snappy modern beat, but he's no Bowie, and the effort is wasted. Skip it and concentrate on 'Shadows On The Wall' - yet another potentially gorgeous Lodge ballad. Aye, the melody isn't catchy or particularly emotional at all, but at least there's the mood, not just a pointless 'hip' beat or anything. And that refrain about 'chasing shadows on the wall' somehow imprints itself in your mind if you allow it to, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. What was that? A good song? Okay, next comes the 'bad' song: another totally shitty 'rocker'. Somehow, these opening boogie chords predicted me no good, and I was right. Hayward has the audacity to combine a well-used R'n'B melody (see Paul McCartney's 'Rough Ride', for instance), with an annoying, irritating disco refrain and totally idiotic lyrics ('once is enough, just ask me once'? Eh? I would personally think before asking even once). Thankfully, it goes away pretty soon and gives way to Ray's 'Celtic Sonant'. Now that's one tremendously overbloated tune - it almost seems as if Ray was slowly inflating and inflating himself for eight long years and finally gives one mighty BLOOOW on 'Celtic Sonant', a gigantesque anthem with flutes, choruses, Mellotrons and god knows what, and above all his familiar shaky vocals rule supreme, not deteriorated one single bit. But I really don't mind; I'm just oh so happy to hear Ray take the vocal and songwriting spot once again after all those years. Keep it up, Ray! Pity that 'Celtic Sonant' has to pass, giving way to Lodge's 'Magic' - his last murky experience to make something that would 'rock out'. Blah. No way. The verses sound like that last Offspring hit which annoyed me so much on MTV, and the chorus 'baby lay your magic on me' is definitely designed to attract teenyboppers. John, John, nobody's gonna get laid any more. So calm down and let Justin finish the album with 'Never Blame The Rainbows For The Rain', a song nice, gentle, tender, and with enough acoustic guitar and beautiful vocal harmonies to lend the main weak melody some credibility. Well, I guess I have, more or less, voiced my opinion on the album. What great guys - they actually made it very easy for me to program the album. You just have to leave out all the even numbers and program the odds. Do so, and you get yourself a short, but thoroughly enjoyable 'Moodies revival' record; I'd easily give it a 7 or an 8, depending on the disposition. As it is, the shit drags it down to a 5. Nevertheless, consider the record as an important transitional step from the depths of manure to the true comeback - not to be effectuated until eight years later, of course, but hell, true art don't care much about time, now does it?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1993Record rating = 7
Well... maybe they DID set up an entourage suitable for magic... but it didn't really happen.Best song: nah, nothing really stands out.
Track listing: 1) Overture; 2) Late Lament; 3) Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon); 4) For My Lady; 5) Lean On Me (Tonight); 6) Lovely To See You; 7) I Know You're Out There Somewhere; 8) The Voice; 9) Your Wildest Dreams; 10) Isn't Life Strange; 11) The Other Side Of Life; 12) I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock'n'Roll Band); 13) Nights In White Satin; 14) Question; 15) Ride My See-Saw.
Heh. The hype surrounding this album certainly runs deeper than its actual depth. Although it's easy to fall for the hype - this is easily the most LUSH-oriented Moody Blues album since the original "classic seven". And not just because it's live, and so naturally focuses a lot on the classic early material (actually, a huge chunk of the material stems from the Eighties/Nineties as well). It's live with an orchestra - the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, to be specific - and it was recorded in this huge natural park/amphitheatre called 'Red Rocks' in Colorado, and when you open the liner notes you get all kinds of over-my-head reminiscences from the boys themselves about the event ("the dream that had to be", "night of magic filled with fairy dust", and all kinds of similar pompous crap), so naturally the fans fell for it. And does the actual performance live up to the description? Hell no.In fact, the Moodies were never a great live band, not even in their prime - although Caught Live still sounds pretty decent, they have always been so clumsy on stage with their instruments and harmonies that I'd advise anybody to stick to the glossy studio originals. And now multiply this by the factor of age, loss of a crucial band member, and an increased percentage of newer, crappier tunes: time really is not on the band's side. I guess it's one thing to actually be there and experience the lush symph-pop sound occupying the airwaves all around you, and another thing to have this as a CD-captured experience; but even so, there's a big difference between a Moodies live album and, say, a Yes live album, the latter of which nearly always sounds immaculately played and recorded. So there's a lot of problems here. Perhaps the most obvious one is the singing; as days go by, it becomes increasingly harder and harder for John and Justin to recapture the same energetic and beautiful vibe as they used to. An apparent example is the butchering of 'Tuesday Afternoon'; really boys, if this is the best you can offer, maybe you'd better drop the number out of your setlist altogether (like, say, Ian Gillan has bravely decided to do with 'Child In Time' at some point). Of course, Justin simply can't hit all those long high notes of 'with a sigh-aaa-aaaaii..', etc. etc.; he has to have the band and the backing vocalists give him a helping hand. That's just one problem, though - on other occasions, Justin just messes up the notes, and near the end he suddenly drops the line 'tuesday aaa...' in mid-word as if somebody knocked him out cold or something. It's ridiculous. Of course, fortunately very few Moodies songs rely on powerful vocal gymnastics to be pulled through, so the other songs don't come out as total embarrassments in the singing department. Still, neither John nor Justin are in top form, and so it's no wonder they're actually able to sing better on newer material than on the old classics, which was better suited to their declining vocal power in the first place. But that newer material? 'Lean On Me (Tonight)'? 'Your Wildest Dreams' (of course)? 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' (sweet Jesus... I really pity the poor Larry Baird and his orchestra for having to think of a symphonic arrangement for this generic Eighties monster)? Aaargghh, at least they had the good taste to include 'The Voice', and while the seven-minute version of 'The Other Side Of Life' is still gruesomely overlong, the song's bluesy romp is passable at least. As for the rest of the selections... I'm not sure why Thomas gets only one friggin' lead: 'For My Lady' is one of the most effective, self-assured and lovingly nostalgic songs on the album, seriously due to the fact that Ray's vocal power hasn't grown one inch less in the past. 'Isn't Life Strange' is good, but the transition from soft verses to bombastic chorus isn't effectuated nearly as well as it should be; 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock'n'Roll Band' is fun, but threatens to fall apart any minute as the vocalists and instrumentalists don't mesh well with each other; and 'Ride My See-Saw' gets a strange Eighties-dance introduction. In other words, there's plenty to scold about nearly each and every performance. That said, overall it's not a bad album. It doesn't give you an idea of what immaculate precision the Moodies could achieve at their best, nor does it work well as an introduction to the band's sound (too much Eighties mediocrity, too few really classic songs), but it acts all right as a not-too-subtle piece of nostalgia: heck, it actually begins with the overture from Days Of Future Passed, replete with the obligatory ol' drummer boy bag o' poetic cliches. The flaws are many, but over the course of listening I've learned to overlook most of them (apart from 'Tuesday Afternoon', which really hurts), and maybe there's no real magic, as the guys all claim, but there certainly is some enthusiasm and inspiration. I am still going to insist, though, that Graeme Edge is a bad, bad, bad drummer, whose ability to keep up a solid groove is pretty equal to his ability to construct good poetry. Of course, one could always object that drumming is the least essential element in the Moodies' sonic textures, but hey, that's a different story altogether.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1999Record rating = 7
John and Justin again? Going romantic? Going sweety-sweety? Ooops, sorry, I forgot, they did it for the last thirty years...Best song: LOVE DON'T COME EASY
Track listing: 1) English Sunset; 2) Haunted; 3) Sooner Or Later (Walkin' On Air); 4) Wherever You Are; 5) Foolish Love; 6) Love Don't Come Easy; 7) All That Is Real Is You; 8) Strange Times; 9) Words You Say; 10) My Little Lovely; 11) Forever Now; 12) The One; 13) The Swallow; 14) Nothing Changes.
This is the first Moodies' studio album in eight years, and one thing is evident: after dumping Moraz and undergoing a lengthy period of confusion and indecision, they made a record that in no way follows their trendy-fashionable style of the Eighties. Perhaps the only tribute to contemporary gimmickry are the ridiculous techno beats that Hayward employs on the lead-in number, 'English Sunset', nearly ruining a nice, pretty pop song in the process. My guess is that he did that unjustice to his song primarily because he wanted it to get radio play, maybe hoping that the DJs would fall in love with the beat. DJs know better, however, and I do not think the song will help 'generation dumphuk' fall in love with the Moody Blues. Actually, if it does, it will only be for the worse: would you like the Moodies to be 'popularized' as a techno band? My hair stands on end!Anyway, if there's one album in the Moodies' and Moodies-related catalog to draw comparisons to, it would be Blue Jays. Reasons? Strange Times is a clear Hayward/Lodge collaboration. Pinder still hasn't rejoined the band, and probably never will. Again, Thomas gets in only one song out of fourteen ('My Little Lovely'), not to mention that it's less than two minutes long, and a bit throwawayish: pretty and enjoyable, in his best-of 'childish' style ('Dr Livingstone'? Remember that one?), but entirely lost in amidst the sea of John & Justin tunes. And, considering that he's credited for 'flutes & harmonicas', and also considering that there are only a few flute parts and I haven't really noticed any harmonicas yet, I doubt if he really was seriously engaged in the sessions; probably not. Strange, as I doubt it was the fault of the producers (it is said that in the Eighties, Ray was simply disregarded as a 'non-marketable' member of the Moodies); surely they could have paid him more attention this time around. Finally, Edge gets in only one contribution, too, the album closing 'Nothing Changes'. It's a somewhat symbolic tune, as it mostly consists of references to the Moodies' past, with Graeme turning in some more horrendously banal 'poetry' in the best tradition of DOFP, and lyrics that state that 'life is still a simple game' (homage to Pinder, no doubt). Musically, though, it's kinda shallow: not a song, just an emphasis on the Moodies' status. All the other twelve tracks are written by Hayward and/or Lodge, and practically every single one of them is a mellow, sappy ballad. The overall quality is, perhaps, a little better than on Blue Jays, with more interesting melodies and hooks; but there are also several huge embarrassments on here, so I wouldn't really rate it above Blue Jays. Actually, I never thought I would say that, but on third or fourth listen it becomes absolutely clear that the position of best songwriter among the band has shifted to John Lodge over the years. Eh, not that Hayward is that bad; but he keeps shifting to the 'over-romantic' side, and what do we get? The first two tracks on this album really did a solid job of spoiling my initial attitude: after the dratted techno of 'English Sunset' (yay, the song itself is fine, but gimme a different arrangement, please!), we carry on with 'Haunted' - a 'heavenly', sickeningly sweet ballad with annoying 'du-du-du-du-du-du-du' backing vocals and a bombastic middle eight that invokes visions of Santa Barbara before my eyes. Justin, Justin, why have you walked that plank? Astonishingly, there are quite a few fans out there who actually enjoy the song; in which case, I'd strongly recommend acquiring soundtracks to assorted Californian soap operas. I wonder if these were actually written by Hayward too? Plus, while there are no other major embarrassments, I can't go crazy over songs like 'Foolish Love' and 'All That Is Real Is You'. The latter, for instance, has an astonishingly simple melody that seems to be borrowed from old folk numbers (ever heard Dylan singing 'He Was Only A Hobo'? That's it, except for the chorus!) Nice, but why? Sounds like a lack of creative ideas, if you axe me. So the honour of best solo Hayward number here falls to 'The Swallow', a charming little ditty with some really enticing acoustic guitar and a soothing vocal melody. This is the Moodiest song that Justin put on the album, but you really have to wait for it - as it comes on towards the very, very end of the album. On the other hand, it somewhat reinstated my faith, so hey, everything's alright, I guess. (Of course, if it ain't some ancient outtake Justin has recently unearthed - it sounds more like it belongs to Prelude, not here). But, 'Swallow' or no 'Swallow', the album wouldn't really be saved by Justin's half-assed contributions: I'd give it a 4 or a 5 at max. No, what is really surprising here is Lodge's material: some of the songs are unquestionably among his best ever written to that moment, and, in fact, he really seized the chance to become absolute leader of the band. Hayward is still the frontman, but Lodge is by far the soul of the band now. First, now that Hayward's vocals have deteriorated and he no longer sounds like the blonde-haired angel of the 'Nights In White Satin' fame, Lodge's soulful, thoughtful vocals have suddenly proved to be a far mightier instrument than Justin's sappy tone: his delivery on 'Wherever You Are', 'Love Don't Come Easy' and other songs is passionate and moving. And second, he seems to have a real care for melodies and hooks, not to mention tasteful arrangements that rarely verge on cheesy. 'Wherever You Are' is relaxating and beautiful, with an interesting synth-and-flute arrangement, but the real highlight is 'Love Don't Come Easy', a song that eerily sounds like a George Harrison tune. I don't know if I'm imagining it, but it seems to me that Lodge is intentionally imitating George's style. If you ever dug into Harrison's catalog, you'll probably notice it too: just listen to John articulating the line 'like it's just begu... uuu... uuun' and tell me he's not emulating George. Not to mention those slide guitars in the background - quite George-style, too. Funny. But in any case, George or not George, the song is great, with some incredible hooks and more magnificent synth string arrangements and passionate guitar solos. 'Words You Say' and 'Forever Now' are equally gorgeous: gee, did I ever underrate Lodge's songwriting abilities. He's in top form! And no, this ain't just atmosphere, this ain't just sap or naive nostalgia - this is SOLID BALLADEERING, with hooks and interesting melody twists and everything. And more of that tasty slide guitar which just might be my favourite musical instrument of all time. Thanks, John, for coming to our aid and saving the album. The more rockin' material can be mostly found on Hayward/Lodge collaborations here - 'Sooner Or Later (Walking On Air)', the title track, and 'The One' all boogie along with plenty of verve, although the latter has a somewhat stupid aura around it. 'No surprise - HEY THAT YOU WANNA BE THE ONE...', that chorus annoys me. Not the other two, though, prime dance tunes with quite a bit of vocal power and everything; I'm a bit tired, so I won't really discuss them here in more details, suffice it to say, that Hayward is undeniably in better form when he has John to support him and strip his songs of the stinky smell of banality that, unfortunately, descends onto them much too often. So you might take it either way - it doesn't bother me whether it was Hayward who ruined a nearly-perfect album with his techno and 'romantic collection' stylistics, or Lodge who saved a nearly-bad album with a sudden desire to write some terrific songs. It works in both cases. And what's perhaps more important, this is an album that is able to grow on you - I was more and more impressed on each new listen, though I still hate most of the solo Hayward numbers. So you might as well upgrade it to an eight, in fact, I won't mind. Maybe I'll do the same some day; as of now, though, 'English Sunset', 'Nothing Changes' and 'Haunted' prevent me from doing so. In any case, this is a solid album, and it is MUCH more than just an attempt to recapture the glory of old or show the world that the Moodies are still alive and well: it is an attempt to make some good music, and that's the essential point.
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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Out of all the Moodies, Justin Hayward is probably the only guy whose solo career is worth reviewing; I don't know if Ray Thomas had anything out by himself, and I'm certainly not at all interested in digging out Mike Pinder's albums for children. Right now, I have the one record that was written by Justin in collaboration with Lodge and often regarded as 'the real eighth Moody Blues album', and I'm starting to assemble a 'pure' solo Hayward collection as well. This is perfectly justifiable - Justin's solo style isn't that different from the Moodies, especially in the Nineties.
Year Of Release: 1975
Overall rating = 10
Very monotonous stuff, but there's quite a good handful of beautiful moments here. So, let us take pity on the poor romanticists.Best song: THIS MORNING
Track listing: 1) This Morning; 2) Remember Me (My Friend); 3) My Brother; 4) You; 5) Nights Winters Years; 6) Saved By The Music; 7) I Dreamed Last Night; 8) Who Are You Now; 9) Maybe; 10) When You Wake Up; 11) Blue Guitar.
Not strictly a Moody Blues album, of course. But why not? There's Justin Hayward. There's John Lodge. There's Tony Clarke who produced most Moody Blues records. And the whole album sticks to the Moodies' formula, so in a certain sense this, not Octave, should be considered the true 'eighth' Moody Blues album. And the fact that there's no Graeme Edge to stick around with his bits of derivative 'poetry' should not bother you, on the contrary, it's an advantage. Or is it?Well, see, the main problem with this album (which is by no means bad, see, I just warned you of the fact, I'm not really putting it down, I'm not, I'm just reviewing it and finding out that there are problems with it, see?), anyway, the main problem with this album is the lack of diversity. 'Well', as the prodigious review reader might object, 'so what? It's only two members of the band, God damn, so it's only natural that there are certain limitations!' Wrong. Justin Hayward was, and always will be, the best songwriter of the whole bunch, in that he was always the most experimental and his songs were the most stylistically varied. And even John Lodge could turn in something weird, like 'Tortoise And The Hare', from time to time. On this album, however, they choose just one and only one element of their formula: the romantic, sappy, severely orchestrated schtick. Oops, my mistake: the actual Moody Blues never cared much for orchestration, substituting it with Pinder's mellotron. Here, on the other hand, they don't have no Pinder and hence don't have no mellotron. Instead, they call in Peter Knight to add some swooping strings and horns, going back full cycle in the process - recreating the atmosphere of Days Of Future Passed. But this album is no Days Of Future Passed, that's for sure. The romantic mood that most of these songs set is great, but you have to be a diehard fan of it; otherwise, the songs start to wear down on you after about ten or fifteen minutes, and at the end of the record you'll be begging for mercy. It's a good thing I was listening to this album paired with the Faces' Ooh La La - turned out to be a perfect antidote!! Nah, but let us not digress. The record starts out awesome, with the magnificent, anthemic epic 'This Morning' - a song that almost by miracle grows from a soft bunch of acoustic strum-strums to a terrific crescendo of guitars, orchestra and synths, while Hayward and Lodge spill their feelings all over in a passionate duet. Then there's the gorgeous 'Remember Me (My Friend)', a song so sentimental it could make the less sensitive persons vomit all over the spot, but, like Paul McCartney said, we are all sentimental deep down inside, aren't we? A smart dude he was, this Paul McCartney. Anyway, there's that wonderful chorus ('walking on this earth...') that just makes you feel warm all over. A perfect ode for a true friend, brothers and sisters. However, right after these two songs pass away, 'the shit hits the fan', as some extremely rude (and un-respected by me, I must say) people say. Basically, what happens is that the boys start repeating themselves - taking the same lyrical topics and similar melodies and refraining them again and again over the whole record. So it all comes down to whether they do insert something truly clever and original into the song or not, and whether the results are fine or not. Here is, of course, where one has to follow one's personal taste, and boy, am I going to follow my own personal taste and nobody else's. So, my personal taste is right here and this is what it is currently whispering in my ear. First of all, there's 'You', one of the most enchanting Hayward ballads I ever heard. Perversely, it brings up memories of Pinder's 'Out And In', with its otherworldly, stately rhythm and echoey vocals. The chorus, however, with those magnificent 'I, I believe', is utterly different and has a truly intoxicating harmonic charm. Then there's the 'rocker', at least, it's the thing that's closest to a rocker on here, called 'Saved By The Music', presumably penned by Lodge (I don't remember the writing credits; suffice it to say that most of the songs are by Hayward, and the remaining are fifty-fifty Lodge and Hayward/Lodge). It's at least a little punchy, and it might have seemed as fillerish on any classic Moody Blues record, but here it's the stand-out. And that's about it. Wait, though, there's 'Blue Guitar', a bonus addition to the CD, so if you only have the vinyl, you won't even know what I'm talking 'bout. It distinguishes itself in my memory by actually having some tasty electric guitar bits ('blue guitar' bits?), whereas Justin almost never uses the electric on the regular tracks. But now that's it. None of the other five songs are able to stir me just even a little bit. Okay, so only one of them is a serious embarrassment, the cringey ballad 'Nights Winters Years' where the boys finally do the mistake they so wisely managed to avoid on Days Of Future Passed: combine the actual song with crappy Hollywoodish orchestration, making it utterly melodramatic and unbearable. The other four cuts on the second side are just okay - not great and not bad. People like to say compliments addressed to the album closer, 'When You Wake Up', but me, I'm just bored by this song. It doesn't feel heartfelt, it has no hooks and no energy, just baseless and pointless pomp. So sue me. But in any case, be sure to acknowledge this record before you buy all their mediocre post-1975 reunion albums. At least, one serious advantage here is that it's still 'Moody Blues'-ish: a solid share of the 'classic' spirit is still captured and embottled here. While on Octave... ah, well, just read the review yourself! What am I gonna do, you don't expect me to repeat the same things twice? I'm not a dork!!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 9
He's getting too close to the mainstream schlocky formula here. Mike Pinder is sorely missed.Best song: ONE LONELY ROOM
Track listing: 1) Tightrope; 2) Songwriter (part 1); 3) Songwriter (part 2); 4) Country Girl; 5) One Lonely Room; 6) Lay It On Me; 7) Stage Door; 8) Raised On Love; 9) Doin' Time; 10) Nostradamus; 11) Marie; 12) Learning The Game.
Even Mark Prindle hates this album, and he's one of the most devoted Moodies freaks in the world. So I wasn't expecting much when I shelled out money for this; fortunately, it's not as horrendous as could have been thought. True, Songwriter is a big departure from Justin's trademark Moodies' sound, although it fully lays the ground for the band's next year's comeback with Octave. On here, Hayward seems to be very keen on proving the world that he's still a 'rocker' at heart - but let's face it, Justin had never really written a true 'rocker'; all of his fastest songs like 'Question' were essentially just fast pop songs. Not that it was a problem or anything. But here, without the band and with just a few unknown studio automatons to provide the instrumentation (Justin does play the guitars, but not all of them, it seems, and it doesn't always help), many of his efforts simply fall flat: even when there are real interesting melodies, they're often drenched in thoughtless, modernistic (for the late Seventies) arrangements, heavy on cheesy synths and disco beats, and quite often, there aren't any. And, while some of the ballads are very nice, others are painfully formulaic.Overall, the album is very deceptive - each time I put it on, I seem to like it, but each time I try to remember something about it, I simply fail... miserably. Perhaps it's the charm of Justin's voice (which was still in great form back in 1977) that woos me over, perhaps not, but when the music is playing, I'm quite ready to award this a ten; as soon as I move away from the CD player, though, the venom sets in and I cry out: 'A TEN? No way! An eight at max!' So I'm gonna compromise and give it a nine, with hopes (but not many hopes) of improving. The stupid thing is that whenever something interesting really happens on this record, it's immediately followed by a piece of shite (a feeling not wholly uncommon to those who have engaged in late period Moody Blues records). For instance, the title track starts out as a lovely, complex, multi-part ballad that's not terribly essential but is nevertheless pleasant, and then it suddenly transforms into a horrendous disco dance number that's probably supposed to sound very moody and solemn, but instead sounds dippy-dippy-stupid. Fortunately, the CD edition carefully separates the song into 'Songwriter (Part 1)' and 'Songwriter (Part 2)', so it would be far easier to simply program the record so that the first part would immediately lead into the corny, but not unpleasant 'pop rocker' 'Country Girl'. Yeah, I know the song's kinda generic and all, but there's something in Justin's intonations as he sings about running away from the city lights that deeply moves me. Maybe I'd like to run away from the **** city lights some day, too... All right, then. Let me tell you what the album really gets a nine for. It's essentially just two songs. One is 'One Lonely Room', a gorgeous, fascinating ballad that can easily rank up there with the best of his best Moody Blues work. Yes, Pinder's Mellotron might have been a far better embellishment for the song than the anonymous saxophone and synthesizer solos, but the vocal harmonies are 100% Mr Hayward - unparalleled, touching and tear-inducing. He's assuming his regular function here - that of a tender romanticist: 'One lonely room/Nobody there/Nobody sits/In one lonely chair...', and it's so lovely that no words can really describe it. Unfortunately, that's probably the last moment in Mr Hayward's career when he could easily get away with such a moment of pure tenderness - from now on, even his best romantic ballads would have a faint smell of cheese. The other song I'm particularly fond of is 'Nostradamus', an artefact that's quite curious and even bizarre for Justin. It's not exactly 'experimental', but it has a dreary, mystical mood about it, with some thunderous drumming and beautiful flute playing, plus an inventive and fairly interesting use of strings throughout. And Justin sings in a slightly muffled, 'darkened' voice as he recites his ode to Nostradamus and how 'it's all being realised by you'. Together with the beautiful 'Lonely Room', this is the least conventional and most unpredictable spot on the record, and it mostly works, even if the song is six and a half minutes long. And that's it. I can't even remember the rest. Wait, there was the autobiographical song 'Tightrope', a silly disco rocker with lots of pseudo-audience noises (yeah, I can almost picture Justin flashing his bare chest and roaring out his past accomplishments to a crazy late-Seventies' teenage audience in the best traditions of glam). There are a couple totally dismissable ballads like 'Marie' and 'Stage Door', a major embarrassment in 'Raised On Love' (a sappy love anthem where Justin is aided by both his wife and his six-year old daughter on backing vocals, but it don't help much), an unconvincing 'hard' rocker ('Doin' Time'), and a totally pointless and unnecessary Buddy Holly cover ('Learning The Game'). If I have forgotten one or two numbers, don't worry: they're probably not even worth remembering. But if you share the same ideology as I - namely, that one great song is well worth three shitty ones - you need to get this record, if only for 'One Lonely Room' and 'Nostradamus'. And if you're interested in tracking out the Moodies' historical development, this is a must as well: Songwriter is a necessary link between Blue Jays and Octave, not only perfectly illustrating what exactly went wrong with Justin's songwriting, singing and arranging abilities in between the two, but also in what way it was going wrong.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Overall rating = 8
Hayward as a slick 'disco boy'. A couple interesting songs among generic fodder.Best song: IT'S NOT ON
Track listing: 1) Night Flight; 2) Maybe It's Just Love; 3) Crazy Lovers; 4) Penumbra Moon; 5) Nearer To You; 6) A Face In The Crowd; 7) Suitcase; 8) I'm Sorry; 9) It's Not On; 10) Bedtime Stories.
The Moodies might have entirely destroyed their reputation in 1988 with Sur La Mer; as a solo performer, though, Justin Hayward had entirely destroyed his in 1980 with Night Flight. Perversely enough, this is his first entirely solo album that had the misfortune to fall into my hands; and I must say that, while I don't entirely agree with rumours that state the album's complete worthlessness, there's really little to laud about it.First of all, it is not quite understood why Justin had to resort to covering quite inferior songs of corporate songwriters - and many of them disco tunes at that. The move was miscalculated, as 1980 wasn't quite the right time to hit disco (then again, ABBA's 'Lay All Your Love On Me' did chart that year - perhaps Hayward was aiming at the European market?); the move was not quite fitting in with Hayward's renomée as rocker/balladeer; and the move proved completely idiotic in retrospect, as none of the songs (except one or two, possibly) are inspired enough to engrave themselves in anybody's memory. Oh, well. At least, the good news is that the production on here doesn't really suck as much as the production of Sur La Mer. Despite the predictable abundance of cheesy synthesizers, the sound is more or less living and breathing: the drumming, handled by studio hacks Roy Jones and Tony Carr, is all live, there's enough acoustic and electric guitar, and sometimes, the songs are even embellished by a real piano. So, for anybody who hears these songs and screams 'fie!' in disgust, I'd like to remind that the same year saw the release of a certain album called Foolish Behaviour by a certain formally gifted performer once known as Rod Stewart (but by that time only known as Rod The Sold-Out Mod), not to mention Donna Summer... Anyway, a couple of originals on here are quite acceptable. 'Crazy Lovers', for instance, is quite a solid tune, with a steady atmospheric build-up where Hayward's voice and intonations slowly raise from pleading to menacing (the line about 'they might never see us again' has something fascinating down there when Justin repeats it like a mantra, though I'm not quite sure what exactly). Likewise, 'A Face In The Crowd' is a fine, friendly rocker with a folk attitude; if you disregard Mr Wannabe Sexy Guy's disgusting lyrics ('so take off that coat and kick off those crazy shoes/I can see by your smile that you're ready well I'm ready too') and just concentrate on the soft, lukewarm intonations of his voice, the inviting trumpet solo and the steady, upbeat rhythm, you might even like the song. I mean, on a Moody Blues album it would probably pass as completely unremarkable filler; here, it's one of the highlights. 'Suitcase' is a little better - it's perhaps the only song on the album that really fits in the classic Moody Blues formula, an amusing little rhythmic ballad based on a... hey, isn't that a Mellotron in the background? Don't tell me it's a flute! A Mellotron, some orchestration, some lush vocal harmonies, ultra-romantic love lyrics - all essential elements of the Moodies' style. On the contrary, on 'Nearer To You' Hayward tries to imitate the disco idols he's otherwise covering, and it's an absolute disaster, your typical disco garbage of the epoch. A nagging robotic synth line, monotonous drumming, generic, drab female backup vocals, and trite lyrical matters - all essential elements of the Teenage Wasteland style. First time, Justin; unfortunately, not the last one. As for the covers, they are all about the same - with a large percentage of crap and a couple eyebrow-raising numbers in between. I mean, whoever gave poor Hayward the idea to cover a Hall-Oates song ('I'm Sorry')? Together with 'Nearer To You', the two form the 'Cheese Nucleus' of the album and lower its rating for a complete point or two. Oh, don't forget to mention the closing 'Bedtime Stories', either. I could have hardly picked out a song with dumber lyrics: first, the lady is invited to lie alongside Justin 'deep in my body warm and lazy' (sic!!) and next she's asked to tell him 'bedtime stories' in a 'very special way' (yeaaaah! Visions of Leisure Suit Larry floating before my eyes!) And apparently, the song was thought of as a 'terrific album closer' or something. Man, sometimes the Moodies really make me sick. But on the other hand, why not just stop your CD before 'Bedtime Stories'? Because in that case you'll have Wayne-Osborne's 'It's Not On' as the last song, and it's actually a lovely little ballad with decent lyrics, and Justin really does justice to it, turning out an inspired vocal delivery. Even better - just throw out all the crap and tape the remaining decent songs (three of the originals, 'It's Not On', and 'Maybe It's Just Love' is tolerable, too), as it's hardly probable you'll get your kicks out of the entire album in any case. Unless, of course, you haven't yet overabused your daily average dosage of late-Seventies' disco. Don't forget to grab Elton John's Victim Of Love tomorrow - you might be late before the Great Epochal Burning Of Disco Crap, which is bound to happen in case humanity ever wisens up. On the other hand, this is hardly bound to happen in the nearest millenium, so just forget everything I said.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989
Overall rating = 9
You'll love the songs you know and hate the songs you don't. That's my patented prediction.Best song: GOD ONLY KNOWS
Track listing: 1) The Tracks Of My Tears; 2) MacArthur Park; 3) Blackbird; 4) Vincent; 5) God Only Knows; 6) Bright Eyes; 7) A Whiter Shade Of Pale; 8) Scarborough Fair; 9) Railway Hotel; 10) Man Of The World; 11) Forever Autumn; 12) As Long As The Moon Can Shine; 13) Stairway To Heaven.
It's actually one of those throwaway records, you know, the kind of 'hey cool songs I've always wanted to have an opportunity to have a go at 'em' album, like Ringo's Sentimental Journey or something like that, well, in short, just a tribute album. Justin Hayward gets together with producer/arranger/symph-popper Mike Batt and the London Symphony Orchestra and records some of his most beloved songs. So it's not a serious artistic statement, more of a 'come taste the artist' thingie, and I don't think Justin ever pretended at going for anything more than that.So... does Justin have good taste? Well, yes and no. The poor thing is that records like these really show an artist's limitations. It's obvious that Hayward likes soulful pop, about the only genre he's really good at himself. However, 'soulful pop' can mean different things, and out of these thirteen songs, some really suck. Granted, I must confess that I find the songs I already heard in their original arrangements acceptable, and most of the songs I hear on here for the first time detestable, so maybe it's the orchestral arrangements that baffle me. But I have simply no idea how the orchestral arrangements can actually spoil a song as puffed up, bloated and essentially tuneless as Richard Harris' 'MacArthur Park' - Lord this horror goes on for seven minutes and is typical Hollywoodish tripe if the world ever knew what Hollywoodish tripe was. In any case, the famous choices that Hayward chooses are so famous indeed that they naturally overshadow most of the obscure stuff. And amazingly, I find these rearrangements nice. Justin is in good voice; it's notably weaker than before but the album is so soft and mild anyway, there's no need for it to get rough. And the versions sound wonderfully clean and pure, just a white man's delight, you know - pure undiluted classicist values. 'God Only Knows' runs smooth and crystal clear with deep echoey vocals and a brilliant oboe part; as controversial as that statement might seem, it's every bit as good as the original, mainly by sticking to it as faithfully as possible, and actually, Justin sounds pretty close to Carl Wilson, so I guess if I tried to pass this out for a purely orchestral remake by the Beach Boys themselves, I could make a hundred bucks on that one. Too bad I lack entrepreneurial genius. Likewise, I fully enjoy 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' - the stately dreamy atmosphere is left intact and Justin sings the original melody note-for-note perfect... well, no, not note-for-note perfect, but for the most part he really sticks to the notes, which is a good achievement, too. 'Scarborough Fair' is taken Simon & Garfunkel style, of course, with the classic vocal 'cross-melody' actually sung by female backup singers. 'Blackbird' starts out with some ominous violin lines, but they soon develop into a more familiar pattern, and the rest is predictable. So perhaps the only minor surprise is 'Stairway To Heaven', which is justifiedly taken as that one huge bombastic ending to the album, with a huge female chorus singing the final verses (no guitar solo, of course, but that's irreplaceable - the album is completely free of rock instrumentation, and in the case of Mr Hayward, I find this purism justified). There's also Smokey Robinson's 'Tracks Of My Tears' which I haven't heard in the Temptations version, but it's still nice; and strange enough, Hayward even covers Peter Green with 'Man Of The World'. As for the rest of the songs, well... I just couldn't make head or tails of 'em. Three are Mike Batt originals, probably just selected by Justin to thank his friend for all the trouble he's gone through with this business. They're... kinda okayish. The damned orchestration just reduces everything to the same formula, so I should probably reserve the final judgement for some other time. Anyway, Justin has got good taste. Not that any of the choices were really unpredictable, and I'd say that choices like 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' and 'Stairway To Heaven' were really a bit too generic - yeah sure, if you wanna do Procol Harum, you take that one and if you wanna do Led Zep you take this one. And the listening really gets kinda tedious halfway through, for a rock music fan, at least. And there's really a huge temptation to dismiss all of this stuff as adult contemporary schlock or cheesy tribute garbage, but there's no denying either the relative unpretentiousness of the album or the professionalism of the recording. Put it this way: what do we love Hayward for? The gorgeous voice and the good melodies. The gorgeous voice is here all right, and the good melodies have only the particular flaw of not actually having been penned by Hayward. So what else do you want? Any Justin fan needs this album for sure. Plus, it's the last record where you get a nice image of a still relatively young-looking Justin on the cover. What a nice pretext for romanticizing a bit (in case you're a gal, of course - I'm not exactly propagating sexual deviations here! Who do you think I am, Mark Prindle?)
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1996
Overall rating = 10
A lot of mellow pleasant stuff, with some good (and some evil) Nineties' pop melodies. But you gotta have a taste for such things.Best song: TROUBADOUR
Track listing: 1) I Heard It; 2) Broken Dream; 3) The Promised Land; 4) It's Not Too Late; 5) Something To Believe In; 6) The Way Of The World; 7) Sometimes Less Is More; 8) Troubadour; 9) Shame; 10) Billy; 11) Children Of Paradise.
A little warning: this album is easily classified under the subtitle 'Adult Contemporary'. I mean - easily, as eggs are eggs, that is. Don't tell me that Phil Collins is crap and The View From The Hill is genius or anything like that. A more correct statement would be to say that Phil Collins is mostly bad A.C. while this album is more or less decent A.C., but facts are facts: if you have an allergy on late Moody Blues, better steer clear of this one.Not that I have an allergy on this stuff, mind you. Sure, it lacks anything that made the Moodies' best work, or even Blue Jays, so colourful: the arrangements are rather trite, there ain't a serious rocker for miles around (all the better, perhaps - fortunately, Justin never had to fall down to the level of John Lodge by penning stuff like 'Here Comes The Weekend'), and in fact, there's pretty little in the way of memorable melodies, too. Some say that at least part of these songs were intended for a new MB album, but the band wasn't really ready to record it, so Justin just made a solo record instead. Could be; but really, too few of the songs come close to the standard established on Strange Times three years ago. So why a ten - such a high rating, especially if Strange Times is given the same rating? The reason lies in a more general field of thought, so I'd say. This is a record that really flows well, and as a coherent album, it holds up far better than on an individual song level. For one, it is fully adequate: there are no vague pretentions here that wouldn't feel comfortable, and Justin just does what he does, or, at least, what he used to do best: simple, smooth pop tunes and pretty ballads. The lyrics are tolerable, in general, and none of the songs are about 'going deep' or anything. In all, the record has a cheerful, optimistic feel to it - it's obvious that the man was in full control in the studio, who knows, maybe for the first time in many years, and he just did what he liked. And no fashion-pleasing novelties like that disco crap on Night Flight, either. That's what it's all about. After three listens, I was still not sure whether any of these songs could indeed deserve 'classic' status, but I really didn't mind putting the album on for one more time... and maybe one more... and just one more... It also helps that not a single track on here is blatantly bad. Maybe just two or three I could have easily thrown away - not because they offend me, but because they spoil the feeling of 'perfection of mediocrity' ('mediocre perfection?' 'perfect mediocrity?' something like that, anyway). Thus, a reviewer once called 'Broken Dream' the Nineties' equivalent of 'Nights In White Satin', but I just don't see it: maybe it was the lyrics he meant. Essentially, it's just a bland, 'heavenly' type of ballad built on a generic synthesizer background and a nice (okay - I admit it) minimalistic acoustic guitar melody. Perfect material for a mass hit - I don't understand how it failed becoming one. The public was probably much too busy with Mariah Carey. Likewise, a couple of the 'smooth pop rockers' also fall short of the mark, like the boring, never ending 'Promised Land' (written by Phil Palmer, who was also responsible for much of the guitarwork on the album). I haven't lived a very long life, but let me tell you I'm already getting tired of stuff like that, which sounds oh so emotional but somehow forgets to bring along anything resembling an existing instrumental melody. I hear a lot of atmospheric keyboards, that's right, and an acoustic rhythm track, but for the most part it's just the 'stomp - stomp - stomp' of the monotonous drum beat. But then again, who the hell cares if overall, the atmosphere is so pleasant? Everything is, you know, so optimistic and gleeful and full of strange, almost youthful energy, like the opening track - the terrific 'I Heard It'. Relatively terrific, of course - there's nothing outstanding about its melody either, but the joyful, heartlifting guitar riff has that something about it that's really hard to describe. And the world-loving lyrics, oh so Moody-ish in their charming naiveness, are prime Hayward. And then there's 'It's Not Too Late' with a charming contrast between the more generic verses and the delightful little lightweight bridge: 'Somehow the world keeps turning/Promising a bright new day/Somewhere the spark is burning away'. I mean, it's not the lyrics that are delightful, but the humble vocal melody that's so full of light and consolation it's practically impossible to believe it's fake or sterile. There are other decent tunes on here, too - I just won't go into details because they sound quite samey, but anyway, the ballads 'Something To Believe In' and the closing acoustic 'Children Of Paradise', as well as the gleeful swingin' piece 'The Way Of The World', all qualify as very high quality late Justin Hayward, if that's telling you anything, of course. Well, let's put it that way: I'd easily trade ten kilos of prime late Jethro Tull for an ounce of prime late Justin Hayward. Now it's up to you to sit and count out the balance. Even the seven-minute 'Billy', a ballad about a very very sad person committing suicide, has its moments - the lame 'oooohhh' backing vocals nearly ruin the song, but the beautiful chorus fully redeems it. I may be a wuss, but I like the song, about as much as I like Rod Stewart's similar 'Killing Of Georgie'. For some reason, though, my favourite tune on the album is 'Troubadour', a song which is not even typical for Justin: it's a genuine country rocker, with steel guitars and slide guitars and nothing medieval about it at all. I guess I just love the arrangement - it's one of the few songs on here that doesn't feature synthesizers at all, except for synthesized strings in the background, and it's all live and flashy and tasty. That, in fact, is one of the main advantages of the album I forgot to mention - while synths do abound on the album, they are not always prominent, and in all, there's a ton of live and fresh instrumentation going on, a far cry from the Moodies' fully-programmed late Eighties' albums. I guess nobody would call using real instruments on a mid-Nineties album by a rock 'dinosaur' innovative or progressive, but you gotta remember that the Moodies spent so much time serving as vocal deliverers for computer-processed tracks that an album like this was like a breath of clean, fresh air. And it definitely paved the road for Strange Times.
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