The Moody Blues

Octave
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson 

Long Distance Voyager

3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Breathe deep in the gathering gloom,
watch lights fade from every room.
Bed-sitter people look back and lament,
another day's useless energy's spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
lonely man cries for love and has none,
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold-hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colors from our sight,
Red is gray and yellow white,
but we decide which is right...And which is an illusion?
("Late Lament" from "Knights In White Satin" by The Moody Blues)

Prophets, poets, and masters of symphonic rock, The Moody Blues' music enlightens, entertains and educates.

Two of the Moody Blues' lesser known but gratifying albums have been remastered and re-released for your astral traveling pleasure: 1978's "Octave," the last album featuring founding member Mike Pinder, and 1981's "Long Distance Voyager," which marked the first appearance of keyboardist Patrick Moraz.

Unlike their progressive rock contemporaries such as Genesis, Flash, or Yes, the Moodies had not one, but four singers capable of taking a lead vocal: matinee idol handsome guitarist Justin Hayward; deep-thinker and revolutionary keyboardist Mike Pinder; upper crusty flautist Ray Thomas, and bassist John Lodge, possessor of a deafening and occasionally flat falsetto. Hayward and Lodge had joined the band after the departure of guitarist/vocalist Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick in late 1966. Laine had voiced the group's #1 U.K. single, "Go Now," back when the "Blues" in the group's name accurately described the type of music they played. The band was unable to come up with a follow-up hit, and Laine, feeling the urge to go now, departed. (He was recruited into Ginger Baker's Airforce and eventually partnered with Paul McCartney to form Wings.) Warwick, a family man, retired to raise a family. Hayward and Lodge came on board when the group's fortunes were at an ebb and the band was playing small clubs to make ends meet.
The Moodies were tabbed to participate in an experiment - creating an album combining rock music with an orchestral backing. "Days of Future Past" was a critical darling, and the popularity of Hayward's "Knights In White Satin" gave the group a new life, propelling them into the realm of psychedelic stars.

Justin Hayward not only looked like a star, he also sang with a polite elegance and calming charm. As the group's guitarist, he was center stage and gradually assumed the role of de facto leader after the departures of Pinder and Thomas.

An accomplished musician often accused of taking himself too seriously, keyboard player Mike Pinder had an authoritative, distinguished vocal delivery that was a major part of the group's cosmic veneer. (It's Pinder who recites the ominous "Breathe deep the gathering gloom..." passage at the end of "Knights In White Satin"...) Pinder co-founded the group with Ray Thomas in 1964; his departure in 1979 left a vocal hole in the group's sound that has never been filled. It was Pinder who incorporated the Mellotron into the Moodies' tapestry of sound. He also introduced The Beatles to the instrument, which John Lennon put to use in "Strawberry Fields." Hayward may have been the group's most identifiable voice, but if there was one person most responsible for the group's sound, it was Pinder.

Ray Thomas was the Moodies' Sir Galahad. His songs spoke of chivalry, love, and other romantic notions. Like Traffic's flautist Chris Wood, it was Thomas who provided the icing on the group's sound. Thomas sang in a clipped, proper English manner. His voice would occasionally waver like an embarrassed Elmer Fudd but never cracked, and he knew how to use his fanciful, gentlemanly manner to his advantage. When Thomas was on, he was the King of Canterbury tales.

John Lodge, the group's fourth vocalist and bassist, had an even shakier delivery than Thomas, which didn't mix well with the rockers he penned, but could be hidden through group participation. Lodge owned the upper registers on the group's headier compositions and eventually developed into a serviceable writer after Pinder's departure.

Drummer and non-singer Graeme Edge didn't have the flashy presence of a Ginger Baker or the proficiency of Jim Gordon (or Jim Capaldi for that matter), but he never got in the way, and when called upon, kept a steady beat. Edge was the group's Shakespeare, and he often passed his poetic passages onto Pinder, whose commanding tone made Edge's words sound like sacred scriptures.


After Taking Five, The Band Reforms For "Octave"


The Moody Blues released an astounding seven albums between 1967-72, following each release with an exhausting world-wide tour. Eight solo albums and five years later, the group reconvened, hoping to reassert their claim as kings of symphonic rock. It would take another full year of arguments and an abrupt departure for the reunion album to surface.
 
Providing the touches of orchestral bliss once again was Pinder. Pinder was present in body, but wasn't fully there in spirit. He'd fallen in love while recording in the U.S. and wanted to make his home in California. To placate Pinder, the group pulled up stakes and tried to record in Pinder's adopted home, but Pinder still found himself at odds with his band mates. Early in the recording process Edge made the mistake of interrupting Pinder in the midst of an ardent disagreement with Hayward. Pinder tore into Edge, belittling him for being "just a drummer" who knew nothing about music. Although Pinder regretted the outburst and has lived with the guilt of his regrettable act for decades, the outburst convinced him it was time to leave. He departed in the middle of the sessions and officially quit the Moody Blues in 1979.

Producer Tony Clarke, the "sixth Moody" - as valuable to the group's sound as George Martin was to The Beatles - had to leave the session and head back to England in order to save his marriage. That left Hayward, Lodge, Thomas and Edge virtually on their own, and even after their studio caught fire (a sure sign fate was against them), the quartet remained convinced they should stay together. The result was "Octave," their eighth effort. The cover showed four of the five members walking through a doorway toward a divine light (fifth member Pinder is obscured, so much so that it may not be him but a stand in). For a group that lived and sang about symbolism and hidden meanings, walking toward a light didn't necessarily mean the Moodies were headed toward their death - it signified the band was heading in a new direction.

The Moodies decided to modernize their sound and asked Pinder to ditch his Mellotron and Chamberlain in favor of a synthesizer (another factor that likely hastened his departure). As Pinder contributed less and finally not at all, Hayward and Lodge, who'd conscripted real strings for their "Blue Jays" album, hired an orchestra. The strings were employed on Ray Thomas' songs ("Under Moonshine" and "I'm Your Man") and one of Lodge tunes ("Survival").

Nearly all the members (save Thomas) have been given the opportunity to start an album with one of their songs. For "Octave" the honor fell to Lodge, who provided "Steppin' In The Slide Zone," an up-tempo borderline disco stomper dominated by Hayward's meaty riffs and - gasp - Pinder's synthesizer, which revs up like a souped up muscle car before taking off. Lodge loses his normally shaky delivery in favor of a lower register, and he's joined in his journey by Haywood, Pinder, and Thomas. With the exception of the hearty string section, Lodge's other entry, "Survival," is unspectacular.

Thomas is back in stride, wistful, but mindful of structure and hooks. Thomas is confident, yet thoughtful during "Under Moonshine," which begins as Pinder's synths whistle "Steppin' In A Slide Zone" to a close. "Under Moonshine" ends with a blissful solo by Hayward that flirts with the hired string section. "I'm Your Man" takes advantage of the strings, which rise and dip during the verses and vigorously crest during the chorus while Thomas proudly proclaims: "Life keeps changing key, I'll look to you, please turn and look at me. See I'm changing every day, reaching out for happy days. I'm just a man, that's all I am. I just man, I'm yours. I'm simply yours."

Hayward is in solid form for "Octave," picking up Pinder's slack by placing four songs. The tranquil ballad "Had To Fall In Love," is highlighted by Thomas' camp fire harmonica and the group's substantial aahing choral back up. The equally laid back "Driftwood" floats along on guest musician R.A. Martin's foggy sax and Haywood's tender vocal. "Top Rank Suite" enlists an overdubbed Martin forming a bank of dynamic saxes that give what should have been a ballad a quasi jazz feel that's incongruous with the group's cosmic style. Call it an experiment that nearly works, but it's also hindered by Hayward's sophomoric lyrics about "a great gold record in the sky." Hayward's fourth song, "The Day We Meet Again" finishes the album in the Moodies' magical style with Pinder roving off into the clouds as he kneads the keys of his synthesizer.

Leave it to Graeme Edge to add the curry that expands the group's sound. Edge's songs were generally upbeat, and the bouncy "I'll Be Level With You" is one of his most cohesive rockers, with the four vocalists singing earnestly. Sadly, Pinder sings only one song, "One Step Into The Light," his all time worst contribution. Unlike Thomas, who curbed the excesses that hindered his solo work, Pinder gets even more obtuse, pontificating like the Maharishi finding the meaning of life in a Bazooka Joe comic. "One Step" is listless, lifeless and endless, a step into cosmic ka-ka. It's a sorry way for Pinder to exit, kind of like watching Muhammad Ali, once "The Greatest," being unable to defend himself against the likes of Trevor Berbick. (Yeah, I know, Trevor who? That's my point. "One Step" is utterly regrettable.) Ironically, when Pinder formed his own recording company, he called it One Step Records.

The remastered "Octave" sounds so different from the original CD released 20 years ago that it plays like a different album. Sounds and effects buried in the original mix, such as Lodge's falsetto, Edge's windshield wiper beat, or Hayward's whispery intonations jump out. You can now pick out who's singing in the background, whereas before the back ups were mushy. The speed of the album now sounds right. It's slower, so the boys sound less like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The revamped "Octave" contains an informative 16-page booklet with an essay by Mark Powell. The CD has also been enhanced with live versions of some of the album's songs recorded at The Coliseum in Seattle in 1979 and at The Summit in Seattle in1978. The tracks feature Patrick Moraz, who replaced Pinder. A supreme talent, Moraz had formed Refugee with the remnants of The Nice, and then took over for Rick Wakeman in Yes, recording and touring behind the group's "Relayer" album. Because of his thick Swiss accent, Moraz couldn't stand in for Pinder on vocals, but he was a virtuoso who could play a number of keyboards Pinder couldn't, which helped open up the Moodies live sound. He stayed with the group from 1978-1991, longer than Pinder.

Given it was the disco era the album performed well (#13 in the U.S., #6 in the U.K.). It was helped by a promotional film for "Steppin' In The Slide Zone" (minus Pinder) that showcased the band literally stepping out of a fog and into the present.    

Long Distance Voyage Without Mike


With "Long Distance Voyager" the Moodies set out to dumb down the thinking man's music associated with the Pinder era, openly courting the Top Forty market. The album featured one of the Moody's more striking sleeves, a painting from the Arts Union in Glasgow depicting a Victorian street carnival.

Haywood and Lodge's partnership, forged during their "Blue Jays" project, produced "Gemini Dream," the album's best known track. The two front men trade lines as Moraz fires up the synths in the background. Hayward continued to cement his creative hold on the group with three other entries that pointed the Moodies in a more radio-friendly direction. Two of Hayward's songs that employed a more simplified approach are less effective. "Meanwhile" is a well intentioned bore, and "The Voice" chugs along at a faster than usual Moody's pace behind Moraz approximating a horn section. But Hayward was still capable of creating a gem, and for "Long Distance Voyager," the relaxed "In My World," with its heavenly choral background, is one of the album's brightest spots. With the remastered sound, you can marvel at the hallowed, layered background vocals and Hayward's towering exit solo.

Based on his shaky voice and even shakier track record of success, who would have predicted that John Lodge would come up with the best song on the album? (Guess every Moodie has his day!). Lodge paints a masterpiece with "Talking Out Of Turn," a grandiose composition that weighs in at 7:19. Lodge seems to have finally figured out what to do with his voice - sing it slow and easy, John! Moraz creates a surging, bubbling synth orchestra and Hayward pops in with two melodic solos, and the whole production is held together by Edge's loping beat.

Edge curbs his poetic profundities for "22,000 Days" (the approximate time we're on earth), tapping into the album's more commercial vibe. He anchors the tune's slave ship beat as the singers use an all vocalists on deck approach.

Thomas is given the closing spot as compensation for being relegated to the group's B list alongside Edge. He doesn't disappoint. Placing his pen firmly in his cheek, Thomas delivers a trilogy of retrospective tunes: "Painted Smile," which casts his life in the guise of a circus, "Reflective Smile," a poem recited by long-time Moody Blues' supporter and BBC DJ David Symonds, and "The Veteran Cosmic Rocker," a nod to what was now the group's bygone psychedelic era. Incorporating a whirling dervish Bo Diddley beat led by Thomas' flute and harp, the group chips in with bits of sitar, orchestrated synths and wraps up the lampoon by exiting with a backward vocal. It's a fitting opening chapter in the next phase of the Moodies' career.

The Magnificent Seven (Well, Six Out Of Seven Anyway...)

I've always been one of the loudest naysayers when it comes to what most consumers view as the Moodies' penultimate album, "Days Of Future Past" (2 out of 5 stars). The integration of rock songs and orchestral music works on a functional level, creating a work that follows a day in the life from dawn to dusk. Everything sounds grandiose and as moving as it's intended to be - but many of the songs were out of date minutes after the Moody Blues recorded them. Only Pinder's orient meets England passage, "The Sunset," Hayward's peaceful "Tuesday Afternoon" and his timeless "Nights In White Satin" remain listenable. The other songs are beautifully arranged and played, but their futures are well past.

Encouraged by the enthusiastic reception "Days Of Future Past" received, the Moodies set out to record an album on their own terms in 1968. In their determination to be more self-reliant, they scraped the idea of recording their next album, "In Search Of The Lost Chord" (3 ½ out of 5 stars) with an orchestra. Instead they adopted a new instrument Mike Pinder had discovered called a Mellotron, a temperamental, lush sounding keyboard that utilized tapes to approximate the sound of a string section. The group didn't completely abandon the orchestra however, using oboes, French horns, and cellos. Championing the lysergic sound of the day, the Moodies sprinkled their material with a Middle Eastern influence through the use of sitars and tamboura. The group also began the practice of blending the album's cuts together, making the songs sound like one continuous piece.

"In Search Of The Lost Chord" takes off with "Departure," a demented spoken piece by Graeme Edge. One of John Lodge's personal favorites, "Ride My See Saw" follows. It's the type of semi-rocker he became known for that gives Hayward a chance to show his capable form on the axe. As you've already surmised, Lodge is my least favorite
Moodie - even Edge writes better tunes when he chooses to write songs instead of poems. Lodge's upbeat stuff clashes with the others more scholarly material, and when he writes a ballad it's usually torpedoed by a childish arrangement or lazy lyrics. "Ride My See Saw" falls into the category of not really meshing with the rest of the album's incense and peppermints mentality, but it remains a concert favorite to this day.

Pinder's horror movie Mellotron sneaks in, signaling the opening of Lodge's "House Of Four Doors (Pt.1)." One the album's most ambitious pieces, there's also a second part that opens with a creaking door following Ray Thomas' "Legend Of A Mind." Talk about a metaphor, "The House Of Four Doors" symbolizes, well, I'm not sure. I think it's about taking your mind to different planes and going through various barriers in order to reach nirvana. (I told you...These guys are deep.) My explanation may be off base, but the song isn't. It's a time capsule for those of us who enjoy naval gazing, populated by bits of harpsichord, tamboura, keyboards and flute. And Lodge's wobbly voice acts like a monk tour guide leading the listener through a monastery of sounds and senses.

Ray Thomas follows with two of his early classics, the bouncy safari adventure "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" and "Legend Of A Mind" (which is often misidentified as "Timothy Leary's Dead"). "Legend" takes up the cause of LSD as a mind-expanding experience (although Thomas was mostly a wine drinker), and promotes Dr. Timothy Leary as the spokesperson for the burgeoning hippie lifestyle. Thomas performed "Legend" in concert up until he retired - long after the real Timothy Leary has indeed died. The song is highlighted by Thomas' flute solo and Pinder's bad acid trip Mellotron. "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" presumes to tell the story of explorer Stanley Livingstone, who got lost wandering around the jungles of Africa. He was found by fellow explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who supposedly said upon meeting him, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume." Thomas invokes other explorers, including Scott and Columbus. It's one of the few instances where the Moodies didn't take themselves seriously, and it's a buoyant delight.

Thomas and Hayward collaborated on one of the more tranquil pieces, the Indian-influenced "Visions of Paradise,' with Hayward plucking a sitar and Thomas floating out notes like smoke from a hookah. Hayward steps out on his own with "Voices In The Sky," a slight, but pretty ballad softened by Thomas' butterfly flute, and "The Actor," a short story about a self-centered thespian. Thomas blows effectively in "The Actor" as well, sounding like he's playing Pan Pipes in the background.

Pinder provides the most thought evoking material (for 1968 anyway) in a pair of songs, "The Best Way To Travel" and "Om." "The Best Way To Travel" abounds with sound effects produced by Hayward (!) on the Mellotron that alternately sound like sonar, a passing car, and a reverberating heartbeat. (See what magic you can create when you futz around with something?) Pinder, who takes Hayward's place on acoustic guitar, serves as our guide to the astral plane, proclaiming: "And you can fly, high as a kite if you want to, faster than light if you want to. Speeding through the universe, thinking is the best way to travel."

The meditative "Om" with Pinder and Thomas trading vocals and Hayward's Beatle-esque sitar segment will make you cross your legs and bow to the East. Pinder devised the Buddhist chant-driven album ender, which makes the boys sound as if they've achieved oneness with Vishnu herself:

Pinder: The rain is on the roof,
Thomas: Hurry high, butterfly.
Pinder: As clouds roll by my head,
Thomas: I know why the skies all cry...
All: Om...Om...Heaven.

The re-release of "In Search Of The Lost Chord" has a second disc with 15 alternate and instrumental versions of album tracks, plus a mini-concert - three live cuts performed for John Peel's "Top Gear" radio show and a live rendition of "Tuesday Afternoon" recorded live for the BBC's "Afternoon Pop Show." The biggest finds are "A Simple Game" and "King and Queen" two early songs penned by Justin Hayward.


The group's third album "On The Threshold Of A Dream" (3 ½ out of 5 stars) plays out like a celestial concept album. The centerpiece, or pieces, is Pinder's "Have You Heard," which is presented in three connecting parts. The album's cornerstone concerto is introduced by Edge's poem, "The Dream," which is given a typically ominous Vincent Price reading by Pinder, who by now specialized in such things:

When the white eagle of the North is flying overhead,
the browns, read and golds of autumn lie in the gutter, dead.
Remember then that summer birds with wings of fire flaying,
came to witness spring's new hope, born of leaves decaying.
Just as new life will come from death, love will come at leisure,
love of love, love of life and giving without measure,
give in return a wondrous yearn of a promise almost seen.
Live hand-in-hand and together we'll stand on the threshold of a dream...

Pinder's ghostly Mellotron spirals into "Have You Heard (Pt. 1)" transforming itself into a wizened cello against Hayward's temperate acoustic. Building on his role as the group's shaman, Pinder's voice drifts, as if floating through space: "Now you know that you are real, show your friends that you and me belong to the same world, are turned on by the same word. Have you heard..." With Pinder's Mellotron creating an astral environment that shivers, dives, then rises majestically, the second section, the instrumental "The Voyage" sounds as if it was meant to be part of the soundtrack for the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." The Mellotron creaks, bringing the listener back to Pinder's Himalayan retreat as he imparts his karmic wisdom in "Have You Heard (Pt. 2)" before the album signs off with starry sound effects. It's one of Pinder's headier classics that leaves the listener feeling as if they've been afforded a moment of clarity regarding mankind's place in the universe.

Pinder loosened up his studious image with "So Deep Within You," a fast-paced declaration of love featuring Thomas' trilling flute and Edge adding a dramatic edge on tympani.

Hayward, who seldom missed in the early days, misfires with "Lovely To See You Again," a congenial but mundane mid-rocker with herniated Lodge back ups. He'd do better with the same format a few years later when he came up with the similar sounding "The Story In Your Eyes" for the "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" album. Hayward's second contribution, the introspective "Never Comes The Day," features warm harmonies, Pinder's cascading Mellotron runs and Thomas' harmonica, but it never takes off. Hayward's best effort on the album was collaboration with Thomas, the chivalrous "Are You Sitting Comfortably?" It put the band in an ideal setting, amongst magicians, ladies of the court and kings. Thomas' flute and Hayward's poetic lyrics stir up visions of knights (in armor, not in white satin), and the legend of King Arthur: "Ride along the winds of time, and see where you have been, the golden age of Camelot, when Guinevere was Queen. It all unfolds before your eyes, let Merlin cast his spell."

Pinder and Thomas carried the album, with Thomas adding "Lazy Day," a biting condemnation of boring English Sundays, and "Dear Diary," an equally acerbic commentary on how insensitive we'd become as a culture. It's noteworthy for Thomas' willowy flute solo, Lodge plucking away on upright bass, and Thomas' echoed vocal and parting line ("Somebody exploded an H-Bomb today, but it wasn't anybody I knew.")

The only drawbacks are two sub par Lodge compositions, the sing-songy "Send Me No Wine" and "To Share Your Love" which nearly makes it out of the gate because of Pinder's desperate lead vocal.

The remastered "On The Threshold Of A Dream" bristles with five alternate takes and four live bonus tracks, two each recorded for John Peel's "Top Gear" program in February 18, 1969 and "The Tony Brandon Show" on April 2, 1969.

The Moodies' fourth album "To Our Children's Children's Children" (4 out of 5 stars) further mined Pinder's interest in the cosmos, and as the title suggests, the group also addressed thoughts of mortality and what he world might be like for their offspring. The album began in typical profound fashion with Edge's near hysterical instrumental/recitation "Higher and Higher" with the chorus bursting through the speakers, rising like a V-2 rocket trying to break the sound barrier. It's a mess and a scary one at that. One of John Lodge's better compositions, "The Eyes Of The Child (Pt. 1)" is an ethereal space walk. Lodge's voice hovers above an airy filament supplied by chimes and Pinder's angelic chords. Who knew that a man whose voice so often teetered on the verge of collapse could sing such a soothing song? Of course John doesn't know when to leave well enough alone, so "Eyes Of A Child (Pt. 2)" is delivered at the speed of a steeplechase, leaving Lodge scrambling vocally.

With the exception of Edge's unnecessary instrumental ("Beyond"), the rest of the album presents some of the group's more complex and rewarding material. Ray Thomas continued to ride along on a high plane of creativity, chiming in with "Floating," a light- hearted look at space travel. Thomas had an affinity for coming up with compositions that looked at life through the eyes of a child, and "Floating" bounced along like an untethered balloon. Thomas also wrote "Eternity Road," which utilized a frantic Chris Wood-like solo, with Edge making his presence known and an uncharacteristically macho solo from Hayward.

Pinder continued to be the group's bedrock. When he wasn't providing spooky orchestral passages or joining the others in harmony, Pinder was singing lead on his songs, "Sun Is Still Shining" and "Out And In." Pinder's Mellotron careens around "Sun Is Still Shining," an optimistic journey through the universe with a swirling mystical influence: "Sun is still shining, look at the view. Moon is still dining, with me and you. Now that we're out here, open your heart, to the universe, of which we're a part."  "Out and In" sounds like the title to an X-rated flick, but this is the Moodies were talking about, so Brother Pinder takes us on another journey across the cosmos using our minds instead of our bodies.

Hayward's presence isn't as strong on the album, although he seems to be occupying his time by playing a bit more electric guitar. The short (1:05) acoustic ballad "I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Hundred" imparts the narrator's regrets, as does it's even more brief sequel (33 seconds!) "I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Million." You'd think if someone lived that long he'd need a lot more time to sing about his mistakes. The two songs come off as polite filler, leaving "Gypsy" as Hayward's lone solo composition with any substance. Building on the album's space travel theme, "Gypsy" follows a lonely traveler "aching for the warmth of a burning sun, freezing in the emptiness where he'd come from." More intense than most of the group's tunes, it hinges on Pinder's ray gun keyboards. Thomas blows through with one of his more fiery, bird-like stabs on flute.

Lodge had faltered badly on the previous album, "On The Threshold Of A Dream," but along with "Eyes Of A Child" delivered the mystical "Candle Of Life." Wobbly-voiced John wisely asked Hayward to sing lead, and Justin's vocal is as entrancing as a burning flame. Hayward's shining moment is the album's closer, "Watching and Waiting," co-written with Thomas. It melts through your speakers, carried along on Pinder's thick-as-a Persian-carpet soloing.

There are previously unreleased children on the deluxe version's second disk, which includes live versions of "Gypsy," "The Sunset," "Never Comes the Day," "Are You Sitting Comfortably?" "Have You Heard?" "Nights In White Satin," and "Legend Of A Mind."

The band had been searching for a perfect balance between their philosophical image and catchy radio-friendly songs. With their fifth effort, 1970's "Question Of Balance" (4 ½ out of 5 stars), they achieved it.

Hayward hit his stride as a composer on the album, registering 3 ½ songs. The album opens with his flamenco-influenced classic, "Question," a nail-snapping acoustic attack with dramatic orchestral flourishes by Pinder and eddying bass by Lodge. Edge punctuates Hayward's passionate vocal with kicks on his bass drum: "Why do we never get an answer, when we're knocking at the door. There's a thousand million questions, about hate and death and war. When we stop and look around us, there is nothing that we need, in a world of persecution that is drowning in its greed." The first two verses charge in like an angry tidal wave, then the rush recedes as Hayward sings a serene middle eight against Pinder's noble accompaniment. Hayward's voice rises like a burning sunrise as the music picks up steam again, exiting in bursts from Pinder's Mellotron and Edge's active kit.

On first listen, Hayward's two other offerings, "It's Up To You," and "Dawning Is The Day" appear to be simple folk rockers. But "It's Up To You" is blanketed with tight, layered, rising harmonies reinforced by Hayward's humming guitar. Hayward's nuanced vocal is the main attraction of "Dawning Is The Day" which gains steam via Thomas' whispery flute solo and Pinder deeking in and out of the arrangement with cha-cha riffs.

Pinder put forth two of his strongest pieces for the album, "How Is It (We Are Here)," and "Melancholy Man." Pinder dons an apocalyptic tone for "How Is It (We Are Here)" chastising the world for its greed and ignorance of the plight of the poor: "How is it we are here on this path we walk? In this world of pointless fear, filled with empty talk. Descending from the apes, the scientist priests all think. Will they save us in the end, we're trembling on the brink. Men's mighty mining machines, digging in the ground, stealing rare minerals where they can be found. Concrete caves with iron doors, bury it again. While a starving frightened world fills the sea with grain."  The music bed is as eerie as the lyrics, exhibiting an American Indian on peyote influence.

In "Melancholy Man," Pinder ponders his place in the heavens (as he was apt to do): "I'm a melancholy man, that's what I am. All the world surrounds and my feet are on the ground. I'm a very lonely man, doing what I can. All the world astounds me and I think I understand, that we're going to keep growing, wait and see."  Pinder's seemingly simple lyrics are bolstered by an array of bursting sound effects that resemble a rocket blasting off and transversing the universe. It's a very enlightening, "oh wow" type of song and one of Pinder's best.

With the help of Thomas, Edge worked up the album's closer, "The Balance," one of the group's finer efforts at mixing the spoken word with music. Sounding like a youthful John Hurt, Pinder relished his enlightened prophet routine - and check out John Lodge wailing like Maria Callas in background. "The Balance" exits on a cloud of soaring keyboards and a jubilant chant.

Thomas makes only one appearance as a lead vocalist, but his flute/percussion contributions are all over the record, sweetening the mix. His one song, "And The Tide Rushes In," is typical Ray - romantic, a bit over the top and invigorating.

Edge whispers his way through "Don't You Feel Small," one of his most creepy and claustrophobic tomes, with Thomas blowing with the reckless abandon of Ian Anderson. The only questionable contribution is Lodge's "Tortoise And The Hare," (surprise, surprise) which jerks along like a mechanical bunny with a bum leg. With the vocal support of Pinder, Thomas, and Haywood (sounds like it should be an Inc. following that doesn't it?), Pinder's sweeping Mellotron and Thomas' peek-a-boo flute, "Tortoise And The Hare" bolts out if the starting gate with promise. The arrangement blows a tire during the middle eight when Lodge goes it alone. Working against Edge's congas his voice goes noticeably slack and sour, and neither the tortoise of the hare reach the finish line.

Lodge recovers nicely with "Minstrel's Song," a choral assault propelled by Edge's marching band cadence. Lodge's songs work best when the others join in and sing along, and by double and triple tracking the singer's voices, the Moodies sound like a medieval army raising their beer steins and gleefully singing a victory song: "Listen to the one who sings of love; follow our friend, our wandering friend. Listen to the one who sings of love, everywhere love is around."

Six previously unreleased bonus tracks have been added to the remastered version of "Question of Balance," including the original mixes of "Minstrel's Song," "It's Up To You," "Don't You Feel Small," and "Dawning Is The Day." An alternate version of "Question" adds twenty seconds of dramatic indulgence. The newest find is "Mike's Number One," a meandering piece by Pinder recorded live in the studio.

Simple isn't always good...  

Between their two best albums ("Question of Balance" and "Seventh Sojourn") the Moodies simplified their sound for "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" (3 out of 5 stars). There's still an abundance of introspective messaging, and everyone save Lodge managed to come up with a winning cut, but there was also a paucity of flat, lackluster material. Only Thomas' "Our Guessing Game," Edge's "After You Came." Hayward's "You Can Never Go Home Anymore," and Pinder's "My Song" meet the Moodies high standards.

The album opens with "Procession," a 4:40 synopsis of the history of the world. Pinder's Mellotron sets down like a flying saucer coming to earth (it's the Moodie mothership!). Then the boys shout in unison "DESOLATION!" (which is followed by the sound of a howling wind), CREATION! (the sound of thunder and lightning), and "Communication..." (followed by the sound of native drums beating out a message, and the boys grunting like extras in a John Wayne western). The band runs through a head-spinning batch of snippets representing Indian, classical, baroque, folk, jazz and rock. It's all very ambitious but also very disjointed.

Hayward's "The Story In Your Eyes," the Moodie's last single featuring a Mellotron, is a dressed up rocker with pounding rhythm. It doesn't say much, but does show that Pinder, Haywood and Lodge could create some heat when they were locked in.

Hayward scores with the sad lament "You Can Never Go Home Anymore." His defeated vocal merges with Pinder's pulsating Mellotron accompaniment and the mournful choral backing: "I lie awake for hours, I'm just waiting for the sun, when the journey we are making has begun. Don't deny the feeling that is stealing through your heart, every happy ending needs to have a start."

Pinder offers only one song, but it's a Moodie monolith. "My Song" is a 6:20 marriage of classical music and art rock, with Pinder playing the piano as if he's channeling Beethoven after he's passed the bong to Michael Phelps.

Thomas offers the chirpy "Nice To Be Here" and hits home with "Our Guessing Game." "Nice To Be Here" is another example of the type of playful fantasy Thomas is an expert at creating. (Are you listening John Lodge?) It hops along energetically, feeding off of Thomas' "Alice in Wonderland" imagery and Hayward's bouncy guitar riffs. It's fun, but is closely reminiscent of "Floating" from "Our Children's Children's Children...," giving the listener a we've done this before feeling. Thomas' melodramatic vocal marks "Our Guessing Game" as a song of significance. Fortunately, with the assistance of Hayward's forceful guitar and Pinder's keyboard phrasing, "Our Guessing Game" delivers.

Leave it to Edge to come up with an irreverent but entertaining rocker. For "After You Came" he slips Pinder, Hayward and Lodge a line or two before they join together in the chorus. Because of the nature of the band's music, Edge seldom had his drums mixed in the forefront. "After You Came" affords him the opportunity to let his cymbals ring as he drives the tune.

Lodge's two tunes, "Emily's Song" and "One More Time To Live" are the album's primary disappointments. Dedicated to his daughter, "Emily's Song" is a dressed up nursery rhyme with sandman synthesizers and a twinkling glockenspiel solo. It's all very twee and sugary, a prime example of overindulgence for anyone critical of the Moodies' music. "One More Time To Live" picks up the chanting used in "Procession," which was bad enough the first time. There's no logical reason to repeat a failure, John.

The remastered import adds the extended single version of "The Story In Your Eyes," and the first take of the Hayward/Thomas composition "The Dreamer" an taut, focused mover that falls in the realm of the Yardbird's "Heart Full of Soul" with its acoustic backing and punchy American western atmosphere. It's a treat to hear Thomas sing with a harder edge. They should have put Johnny's puff pieces out to pasture and found a place for "The Dreamer" somewhere on the album.

When people ask me which Moody Blues album is my favorite, I'm inevitably torn between "Question Of Balance" and "Seventh Sojourn" (4 ½ out of 5 stars). "Question" has two more songs and flows more freely; the songs are by in large stronger, so it must be the personal connection I have with "Seventh Sojourn" that makes me rate it first.

I spent a Felliniesque weekend holed up in a friend's room in college with two girls, a revolving roster of guest loonies, ample pharmaceuticals and five, count 'em, five albums. I'd given my friend one of the albums, "Jack Bruce At His Best." Since Jack had only put out three albums at that point, it wasn't Jack Bruce anywhere near his best. The other albums were an eclectic collection of obscurities: "Fairyland," an extremely abrasive live album by jazz guitarist Larry Coryell; "Mark II," psychedelic blues by Steamhammer, an English group so obscure it took me four years to track down another copy of the album; and "The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus" by Spirit, one of the most varied and scariest albums I've ever heard, an acid trip set to music. The fifth album was The Moody Blues' "Seventh Sojourn," an album that projected me so far out on the astral plane I never thought I'd come back, and I didn't want to.

Hayward's slow, silken overtly romantic "New Horizons" remains my favorite Moodies' track. Edge's drum fills give "New Horizon" the proper spectacle it needs, particularly his majestic ride across the tom-toms near the end. Pinder, who'd switched from the Mellotron to the more reliable Chamberlain, makes his new toy shimmer like a glowing sun, and Hayward's vocal is a tranquil, soothing balm: "Well I've got dreams enough for one, and I've got love enough for three. I've got my hopes to comfort me, I've got my new horizons out to sea." It's one of Hayward's more hopeful ballads that made me believe in the possibility of everlasting love. Any kind of love, everlasting or even brief, has proved to be as elusive as mercury over the years, but whenever I hear "New Horizons" for 5:10 I believe, brothers and sisters, I believe.

Several non-musical factors made "Seventh Sojourn" an incredible journey. With communication testy at best, it's ironic that "Seventh Sojourn" was the group's most peaceful and composed sounding project to date. It's also odd that the album's single, John Lodge's "I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)" was a driving, up-tempo tune pushed by the rhythm section. It's an uncharacteristic speeding train that doesn't fit into the Moodies' mellow canon and ruins the rest of the album's transcendental mood. (Hence the 4 ½ star rating instead of 5). It's nice to hear Lodge and Edge work as a team, although the way the Moodies' music is set up, you sometimes forget the Moodies even have a drummer.

What sets "Seventh Sojourn" on a pedestal above the other albums is that Hayward, Pinder, Thomas and Lodge each came up with a signature tune. For Hayward, it was "New Horizons." Pinder composed the chilling opener "Lost In A Lost World," which damned greed and racial oppression: "I woke up today, I was crying, lost in a lost world. So many people are dying, lost in a lost world. Some of them are living an illusion, bounded by the darkness of their minds. In their eyes its nation against nation, with racial pride, sad hearts they hide, thinking only of themselves. They shun the light, they think they're right, living in their empty shells."

Pinder also unchained "When You're A Free Man."  With the newfound freedom the Chamberlain afforded, Pinder was able to create a misty landscape of sound alongside Thomas' wraith-like flute. The clincher was his Dali Llama vocal, a reverberated murmur that said, "I've got some wisdom to impart, kids."

The writing partnership of Hayward and Thomas produced its last tune, the eager "You And Me" sung by the group. Hayward's "Land Of Make Believe" trod in Thomas' territory, spinning a child-like yarn against Pinder's avalanche of keyboards and Edge's edgy percussion.

Lodge wrote the hit single, but it was his 6:00 opus, "Isn't Life Strange" that showed he could lock into the same cosmic vibe as the rest of the group. Thomas furnished "My Lady," a warm Parisian love letter that became his most popular in-concert performance.

It's obvious the Moodies weren't wasting material by the time they got to "Seventh Sojourn" - there are only four extra tracks on the remastered edition - an instrumental demo of "Lost In A Lost World," the original version of "Isn't Life Strange" with an extended instrumental section that lengthens the song to 8:10, an early take of "You and Me" recorded at Mike Pinder's home with the host exploring the benefits of the Chamberlain, and "Island," a previously unreleased track written by Hayward intended for the next album.  

As the group continued to evolve and video began figuring into the equation, Hayward and Lodge began to attract the most attention from fans as well as the group's management. They were younger and more photogenic than Thomas, whose case wasn't helped because his main instrument was the flute, so Hayward and Lodge's songs dominated the group's albums. Producer Tony Clarke went so far as to have Thomas' vocals wiped from the albums "The Other Side of Life" and "Sur Le Mer." For a time Thomas was able to feed his creative Jones in concert when he would step forward and sing crowd-pleasers like "My Lady" and "Legend Of A Mind." He also served as M.C., smacked a tambourine, and traded solos with Moraz. But now, instead of a meager two songs per album, Ray was reduced to one or none. Thomas eventually retired from the band in 2002, citing poor health, but he was probably too embarrassed or bored to death by then.



Solo Stuff...A Short Recess...For Five Years

Having recorded seven albums, driving the band to near-exhaustion and straining their relationships, the group decided to take a short rest in1972. The short recess became a five-year separation as each of the members released solo albums.

If there was any doubt about each member's role in the Moody Blues, their solo works made it more obvious: Mike the mystic, Ray the romantic, Justin the just, low level Lodge and gregarious Graeme.

Mike Pinder put out "The Promise" (3 out of 5 stars), which occasionally stumbled over its own overt spirituality. The celebratory "Free As A Dove," the stately "You'll Make It Through" and, in particular, the heartfelt ballad "I Only Want To Love You" made the album worth a listen, but as a Pinder fanatic I was a bit disappointed. "The Promise" suffered from a lack of separation between church and music, which in my opinion, should never mix.

Pinder had initially sought to record an album with Hayward, and the two began laying down tracks when conflicts in their schedules brought the project to a halt. Hayward turned to Lodge, and the two recorded the pristine "Blue Jays" (5 out of 5 stars). With Pinder and his Mellotron sidelined, the duo enlisted a string section. The human element added tension to the songs. Every track stands out either because of Hayward's silken voice, the pair's tight harmonies, or the string section's vibrant playing. The most notable songs are "Remember Me (My Friend)," "I Dreamed Last Night," as effecting and pained a ballad as Hayward ever penned; Lodge's lonely "Maybe," and Hayward's haunting "Who Are You Now," with its sad cello solo.

Hayward and Lodge went their separate ways, with Hayward releasing "Songwriter (3 ½ out of 5 stars). Uneven in spots, when it was bad it was atrocious (part two of the noisy title track would never have passed the quality control test for a Moodies album). When it was good, it was memorable, particularly "Stage door," the tale of an aspiring actress who leaves her friends and family behind, "Doin' Time," a threatening look at prison life, and "Nostradamus," which traced the 16th century figure's prognostications. The pleasant, infectious ballad "Raised On Love" had the added attraction of a chorus sung by elementary school kids, making it undeniably cute.

John Lodge released "Natural Avenue." Naturally, I didn't like the one song I heard, so I never bought he album. Therefore it's not fair that I rate it. But I will say this - it's never been released in the U.S., and even one of those Russian L.P. to CD knockoffs of the album is hard to find.

With his compositions increasingly squeezed out of the Moodies' albums, Ray Thomas had a surplus of material, so he put out two solo albums with guitarist Nicky James, 1975's "From the  Mighty Oaks" (3 out of 5 stars) and 1976's "Hopes, Wishes and Dreams" (3 ½ out of 5 stars). Ray's songs on "Oaks" bordered on being pompous, the result of not having the others to reign him in, but knock wood, the country-influenced "Rock-A-Bye Baby Blues" and "Adam and I," a song about his relationship with his son, were solid as an oak. The improved "Hopes, Wishes and Dreams" was highlighted by the ebullient opener, "In Your Song," as well as the placid "Within Your Eyes," and "Didn't I," a dreamy ballad with a soaring vocal and an impressive conquistador coronet solo.

The most surprising entries came from Edge, who hitched his drum stool to the Gurvitz Brothers - guitarist Adrian and bassist Paul - two accomplished session men who'd helmed underground groups Gun and Three Man Army. Since Adrian or Paul handled the vocals and co-wrote the songs on the trio's three albums, they weren't really Edge solo works and were rightfully credited to "The Graeme Edge Band." "Bareback Rider," the brisk percussion dominated track that opened the trio's 1975 debut, "Kick Off Your Muddy Boots" (2 out of 5 stars) served notice that the trio has established a mainstream rock sound. Having Ginger Baker drum alongside Edge on the horn-blasted "Gew Jamma Woman" was a P.R. coup that increased the album's visibility. The follow-up, 1976's "Paradise Ballroom" (3 ½ out of 5 stars) was laden with hooks and soulful vocals by Adrian Gurvitz. Adrian Gurvitz powerful, tear-jerking performance energized "Human." He sounded devastated during "Down, Down, Down" and with Paul thumping on bass, swayed his way through "Everybody Needs Somebody," (which nipped the opening line from Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody"), making heartbreak almost sound like fun.

Hayward, Lodge and Edge are all that remain from rock's version of the philosopher's stone. They may not tour or record much anymore, but with their first seven solid albums the knights in white satin crossed new horizons and proved that thinking is the best way to travel. Get moody with The Moody Blues.


Categories

Archives


Recent Entries

  • 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees

    for Coffeerooms by Mike JeffersonThe 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees have been announced. The artists being considered are a mixture of worthy choices,...

  • Rock Requiem - Stars That Left Us Too Soon

    for Coffeerooms by Mike JeffersonLooks like Amy Winehouse shouldn't have said no, no, no to rehab after all. The recent passing of the overindulgent chanteuse brings...

  • Paul McCartney - McCartney & McCartney II

    Paul McCartney McCartney(First Solo Album, 4 out of 5 stars) McCartney II (1 ½ out of 5 stars)Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson It's...

  • John Barleycorn Must Die - Deluxe Edition

      Traffic  John Barleycorn Must Die - Deluxe Edition  5 out of 5 stars   Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson Traffic's classic fourth album,...

  • Accidental Moments in Rock

    by Mike JeffersonThere have been many fortuitous moments in rock, such as Mama Cass introducing Graham Nash to David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Among others...Buddy...



Close