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The Moody Blues

Mellotron? How 'bout HELLION!

Introduction
The Magnificent Moodies
Prelude 
Days of Future Passed
In Search of the Lost Chord
On the Threshold of a Dream
To Our Children's Children's Children
Caught Live +5
A Question of Balance
Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
Seventh Sojourn
Octave
Long Distance Voyager
The Present
The Other Side of Life
Sur La Mer
Keys of the Kingdom
A Night At Red Rocks
Strange Times
December

The Lineup Card (1965-2004)

Denny Laine (vocals, guitars) 1965 also of Wings

Clint Warwick (bass) 1965

Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals) until 1981

Ray Thomas (guitar, flute, vocals)

Graeme Edge (drums, vocals)

Justin Hayward (guitars, vocals) after 1966

John Lodge (bass, vocals) after 1966

Patrick Moraz (keyboards) 1981-1991 also of Yes

I've actually been avoiding reviewing the Bloody Hues, not because I dislike them (though I find them about as easy to love as a rabid hedgehog on crack), but because all of their albums, at least the ones beginning after their blues period ended in 1966 or so, are just about exactly the same as each other, if not in form than for damn sure in intent.  There were three ways in which artists who had existed before 1967 were affected by the psychedelic revolution of the time - either they rejected it outright (see the Kinks), tried it on as passing fancy, taking only a few selected cues to retain in their longer-term sound (Beatles, Stones), or they fell in face-first and bought it all hook, line, and sinker. The Moody Blues most definitely fall into this last category.  If there was ever a poster child band for the bleary-eyed, fiercely optimistic, spiritually desperate, I-Saw-Jesus-After-Eating-A-Handful-Of-Mushrooms-From-My-Guru-Over-There sort of hippies, it's this band. And if there ever was an outfit that seemed way too goddamn serious about making music this positive and optimistic, it's these guys.  From their stuffy classical musician temperaments to their wordy, meandering compositions to Graeme Edge's groaningly horrendous poetry excursions that open and close their classic period albums to the soppy,  heart-on-sleeve Justin Hayward ballads that fill them up, the Moody Blues were one aptly named bunch of dudes.  They were one of the first pop bands that made music too 'serious' to allow itself to be called rock 'n' roll, affixing themselves with an arty-farty image that made it seem like not only were they too high on their hog to concern themselves with such childish trifles as drugs, groupie sex, tossing TVs out of Holiday Inn windows, and driving Bentleys into swimming pools, they were also too stuck-up to ever lower their delivery from 'ridiculously overserious' to something approaching humanity. You might talk about Yes's celestial pretentiousness or Robert Fripp's bloodlessly academic reptilism, but the Moody Blues wrote the book on acting like a puffed-up asshole and calling it rock 'n' roll. To listen to their albums, this band fancied themselves to be not only 'advancers of pop music' and 'spokesmen for their generation', but were downright spiritual avatars whose dimestore philosophical mumblings were fit to lead a people to glory.  Now, from 'Ain't no cure for the summertime blues' to 'if you ain't busy being born you're busy dying', rock 'n' rollers have been spouting their own particular views on the world as long as Dick Clark has remained upright and undecomposed, but no one I've heard so far has taken spouting their squishy system of values quite to the same lengths as the Moodies. These guys aren't just sincere, they're True Believers, and you can tell from their album covers and titles right down to Edge's frumped-up verse...if these guys weren't in a rock band they'd be in a cult, and I'd be willing to bet a pound of my flesh they'd be wearing those blue nylon Nikes if they were.

I know what it is! They're the goddamn Mormons of rock music. Nice folks, clean cut, but a bit too far isolated and removed from normal human reality to be truly understood. Hell, Hayward even looks like one of Utah's favorite sons. It's a crazy idea, sure, but just listen to my reasoning here: The Moodies are really quite good on paper, at least in terms of their classic albums they're extremely, fanatically consistent, they're 'melodic' and talented enough to make it impossible to completely ignore them.  Hell, they're even innovative enough for the cutting edge-rs and unjustly forgotten enough for the trivialists. However, and this is probably the most important point - they're wholesome as a virgin first-grade schoolteacher. None of their lyrics, besides possibly a bit of sexual suggestion in 'Nights in White Satin' (or, if you're completely sick, 'Ride My See-Saw') or a harmless little shout out to Timothy Leary here and there, are morally challenging in any way whatsoever to the average person.  Besides their little Denny Laine-led R&B period where they had, if little else, a set of guts, they've led a chaste, virtuous, some-might-say-castrated existence. Much like real Mormons, they've sworn off all unintentional contact with black people or their various musical forms...in other words, the Moodies are whiter than their mythical white satin, and to their strong detriment, I should say. Finally, (also much like them durn Mormons) their mystical philosophies are banal, bewilderingly naive, and totally unoriginal (all things are connected! There's a magical chord that will bring truth to the peoples of the universe!), and their endless gloomy optimistic tone gets old faster than Paris Hilton the morning after. Still, some people bought into the Moodies' relentless mediocrity with near-religious fanaticism, and they continue to draw huge numbers of grandparents and PBS station executives to their infrequent concert tours. I guess people liked Jim Jones, too, at least until he decided to gather everyone around the table for some Kool Aid and a quick nap. Or just button up your Heaven Suit and head off on your bike to convert some more heathens.

Nah, just kidding.  As a way of life, being a disciple to the Moody Blues couldn't be stupider (well, it's no stupider than being a Mormon, or a Baptist, or a Jew, or an Animist, or just about anybody who believes the universe doesn't operate. But as a pop band, from a purely entertainment point of view, their albums are mostly pretty darn okay. They really do have a way with melody and atmosphere, mostly because of Hayward's 'romantic' geeky choirboy voice and Mike Pinder's love of the mellow, mellow Mellotron, and like I said, as long as you stay within their celebrated '67-'73 period, it's hard to find a bum Moody album.  They all write and sing, and though I find it hard to tell, there's supposedly quite a difference between the member's viewpoints. I suppose Hayward's the romantic, Edge the doofy space cadet/English lit dropout, and the others vacillating between melodic rockers and melodic anthems.  Melodic, melodic, melodic, and frequently damned boring in its competent mediocrity, and about as risky as wearing a SCUBA outfit in the kiddie pool. Sheeit, they're not the 13th Floor Elevators or anything, people...it all sounds a bit like something your aging 60+ hippie art teacher might listen to, but whatever.  They used an orchestra, fer chrissakes!

Needless to say, the post-reunion years of the 80's and 90's sold out even more than they sold, but as long as you can look past a few syndrums and wonky keyboard tones, you'll still find the same old lilywhite Latter Day Saints spouting their same old tired 'get together' pastiches.  Okay, now, on with da show!


The Magnificent Moodies - Deram 1965

Listening to the old 1965-era Denny Laine-led Moodies record is sorta like finding out your Sunday School teacher used to be a pole dancer down at the city docks, like having the massive realization that your prim, preened idols actually have human qualities after all.  As in the case of darn near every British Invasion band of 1965 besides the Zombies, the Moodies were R&B and damned proud of it.  In this incarnation they released one album and only had one lousy stinking hit, called 'Go Now' (which was also the title of the US version of this album, the Americans knowing that no red-blooded American kid is going to buy an album by a band with as homosexual a name as the 'Moody Blues' unless he damn well knows there's a familiar hit on there), a rollicky piano driven soul ballad that sounds kind of like the Miracles if they'd been led by Bobby Vinton instead of Smokey Robinson.  In terms of scoring points for sounding like true, smooth Motown, it's a winner, but as a song I'd say it's not nearly as memorable as other notable one-hits like Them's 'Gloria' or Manfred Mann's 'Doo Wah Diddy' from the same time, much less what the heavy hitters like the Beatles or Stones were doing. The Moodies were obviously talented and professional, especially keyboardist Mike Pinder, and Denny Laine was a decent enough whiteboy crooner with a slight edge, but they were working in a sound that had quite clearly already been mined much more convincingly, originally, and energetically by the Otis Reddings and Marvin Gayes of the world. There were just too many notable British Invasion groups doing the exact same thing, especially worthy ones you've probably never heard (the Move, the Pretty Things) to waste too much time tracking down this rare and expensive first effort. The band does have some soul, but they could use quite a bit more fire - compared with the razor's edge original by James Brown, the 'I Don't Mind' here is a whitewash, and Chris Kenner's 'Something You Got' is smooth enough to cause Wilson Pickett himself to do a little mashed potato, but compared with the supercharged, immediately recognizable  covers by the Animals or Stones, this stuff is just more R&B.  Thankfully they stay away from the more well-worn cover material (there's no Lightning Hopkins or Temptations, and god bless it, no 'Summertime Blues' here, either), but what they do cover is just a bit too twee and cheeky to really turn my love crank to 'braise'.

The originals are mostly notable by being completely undifferentiable from the surrounding material, except for a tendency towards seriousness and gloomy chords, which I guess is a complement of sorts - 'Let Me Go' has a dark, minor-key, waltzy feel that lets Denny loose his girl-killer croon to cheesy-yet-undeniable effect, 'Stop' sounds like neurotic folk-influenced Help-era Beatles but a bit too quirky and jerky for its own good, and 'Thank You Baby' would've made one fantastic upbeat song for Davy Jones to cover with the Monkees.  I can't say there's no craft going on here - Pinder is too good a keyboard pounder to let these songs go by without a nice bit of classic chord complication, but it's all a bit precocious and cutesy compared with the more risky complex pop of, say, the Zombies.  Plus, with all those covers, there's really just no use in faking it - no one's going orgasmic over Magnificient Moodies. But in case you get a hard-on for old Zodiacs covers, or an unhealthy obsession with Wings (where Denny Laine would later find solace acting as Macca's expensive lead guitarist), I guess there's plenty of albums out there that I feel so strongly about not recommending that by mildly recommending this one, maybe I'll keep my averages closer to normal.  Buy it if you're curious about hearing the Moody Blues sound a little less white than Margaret Thatcher.

Capn's Final Word: Buy it if you're curious about hearing the Moody Blues sound a little less white than Margaret Thatcher.

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Prelude - London 1987

This collection of '67-68 outtakes and singles from the weird limbo period following the loss of star Moody frontman Denny Laine (and original bassist Clint Warlock) and preceding the Days of Future Passed breakthrough is almost perversely entertaining. As quick as you can say, 'G'bye Denny, and thanks for all the cheese!', the Moody Blues grew up, began rocking harder (at least for awhile), and started writing some of the better songs of the 1966 proto-psychedelic dancehall era. For most bands, losing your pinup frontman would kill you dead faster than you can say 'David Lee Roth', but the Moodies weren't really just any band.  They'd existed before Denny (as El Riot and the Rebels, no less) and they'd continue on afterwards - but before all that they'd need a new direction, and they got it. The Moodies quickly added singer and guitarist Justin Hayward to take over for ol' Den, and just as quickly shifted from their R&B roots to something a bit more Mod, a lot more arty, and a whole lot less teenybopper. As long as they had Mike Pinder they'd have at least one pretty good songwriter, but Hayward was equally decent, and Lodge also began to ply his hand at the pop game. They were always a bit too serious as an R&B group, and now they're a bit too serious as a complicato-pop group, but I can't say that even the worst material here is any lamer than the originals on Magnificient Moodies, and it's easy to tell the band had staked their claim for their little piece of the cutting edge, one that they'd keep for a bogglingly short period of time (in fact, they'd be old news by 1968).  For example, 'Love and Beauty' is crazily complex, almost indescribable in it's mishmash of soul vocals, dancehall bangalang, unsettling Mellotron, and kindly psychedelic chorus work.  'Cities' and 'A Simple Game' are much more stereotypically UK 1966, with the prominent harpsichord on 'Cities' and 'Simple' being, well, pretty damned simple. R&B influenced vocals, some mellotron, and gentle acoustics sidling along, but with one of the band's better driving choruses. But great! Hey! Great songs! As for the best stuff, tet's just say that they'd only be able to equal the chocolaty goodness of 'Leave This Man Alone' sporadically over the rest of their career.  Another true-glue winner is the aching 'King and Queen', previously one of the +5 rarities from 1967 and 1968 tacked onto the back of Caught Live+5 and included here in their entirety.  The other post-Days could easily fit onto Threshold or Lost Chord, which isn't to say I'd sell a kidney for them. Pinder's 'Please Think About It' is dreadful doo-wop crooning, but 'Gimme A Little Something' is a snappy Brit Invasion rocker which confoundingly finds a toodly flute instead of a ripping lead guitar. There's also an inexplicable inclusion of 'Late Lament' from Days.  Damn. If that poem and orchestra swell were any more corny the state of Nebraska might sue for defamation.

Hey! The Moodies did do things a little differently than other bands, which really means they avoided sharing their own cliches with other groups.  They weren't particularly willing to fuck with their own formula, especially after the first few of their big albums took hold commercially. But Prelude grabs them at a point when they were still fresher than a Glade Plug-ins factory and hadn't quite gotten too full of themselves. They always retained quite a bit of Brit Invasion-ness in their sound, never got too 'rotten' and decadent in other words, but these prime hooks are at their meatiest here.

Capn's Final Word: Rarities from the bands best period might be hard to track down, but I say ring 'er up, Retail Market Attendant Man.

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Days of Future Passed - Deram 1967

Straight off, let's just put it out there that a big deal was made about this being the first 'classical rock' album (as opposed to 'classic rock' album, which I'm sure you can hear repeated every hour on the hour on some frigging Clear Channel-run radio McStation with a name like 'The CAT' or 'The WOLF' or 'The PICKED-CLEAN CADAVER'), which, if you've heard any of the sugarier Motown albums, you know is complete bullshit, but there it is anyway.  Just like all the other big albums of the immediate Sergeant Peppers era, this album tries to do a whole helluva lot in just a short span of time, to pack all those pretensions right in there so you don't even know which thing to scoff at first. The first four minutes of this 'shining, groove-etched disc, bringer of hums and vibrator of speaker cones' alone pack in a looong (30 second) 'trippy' reverse-fade in, an entire orchestral overture, and Graeme Edge's very first attempt at using the English language verbally (he blathers for a few seconds about the moon and shit...don't miss it if you enjoy throwing up a little bit into your mouth and then swallowing it again).  The rest of the album is similarly stuffed fat with all kinds of high-minded hoo hoo (though it's very much the opposite of the Frank Zappa 'collage' technique...these songs are simple, but they're puffed up until I suppose it becomes 'one with the world of the classics' as the sidesplittingly pretentious album notes claim), most notably that damned Disney-fied cheese orchestra following them around and shadowing their every last move. Needless to say there is a concept here, though actually not one of the band's worst (when you have Threshold and Question to contend with, what could possibly compare?), something about the 'long day's journey into night', or whatever.  There's a dawn, the busy morning, the afternoon doldrums, the cozy evening, and finally the sexy, sexy night time.  Ahh, all the unpredictability of a sundial and none of the reckless exhiliration.  Nah, just kidding.  It's fine, actually, but what with all the romantic chord changes and Hayward's 'heavenly' vocal treatment, it sounds more like the 'long dick's journey into some bird's pants' if'n you ask me.  But nobody ever does. It couldn't be because I constantly smell like bloated cans of pickled herring, could it? Isn't it ironic? Doncha stink?

Oh, by the way, I'm currently spending my time downloading huge numbers of albums from www.allofmp3.com because, for some reason, I'm not getting charged any money anymore.  Perhaps the Russians on the other end are big ol' honkin' Marvel Maniacs, or maybe it's just because they got busted by the FSB for tax evasion and decided to exact their revenge on society by anarchically sharing all of their bazillion MP3 downloads for free.  I recommend checking it out before the house of cards falls over. Whatever it is, I never thought I'd download the entire Alanis Morrissette catalog (along with a whole fuckload of reggae bands you've never heard of. And Helmet. And about six dozen other bands.), but there it is.  Pigs have sprouted rocket engines from their arseholes and are traveling first class to Monte Carlo. Anyway, what the fuck kind of album titles are Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept, by the way? It sounds like the bastard offspring of Yoda and Jeneane Garofolo scribbling 7th grade verse on her Trapper Keeper, fer chrissakes.  Fucking Alanis Morrisette.  Gets laid and dumped once and milks an entire fucking career out of the shit.  She's the kind of ex-girlfriend you never ever feel like calling when you're drunk and lonely in the middle of the night, but always seem to unavoidably run into and have to spent five tense minutes making small talk and trying not to hint that you're still single whenever you run into Walgreen's 10 minutes before they close for some Binaca and another six-pound 'Air Traffic Controller'-sized bottle of Excedrin Opium Strength Zombie Tablets. The kind of girl who's always got some major disease or vaguely-remembered close-relative death to tell you about and make you feel like a small puddle of poodle vomit for dumping her sixteen months ago after she started to have Monthly Literary Review magazines and Pottery Barn catalogs sent directly to your house 'since I'm always there all the time anyway'. Fucking bitch. I'd still do her, though. I'd just need to make sure to do her in a wind tunnel so I can't hear her curdling yodel. And I'd probably need to schedule some therapy afterwards.

Anyway, do the orchestral portions of this album sound like the score to a high school production of The Music Man, or am I just swallowing lead paint again? You can just see the sophomore dorks rush jerkily across the stage in their ill-fitting business suits and ratty briefcases they borrowed from Dad's closet during 'Lunch Break - Peak Hour', and 'The Morning' comes complete the twittering flute birds straight out of Snow Caucasian and the Seven Little People telling us, in case we couldn't remember that album sleeves usually list song titles, that this is supposed to be 'morning', and not, say, 'The time in the middle of the night when you have to wake up and take a neverending piss'. Shit, man, you can almost see the poofy little fucking animated bunny rabbits yawn, wiggle their noses, and cuddle up together inside their hollowed-out logs during the 'Sun Set' sequence. Yup, I'd say the best orchestral work on Days of Gas Passed is when they don't play at all, and it all goes downhill from there faster than Nell Carter strapped stomach-first to a Teflon snowboard.

So the Blues made a big, donkey-assed mistake for inviting that idiot Peter Knight to score their songs, but the songs themselves are money.  There's two big, timeless Moody hits to have here, and both of them are frigging awesome. 'Tuesday Afternoon' is constantly shifting from gloomy, melancholic folk rock to jumpy, jolly barrelhouse rock, for just a few seconds each. It then morphs into 'Time to Get Away', one of Lodge's tunes.  This man is more in touch with his 'whimsy' than any other member of the band, and though I wish he'd quit whipping it out in public, there's something satisfying about his super over-the-top falsetto on this little cutey-pie. The other big huge monstrous classic is 'Nights in White Satin' (which, for the longest time, I mistakenly spelled 'Knights', which oddly, makes a lot more poetic sense in an 'I-AM-THE-GOD-OF-FUCK' way.), simply one of the most gorgeous, romantic ballads in rock history, containing just enough theatre and artifice to perfectly fit its dramatic intentions without going overboard, just a measured, perfectly lilting gait and Hayward making a tearful mess of the lyric sheet.  Moreover, Pinder's Mellotron is so much more gripping and nuanced than any lousy rent-a-symphony that I'd say the instrument gains most if not all of its notoriety and legend right here.  It takes a romantic to really buy it, but if you haven't quite yet become more cynical than Paul Thomas Anderson in a prisoner-of-war camp, you might as well find yourself swept up with it, because if there's one goddamn thing this song has over any other, it's sweep. Of course, it's damn near flat-out ruined by the Edge 'n' Cellos outro section, but we can't blame Hayward for that.

The other tunes are anything but instant classics, but they're oddly great as well once you hack and slash your way through the interstitial orchestral bullshit that clouds them up. While the intro may be an abomination, Pinder's 'Sun Set' is an Eastern-tinged chant of the best possible kind (as opposed to, say, George Harrisons early fumblings with the sitar and his little band of diminuitive Indians), and again is a nice change of pace in the middle of a bunch of songwriters that often sound like they're all stealing chord changes out of the same fake book, like he does on the sub-'White Satin' lope 'Dawn is a Feeling'. Ray Thomas, being a real-life, run-from-the-daily-schoolyard-ass-kicking floutist sticks closer to the orchestral backings with 'Another Morning', scoring the lamest song here, but 'Twilight Time' is quite a charge in contrast, with some pounding hard rock piano and a bit of slightly evil atmosphere that fits in very nicely as a bridge between 'Sun Set' and 'Nights'. Cool stuff, indeed.

Still, you must beware that this is not a normal, banded album where you can skip this retarded orchestra intro or jump past that nauseating spoken-word poetic coda very easily.  The bad stuff mixes freely with the good, so unless you're extremely handy with your tone arm drop (or your fast-forward button), you'll probably encounter some stuff here that makes you wonder what the fuck kind of cheesy schlock this band was trying to pull over on us. Patience and a good mental filter can bring you past all the shit and through to the greatness of this album, but don't be surprised if only 'Tuesday Afternoon' and 'White Satin' fall immediately to ear. The other songs are good, sure, but they're also a bit slight when compared to the ugly, corny orchestral bowel movements that surround them and poison your ear.  If we've already gotten a stripped-down, zero-production gimmck Let It Be...Naked out of the Beatles, I hereby call for the long-awaited issue of Days of Future Passed...Bare-Assed to really get the greatness of this album nailed down for good.

Capn's Final Word: Revolutionary albums create a problem when they're revolting against some of the good things going on in 1967.  Like not using cheez-whiz orchestras.  Great, defining moments here, though.

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Divyang thakurdivyang@yahoo.com     Your Rating: A

Any Short Comments?: The biggest problem with the Moody Blues is that they sound the same. I had a very good opinion about them when I had only this album . Then I got Seventh Sojourn,Question Of Balance,To our Children. . . and all the others ,you know the names. If you asked me from which album such-such song was,I wouldn't be able to tell you(Except that last song from Seventh Sojourn,I want to be a Rock'n'Roll singer or something like that ,long time since I heard it). The whole album could start and then finish and you wouldn't notice the fact.  You mentioned the fact that you could accuse Ac/Dc,ELO of the same thing. In Elo's case you would be right. Also in retrospect you would also be right in Ac/Dc's case. (Or,If I may take the name of Motorhead)But ,I can't put my finger on it exactly,there is something about AC/DC,Motorhead that you can't ignore them. You are made to Rock. Your head starts banging,dammit. Moody Blues don't make an impact of any sort. (Of course this may differ in people. Many people might like the calmness of the Moodies better than the catchiness of AC/DC).  If you want an album that is peaceful,sleep inducing,Moodies are the men for you.  Days of Future Passed,according to me,is their most distinctive album. "Tuesday Afternoon" is the best song because it has many moods and elements of music fused in it. (has a bit of Eastern element near the 2 minute mark,I don't remember exactly). The vocals are impeccable. But as in everything the Moodies overused that voice ,you know,that philosophical,sweet,sad type of voice that so beautifully complements the music. If you take the albums one by one you will have to give'em all A's or such like,but you stand back and look from afar you will have to lower the overall grades. 

Pat     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: (Interesting website and format...grade A)

Man you really rip this album apart,as you do other Moodies albums.

Some of your comments ring slightly "true",but I think there is a difference in taste coming from a younger generation as you do.

Those born after perhaps 1970 somehow do not have the "taste" and perspective as those born earlier.

It is what your were exposed to in childhood, and you have to have some experience with classical music, not just rock and everything 20th
century.

As you dig deeper into the glories of the past arts and history, literature, etc. you will see a bigger picture....this would increase your appreciation of this group..

Sure, some of the stuff is "cheesy"....a lot of progressive music is.....so, name me some "profound" and perfect music...can you?

(Capn's Response: Art, history and literature are going to make me appreciate these gloppy strings and treacly paeons to the Sun and Moon? I guess I'm reading Ziggy compendiums from now on.)
 


In Search of the Lost Chord - Deram 1968

Dippier than sour cream and onion, this corporate mystical-flim-flam Flower Power excursion seems, on paper, to be almost assuredly an elaborate joke, a big-budget practical joke by the Moodies, poking fun at the flagging hippie movement like We're Only In It For The Money, but with better camouflage and bile-spouting disgust replaced by gentle, subtle eye poking.  Let's see - over-reverential song about Timothy Leary? Check. Invocation of vaguely hallucinatory imagery, like 'Fly high as a kite' and 'voices in the sky'? Check. Trippy, drippy album cover art? Check. Deadly serious but childishly banal concept clumsily combining timeless cliche and fashionable pop-Theism? Check. Back cover photos of the band looking like a cross between Montgomery Ward Winter Catalog 1967-68 'casual male' clothing models and reject extras for the casino scene in You Only Live Twice? Check, check, and check! But, goddamn it, this is the Moody Blues, and they're about as funny as a Trent Lott guest shot on Def Jam Comedy Hour. The simply do not enter into things lightly, much less for the purposes of provoking a cheap laugh at the expense of their audience's dippy naivety, so the truth is as plainer than Sissy Spacek in bad lighting...this band is deadly serious about this shit.  They're serious about every goddamn thing, from equating 'the lost chord' with 'OM', to shamelessly kissing Leary's pompous ass, to Mike Pinder's ridiculous 'that's two olives in that martini, darling' and Graeme Edge's 'Do you think people will realize the word 'some' doesn't rhyme in any way, shape, or form with the word 'OM'? And which of you assholes just ripped that enormous fucking colon-blow ripping fart, anyway?' facial expressions on the back cover. Jeez, these guys are so deep into it it's hard to believe they can still remain upright, much less still look like Deram Records' favorite fashion-fag pinup boys.  If you've ever wanted to figure out the meaning of the word 'excess' in connection with the psychedelic movement, look no further than this here album, kiddos.

Still, if there's ever been a Moody Blues album that does everything possible to embarrass itself but still somehow keeps its head above water using the band's freakish innate Melody and Harmony talents alone.  Unlike Days, there's little to no discernable difference between most of the songwriters' contributions other than Graeme's creepy electronic poetry intro 'Departure', which builds to a climax by breaking out in a bout of insane cackling which then pops into the straight-ahead pop rocker 'Ride My See-Saw'.  I may hate the man's wordplay like Karl Rove hates fact-checkers, but this one is pretty effective in its way, from how he lingers on the odd word 'tarmac' to how he spends the majority of the time just mumbling at an inaudible level in a hate-world must-kill sinister whisper. Following what, by all indications, is a totally successful introductory sequence, the album settles into long, pleasant-but-dull stretch of mediocre Moodyisms, occasionally bursting into a short bit of excitement (the raving outro to the otherwise irritating sing-song 'Dr. Livingstone I Presume').  I think the faintly psychedelic 'Legend of a Mind' meanders ruthlessly, the two-part 'House of Four Doors' is gloomy but completely forgettable, Hayward's 'Voice In The Sky' nearly too weak to stand, and the cutesy sapfest 'Visions of Paradise' just makes me feel old.  Sheeit, of course it's all pleasant as motherfucking vanilla pudding, and the guys never stray far enough from their proven bittersweet-but-accessible chord formula to make listening a chore, but jeez. This stuff seems pre-packaged, for some reason, like they're coasting their way through the whole middle section of this album and waiting for their buddies to put together the 'big' songs.  Some might call it filler, and I guess I'm one of those people.

Things pick up with some sprightlier tempos on 'The Best Way To Travel' (is by putting on a tape of some sperm whale calls, getting wicked stoned on some zombie weed, and laying down on your comfiest couch while staring at your unfinished Taco Bell Seven Layer Burrito slowly leak taco-lava) and some monstrously cool singing by Hayward on 'The Actor' (where the climax line is...don't laugh...'You're almost part of me!'.  And people had a hard time taking these clowns seriously. As if!) , but fall apart again on the completely lame 'climax', consisting of yet another Graeme Edge incantation (this time delivered in a dull, businesslike monotone...whatever happened to the promise of that manic cackle, anyhow?) and 'Om', an Eastern sitar/tabla excursion which has only some massed vocal harmonies (chanting 'Om', no less) to recommend it and a whole laundry list of problems (bad lyrics, frequent tuneless dropouts, simplistic flute tweets) to condemn it.  Then the album just abruptly stops dead in its tracks as if it's arrived where it wants to be. Maybe it does...maybe the Moody Blues wanted it to go pretty much nowhere.

Okay, so while Days had undeniably great, anthemic songs despite a bunch of unnecessary bullshit to distract you, In Search of Our Lost Talent lays bare the fact that when the Moody Blues coast, they slow down real fast. I suppose I expect more from an album than some pleasant chord sequences, even from this band, for whom pleasant chord sequences are the main stock in trade. Maddeningly, they showed it could be done on their last album through some inspired use of atmosphere and some nice variation on the basic sound, but this one does neither.  The Eastern motifs are undernourished, the 'rock' songs sound like the mid-tempo songs sped up a few ticks (though 'Ride My See Saw' is a pretty neat one, regardless).  In general, they sound like they've spent all of their 'inspiration' on their concept rather than spreading a little more of the wealth around to the songwriting itself, and Lost Chord suffers as a result. Still, pleasantry is pleasantry, and there isn't really anything too odious for the average listener who doesn't give two shits about delving into the 'meaning' of some lyrics, so I guess I shouldn't sweat too hard in an attempt to ruin somebody's chance for a nice, boring time. 

Capn's Final Word: A misallocation of funds, like a joke with no punchline. I guess they're so damned reliable and melodic they can't even screw up too good, either.

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darren finizio    Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: i bought this album when i was in 9th grade because the cover was really cool and i thought the moodys were a part of the sixtys i needed to get in  touch with -- something more pretty and understated...i love every second of the album, i find lots of lovely, mysterious and strange melodic/rythmic ideas in every piece that makes me adore it so much..."house of four door", "the best way to travel","legend"...this was a group at the height of its peak and i rate the "childrens children" and "balance" lps just as high...they were in complete control of what they were doing which was creating really beautiful music that gets better and better with each listen like the early beegees stuff or the first genesis lp...as for the literary aspects, theyre put forth excellently which makes me forgive the technical ramification of a bad rhyme here and there -- after all, this is about MUSIC isn't it?

 


On the Threshold of a Dream - Deram 1969.

Umm, supposedly a return to form after In Search of the Lost Chord, but I say it's merely a restatement of the now well-known fact that this band is full of hacks. Uninspired artists.  Human music assembly lines. People with a certain amount of performance talent and a safe, proven songwriting formula that can produce acceptable, unshocking product at a fast enough rate to keep their record company smiling and their fans so overwhelmed they don't realize that half the songs on this album sound like half the songs on the next, and vice versa.  I mean, there's a whole list of these kinds of bands in the history of rock music, from AC/DC to ELO to Iron Maiden, but the difference is that those bands play some modicum of dirty-butt rock 'n' roll (well, maybe not really ELO) music and the Moody Blues play their gloppy, thick pop.  I suppose depending on which side of the womb you woke up on, you might prefer the Moodies gentle stroking to a no-lube AC/DC ass-pounding, but not me.  I'll take a slop-filled, four-floor brontosaurus burger of a heavy metal song with a riff reused more times than Pamela Anderson's futon over the ten gazillionth Moody Blues ballad any day of the week. That's just who I am. So if you find it offensive that I unabashedly score most of the 70's AC/DC albums or Roth-era Van Halen records as solid A's and sit back and bash the Moodies unmercifully, well, I never claimed to be subjective.  I calls 'em as I sees 'em, folks, and I sees that in the grand scheme of things, this album as a colossal waste of time with maybe two songs on it that make any good use at all of this band's strengths - great singing, some atmosphere, and a melody that can break your heart.

Of course, I can also recognize that it takes some skill to keep producing albums that are just decent enough that I can't nail down a good reason to hate them, and that there must be something of use in all these strummed acoustics and humming mellotrons or I wouldn't be going to all the trouble of writing 300 words for each of these albums.  But still, Threshold is the first signs of real stagnation in the Moody Blues catalog, the first time I ever really feel like saying 'well, that's it, they're never going to attempt to get any better than this, are they?', and the first time a huge percentage of a Moody Blues album is so slightly written it's damn near inaudible unless you're actively trying to pay attention to it. I remember not long after I got into my Moody Blues buying binge (almost two years ago exactly) and started snatching up all these albums, I put Threshold on my car stereo while going out to a movie with my wife and realized I'd listened to about half of it and hadn't registered a goddamn thing.  And it wasn't like I was engaged in some major conversation or anything.  Some albums stick out and demand to be heard (take, for example, Big Star's first album....that one always seems to be either delightfully too loud or annoyingly too loud), but this one almost sounds like it's trying to crawl back into it's dust sleeve all by itself.  It competes with silence.  Maybe it's a technical problem (I do have the new, ultra-superbo remix of this one, though), something intentionally messed up in the mix to make it soft and soothing, but I swear I still have a hell of a time focusing my attention on it (especially the whole 'dream sequence' on side 2...) When the most memorable thing about an album is the murderously annoying 600-cycle hum on the intro and outro tracks, you've got yourself a MAJOR FUCKING PROBLEM, mister.

Okay, so let's skip most of this dreck by saying if you've heard the dull-ass middle section of In Search Of..., you've heard this stuff too. Again, Graeme starts this one out much more interestingly than it will end up being, with some weird, trippy shifts in tone and more of that grumbling, unsettling half-heard verse of his (no, I have no idea what he's saying, either).  In the place of the genuinely snappy 'Ride My See Saw' is Hayward's formulaic rocker 'Lovely to See You', which sounds like it was recorded with the EQ knobs set on 'Clear As Mud' and showing us just how little the Blues care about their rockers. The sleepy tone of the rest of the album is in force here as well, making it one of the least satisfying uptempo songs of this band's career. Possibly this song might engage itself into something a bit more meaty in a live setting, but it's a dead duck here.

Again, blink and you might miss it, but as long as we're knee-deep in the most depressing and draggy Moody Blues album of their career, we might as well have a depression anthem, and Ray Thomas delivers with the compelling, jazzy mope 'Dear Diary', which is so effective as a downer tune it literally turns my stomach. Man, it's not too entertaining, but I can't deny it's got some sort of weird physical effect on me that I can't even get from Bauhaus or Portishead.  Weird, weird, weird.  I'm almost tempted to say that if you were to listen more closely to some of these other, easily ignorable tunes, you might find similarly odd things crawling around underneath, but I'm just not ballsy or bored enough to really take the chance.

What, am I going to find nirvana in 'Send Me No Wine', fer fuck's sake? Or get an epiphany from a raunchy, repulsive Mike Pinder number called 'So Deep Within You' that sounds like the panting of a pedophile beckoning kids with packets of M&M's at the far end of the schoolyard? Guh...this shit is gross. The closing suite (starting with the tune 'Are You Sitting Comfortably', which might as well be subtitled 'Because We're Now Going To Proceed To Put You To Sleep') is a near-endless collection of Edge blathering and truly gutless Moody Blues instrumentals ever-so-loosely arranged around a paper-thing concept about reaching internal peace and other crap Pinder read about in Trancendentalism For Complete Dipshits back in 1968. At least they're not trying to equate The Holy Grail with the water fountain outside Harrod's in SoHo or anything, but it's still as good a cure for insomnia as a few good whacks in the forehead with a railroad tie mallet and hurts a lot less. I mean, bleahhhh. I think folks who get off on this album  should be damned to a life of MIDI classical music and New Age albums with pictures of sunsets on the front.

Okay, so I think Hayward's 'Never Comes The Day' is one of his best ballads, the one truly great song in this entire slop-bucket of an LP and the only one that radio would ever give a shit about playing.  Sure, he's just doing with his voice what he always does - that aching crescendo backed by that sensitive Mellotron to a slightly rocking verse-section, but when hooks on this album are rarer than shot bars in Salt Lake, and Hayward's otherwise almost absent completely, I gotta grab what's being given to me. 

Otherwise, man...this album is either a chore or a forgotten blur depending on your level of attention, and even when I strain harder than Ed Asner after a prime rib dinner I still can't really figure out that there's any big deal here.  Guh...this album's stuck in the mud, as far as I can tell.

Capn's Final Word: Consistency, oddly enough, doesn't work for these guys.  The snooziest Moodies so far.

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To Our Children's Children's Children - Threshold 1969

Despite what the sickeningly cutesy album title might indicate, this is one of the Moodies stronger albums, as clear and succinct as Threshold was vague and mushy, but remember that when you're talking the Moody Blues, 'clear and succinct' means something quite different than coming from say, the Talking Heads. But for these guys, this is good work, more closely matching normal, run-of-the-mill pop expectations than their last two albums did.  What? You think the Moodies somehow don't need to qualify for 'normal pop expectations', as if they're bravely creating 'art' that should be held in higher regard to the dreck they play on the radio?  As if they don't need to 'lower' themselves for success? Fuck that. This isn't Kurt Weill or John Cage we're talking about here, Mr. Flagpole-In-Arse. It's the Moody-fucking-Blues, one broken Mellotron away from being fucking Bread, fer chrissakes. The Moody Blues were an old-school British Invasion-trained band playing only to score chart hits, plain as day, and some might say in a manner much more shameless than some of their less pretentious competitors. I dunno about that, necessarily, but I will say that the hookier and more catchy the Moody Blues albums are, the better it is.  And this one, while never reaching close to the highs of Days, is still too darn consistent to count out like so many of the others. The band sounds like they're neither too distracted by their concept, like they were on Chord, nor too impressed with their ability to make soothing studio constructions, like they were on Threshold.  They're very much back to writing songs again, and if you can believe it, quite a few of them have some balls, too.

It's still mixed too damn quiet, but at least I can, in fact, hear some noisy bits. Apparently this marks the peak of the Moody Blues' 'big' sound, all poofied up with lots of Mellotron and various other noises not-easily-transportable-to-the-stage, and after this they'd make a conscious effort to scale back their arrangements to something closer to what five human-type people can perform onstage without attaching bionic appendages to themselves. But not yet! We're packed full with fifty million butterfly-sneeze powered massed choruses and Wall-of-Sound-ish acoustic guitar frantically strumming armies and orchestras-in-a-box.  Remember when I said this album rocked? Well, it's not quite Crass or anything, but when sad little Graeme Edge can be tapped to write the de-rigueur 'frantic' opener and do a pretty damn good job of it, there's something good happening here. He also creates an engaging bit of tape-snippet schizophrenia on the instrumental 'Beyond' which gratefully sours some of the more saccharine moments of the first side, so count Kids, Kids, Kids as a sort of 'breakout' album for Graeme. I could go into gory detail, but I guess by now I've become desensitized to the man's poetry. Unfortunately, though, this one seems to mark a return lustily to the haughty, unwieldy similes of old.  Whatever. I'm just glad he's an adequate drummer, or I'd be calling for his head on a stake on a regular basis.

The concept, as it is, makes an early appearance and sticks around worse than Starr Jones at the catering table, but I guess 'passing on your story to future generations' and 'space travel' aren't too bad, considering.  I mean, it's not like I sit here and study the fucking lyric sheets for profound new conceits which I'll use as inspiration to stop being such a cynical, skeptical bastard and start 'loving everybody' (which is actually the main line of Lodge's 'Candle of Life', and with no snickering, neither), okay? It all sounds like mushy hippie bullcrap to me, at least lyrically, but I sure like the way Hayward sings, regardless. And sing he does...after taking a back seat on the terrible Threshold, he's back in strong (if not Days-strong) form here.  His one-per-album 'See Saw'-on-Quaaludes hit 'Gypsy' is rather lame compared to some of his other hits, though, and really doesn't stick out as one of the best tracks here, and neither does his little repeated snippet 'I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Million (But I Sold My Soul To The Devil For Immortality and Got Sentenced To Life Imprisonment the Very Next Day, as a Cliched Ode to Every Twilight Zone Twist Ever Devised)'. Ick.

Nope, while Hayward took an album off last time and his bandmates fumbled all over themselves like Gerald Ford on PCP just trying to come up with minimum-standard filler, here they deliver nicely, if in their own peculiar ways. We've already given Graeme Edge his pat on the back, and Ray Thomas still sounds like he's trying to be Cat Stevens on his two songs, but John Lodge keeps closest to the concept on his two songs (well, technically three, but 'Eyes of a Child' is split in two again with the second half sped up to rocking speed, which is simply a cheap way of people stuck in bad recording contracts to score more songwriting royalties, in case you haven't figured that out), and they're both melodically strong in a way that the last two album's tracks simply never were. As for Pinder, oh Mr. Pinder, who owns a soft spot in my heart, well he writes the best Pink Floyd song of 1970 with 'Out and In', an interstellar cruise that's over way too soon, and as long as we're talking Pink Floyd references here, 'Sun Is Still Shining' beats the ever-loving dog tonsils out of 'St. Tropez' or any of those other lightweight stoner ballads on the first side of 1971's Meddle.

Okay, so I'm not totally in love with it, but for the Moody Blues, this is great work.  It's not such a bad place to start if you want to hear their 'real' sound (as opposed to the orchestrally buggered Days of Future Passed), and there's really no bad songs here. Unless you hate this band like Michael Moore hates the Stairmaster, in which case feel free to score this album an F-minus-minus before you go and pour sulfuric acid on all the flowers at the park and heckle the 100-yard dash at the Special Olympics. We know you have a busy schedule and all.

Capn's Final Word: I still can't buy into their bullshit, but I can for sure ignore a lot of it, and there's some fairly nice moments from everybody involved.

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Caught Live +5 - Threshold 1977.

Not at all easily found nowadays, this live catalog release (plus outtake tracks) was put out just prior to the band's 'triumphant' return with 1978's Octave, and gives us a good, rare taste of TOCCC-era live Moodies, and just like a lot of live albums coming from artists whose studio output was a little too complex to translate directly to stage, they often substitute pure, glorious noise and speed for pristine perfection. Makes me think that a lot of their studio gutlessness was some kind of unfortunate affectation that was calculated to increase record sales, because these guys can and do rock. Graeme Edge, in particular, bashes the living Gary Coleman out of his drumkit like his name was Bonzo Moon or something, even on the ballads where his ham-handed Animalisms sound completely ridiculous. Also, since it's darned expensive to hire 15 session guitarists to go berserk strumming acoustic guitars, many of the Haywardsongs have their strums supplanted by loud electric jagging.  God-damn-it-I-hate-noisy-distorted-electric-guitars-and-I-sure-wish-the-Moody-Blues-could-sound-just-like-they-do-on-their-albums-because-all-of-them-rule-so-darn-much-and-I-wouldn't-change-a-single-thing-about-them. Oh, and in case you didn't get the sarcasm, 1,100-American-deaths-in-Iraq-are-completely-justified-reelect-Bush-he's-our-last-hope-for-a-God-fearing-right-thinking-whites-only-America and the New-York-Yankees-aren't-at-all-just-a-bunch-of-smug,-overpaid-merceneries-with-one-eye-on-the-ball-and-one-eye-on-their-pocketbooks.

There's certain rules to this live album: as long as they're playing rockers, they rock.  When a bandmember is singing solo, he sounds good (well, not always...'The Sunset' is abhorrently gummed up by Pinder's cigarette-blasted vocals). Conversely, when they attempt to harmonize, it's downright ugly. Worse still, they fall apart faster than Tijuana Air Jordans when they try some of their dodgier, less straight-ahead material, because one lousy Mike Pinder cannot and does not make up for an orchestra or 16 tracks of studio layering.  'Night In White Satin' holds together in its newfound spare arrangement, but take the truly appalling 'Dr. Livingstone, I Presume', (which I certainly hope I never said anything good about, because IT BITES RIGHTEOUSLY), as an example of how to turn the bad into the offensive. The band's reliance on the Mellotron fails them for the first time (but not the last!) on this track, and the finicky gadget warbles like a basset hound with its ear caught in a car door while everyone else tries to decide whether to rock or get cute. 'Legend of a Mind' doesn't fair much better, in case you were wondering.

So they work around what they can, rearrange what they can't work around, and simply let what they can't rearrange (the 'dream' suite from Threshold) just suck like a NASA wind tunnel. I wouldn't want to insinuate that the show slows down to a screeching halt during the endless sequence of 'Sitting Comfortably' through 'Have You Heard (Part 2)', but the last time I heard they were still trying to keep people from swan-diving off the theatre roof into heavy traffic in the street below. Okay, Thomas, we get it - you can play the flute. No go and try to write a song that doesn't sound like Donovan Sings Lullabies to Preschoolers and then maybe we'll talk. 

But on those certain moments when they can play straight ahead and let Justin Hayward take his rightful vocal spots (and let Edge go 'BASH! BASH! BASH! BASH!' like a retarded fucking chimpanzee trying to open a can of fruit cocktail), things get juicy.  Despite some nasty background vocals, the sequence of 'Never Comes the Day', 'Peak Hour', and 'Tuesday Afternoon' works a little bit of magic. In fact, in its newly minimalized arrangement, you can tell the true beauty of the melody even clearer than before. Oh, and that Radiohead owes the Blues more than just a debt of gratitude for OK Computer, by the way. And the closing 'Ride My See Saw' is just goofy and fast enough to qualify as 'fun' rather than a total failure as an encore. 

Caught Live is not one of those live documents that really opens your eyes about a band - the Moodies were a creatively limited band that hid their technical limitations behind a bunch of studio overdubbing, but live they turned into a bunch of kids who could barely harmonize or play their instruments.  But that's what's fun about Caught Live...it isn't a slick, flawless document. It's fascinating like watching your junior high English teacher out at Humperdinks doing shots and dancing on a table.  Cathartic, too.  And in case, for whatever reason you can find this album and not Prelude, it's got 'King and Queen' on it, which is simply a great goddamn tune. It's also pretty terribly performed and sequenced a good bit of the way, and sound quality hovers somewhere between atrocious and really atrocious, so take my B- as a sign of goodwill.

Capn's Final Word: Eh, so they're mostly crappy live, at least when Hayward isn't allowed to sing his nuts off.  I hear he sucks nowadays, so maybe you should pick this up to hear him do it for real.

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darren finizio     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: your review is simply cruel...you really exaggerate things when you talk about them singing off-key and such...im a trained-musician and i never noticed anything other than a little justifiable roughness around the edges -- rememeber sound-systems weren't as elaborate as they are today and they probably had a hard time hearing themelves -- that taken into account, this is a wonderful live-document that shows how powerful the band could be live and the "plus 5" cuts are early unreased songs which are really pretty with modern production and all.

 


A Question of Balance - Threshold 1970.

Supposedly the Moody Blues stripping down and 'getting back' to a more simplified, live-in-the-studio sound, but it's still the same old formulaic, precious schlock if you ask me.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - the Blues are the Blues, and for most people if you like one of their seven 'classic period' albums, dig in...you'll like all the other ones just the same. Because they are the same, really. I'd say that applies to 95% of casual listeners out there, those folks who don't dissect each and every song like a 9th grade Biology class foetal pig. People who are curious but have an aversion to long-term commitment, or people who have tighter wallets than Homer Simpson in Lycra shorts, get one of the six thousand Moody greatest hits packages and call yourself lucky.  Just don't' get involved at all, but still dig on 'Nights In White Satin' and 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock 'n' Roll Band' when you feel the urge. Those left of you, that remaining 0.025% who actually care about the vague, miniscule differences between these Moody Blues albums, keep reading.  I'm sure I'll throw in a couple of good dick and fart jokes to make it worth your while.

Anyway, Question starts out quite strong and then completely tanks it on the second side, culminating in a dour, dank, and delightfully hatable sequence of Mike Pinder's roundly despised 'Melancholy Man' and Graeme's big blathered-word closer 'The Balance', which lectures us for fucking up the earth worse than Keith Moon looking for his car keys in a Sheraton President's Suite. Yup.  Ecological rock.  All the paranoid conformity of Christian Rock but with twice the moralizing! If you think you've heard enough about Universal Minds and Hippie/Fascist utopias, let the Moody Blues soothe your very soul with some love odes to corpse-diving Condors, devotionals for pools of pond scum, and pleas to stop shooting and start hugging hunger-crazed grizzly bears.  Whatever.  I like nature about as much as the next suburbanite, meaning I like the leather seats in my car but will Raid the first thing that appears in my house without opposable thumbs.  Including those damned Republican campaign-workers who keep coming by and bugging me while I'm trying to toss old oil filters into the storm sewer or spray my dandelions with Agent Orange. I mean, I'm really really doubtful that the Moodies care or think that much about all this crap they base their albums around (and in fact would completely run out of concept ideas on their next two albums, sadly missing the opportunity to base an album around the ideas of Burmese Fishing Rights or the immorality of releasing the exact same album fifteen times in a row under different titles), but are rather just a bunch of dippy, Sixties-cracked dudes who never quite graduated from the Summer of Love to the Autumn of Malaise. You might call that charming, I call it tiresome.  Potato, po-tah-to.

So I think we can agree that anyone who lives their life based around what they learn from Moody Blues albums is doomed to wondering why that nice Senegalese prince hasn't sent that $500,000 check like he promised in that email, but they're still as melodic and listenable as ever, and the first side is a solid group of charming, Beatlesque Moodysongs that prove once again that as long as Hayward is singing something sweeping, you can pass off the same old frantically strummed acoustic guitars the same way you have a million times in a row. They do just that on the uncharacteristically alert opening hit single 'Question' (and later Hayward does it again, with rapidly diminishing returns, on 'It's Up to You'). I guarantee, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that this one is not a 'God song', as my wife so perceptively deemed it the other day. It's actually about civil uprising, though Hayward's majestic, towering bridge section about 'I'm looking for someone to change my life, I'm looking for a miracle in my life' sure seems like he's stumping for the Big Man Upstairs. 'Question' is one of the band's better big hit singles, certainly much better than the lackluster 'Gypsy' and whatever the hell was the single off Threshold. Pinder, who apparently had some bad fish and chips or something, serves to bring us down off the high of 'Question' with the ruminating, doom-laden 'How Is It We Are Here' (which, coupled with 'Melancholy Man', makes me think that Pinder might just need a hug) before lolling around saccharine balladland with Thomas and getting all uncomfortable sitting next to Graeme Edge with his creepy, whispered 'Don't You Feel Small', both of which are darn good coming from the two shakier songwriters in the band. Let me give Thomas a gold star for his flute work on 'Small' as well, the first time his soloing has really struck me as the perfect gimmick to lay on top of a song, especially a weird little jungle-boogie like this one. The second side falls off mighty fast, though, as I fail to see 'It's Up To You' as anything but Hayward-as-usual, Lodge's 'Minstrel Song' as anything but self-consciously cutesy, and I'm in doubt as to whether 'Dawning Is The Day' actually exists at all. By the time of the 'cathartic' chant 'Just open your eyes and realize it's always been' at the end of 'Balance', I'm about ready to pull a Ted Kaczynski on the Sierra Club.

Okay, so my patience with the Moody's staunch resistance to learning new, more interesting ways of writing songs might be on the wane faster than Sharon Stone's acting career, but that doesn't mean I can't pretend like I haven't heard most of these songs in shockingly similar form before.  Despite what you might be told elsewhere by inbred no-nothings who get all their opinions from liner notes, here's really less difference between Question and any earlier post-'67 Moody Blues album you care to name, which might be a blessing or a curse depending on the angle of your dangle. I think the dramatic dropoff in quality between the first and second sides doesn't really bode well for the next few albums, as it seems the Moodies have finally run around in circles so many times they're beginning to find it difficult to even write decent songs within their idiot-proof formula anymore.

Capn's Final Word: They 'strip down' and 'muscle up', though I can't tell the difference.  All I can tell is that it already isn't as good as Children.

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Alan Brooks     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: I really like the track 'It's Up To You'.Now it is Hayward as usual, but 'Hayward as usual' isn't unlistenable. It is very good for a hippy-dippy, puking up your peyote buttons in the Garden Of Eden, song.

 


Every Good Boy Deserves Favor - Deram 1971

What points this album scores in competence are wiped away by its complete inability to do anything new whatsoever.  There's less inspiration and originality on Every Good Boy Deserves Favor than on the last half dozen Police Academy movies (Including Police Academy XVI: Are You Simply Trying To Find A Good, Dark, Deserted Place to Make Out, Or What?), so much so that the structure and sound is identical to Question and even what's left of a concept is borrowed from Children (Life's Journey or somesuchshit, though judging by the album cover art it may as well be about dirty old homeless men hypnotizing young boys into letting them touch their wieners), and the songs contained within are stolen from every Moody Blues album since Days of Future Passed. The only song of any true worth is Hayward's requisite frenetic opening rocker, 'Story In Your Eyes', which sounds like a harder rewrite of 'Question'.  The rest of the songs vary from the affected and childish 'Emily's Song' to outright Kinks ripoffs 'After You Came' (the verse melody is totally stolen from 'David Watts', and the rest is stolen from just about every other Moody Blues song ever made), and the rest will all seem completely familiar.  More of the same. Another run of the old product. Last year's model. A rehash. A rework. A retread. A repetition. A revisitation. A regurgitation.

This album is simply, absolutely unoriginal, but once again I'll say that it's listenable as it goes.  This album isn't bad like Threshold's limp indulgences, and if you get it earlier than some of the others I suppose you might like it just as much.  For me, I'm sick of trying to find six differences between each of these goddamn songs and what they put on last year's record, and feel like pounding the Moody Blues for their pathetic state of stagnation rather than go through the whole charade once again. This band, for all its supposed 'talent', sure sound like a group of vacant-eyed devotees clutching to a sound desperately lacking in nuance but unwilling to admit they've reached a complete dead end.  One look at the interviews on the reissue CD booklet will tell you that they themselves don't think much of this album, and neither does the interviewer.  When all the questions regard the equipment and production tricks they used, and Lodge himself calls it a 'continuation of Question, really'

By the way, talking of album notes....despite what that dipshit John Lodge says in the reissue CD sleeve, EGBDF does not refer to how anybody who isn't Thurston Moore would usually tune a guitar.  It's the notes that fall on lines in the treble staff.  Fucking moron. I mean, this guy's a professional musician...wouldn't you think after 30-odd years he'd deign to learn at least the most basic thing about musical theory? It's laziness, man. He got in his groove in 1967, pressed autopilot just like the rest of these retards and has ridden on easy street to the bank ever since. No wonder these guys couldn't do anything but write the same fucking songs over and over again. And, even worse, there's no fucking surprise that the album company people didn't even attempt to fact check this guy before printing a bazillion CD sleeves, and even proceeded to ignore Hayward's vague but more correct answer about how it's the way 'people remember to learn sonic scales' (as opposed to fish scales, I guess?) and proceed to dutifully parrot the error during the conclusion paragraph. I guess you wouldn't want to call attention to your boss's blatant ignorance and risk losing your cushy job working for Threshold Records, would you?

Capn's Final Word: Adds not a damn thing to the Moody legacy.  This lack of effort is really irritating.

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Jan     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: "Lack of Effort"?  Dude!  Did you even LISTEN to it?  How can you hear "One More Time to Live" and say there was no effort put into it?! 

(Capn's Response: I just showed you how.)


Seventh Sojourn - Threshold 1972

Oddly enough, considering they were worn out worse than Brad Pitt locked in a women's prison, not even bothering to dig up a concept or let Graeme do his little SLAM session for the intro for the last of their 'classic' period albums, this sounds like a somewhat more subdued, ballad-heavy version of any Moody Blues album you care to name since Lost Chord. The unimaginative title, drab-ass album cover, and loping tempos all point to the fact that the Blues had just about had it with each other and were fed up with trying to generate yet another spin on the same old Moodies formula, which from my perverse point of view is a move in the right direction.  I'd much rather have my Moody Blues feeling angry and exhausted than more of that robotic, brainless pleasantry that pervades all of their other recent record.  Sojourn is a Moodies album for people who secretly (or not so secretly) dislike the Moodies. I'm not saying I wish ill feelings on Hayward and the boys, but I sure like to know there's an album out there by these guys that indicates they do, in fact, operate like normal human beings from time to time. Of course, if you like every little thing about the other six of the Big Seven, you'll probably think this album's a dreary, depressing piece of shit. You're right about that, but what I'm saying is that it's nice to have a change of pace, you know?

My first impression is that these songs are slightly better melodically than most of their other records, but since they were only able to suck it up for eight songs they've had to extend these fuckers until the life has drained right out of them. A song like Hayward's 'A Land of Make-Believe' would be pretty enjoyable at 2 ½ minutes, but at almost five the thing gets stale real fast. And that's not the only one that suffers from the everlongs - two of these tracks top six minutes, nothing is appreciably shorter than 4 minutes, and everything except for 'Just A Singer In A Rock 'n' Roll Band' could probably stand to lose at least a minute off it's running time.  See, if they could've squeezed out a more normal 10 songs instead of the slightly rip-offy 8, that could happen.  Okay, whatever. Since, for the most part the Moodies do not do 'multi-part' particularly well (or often), the two longer tracks wear the listener out with ssssslow tempos and numbing repetition. Lodge's 'Isn't Life Strange' also uses the classy technique of stuttering all of the verses so they last twice as long as they should, and Pinder's 'Land of Make Believe' is so slow it just makes me want to kill myself just that much quicker.

There are moments here, though, and that's why I'll give this album a 'I like the parts I don't hate' B- instead of a 'I hate it, but you might not' C+.  Don't get all pissy, though...I must've given 80% of Paul McCartney's solo catalog B-minuses, and it sure hasn't hurt his concert grosses much. I really like Mike Pinder's album-opening 'Lost In A Lost World', a disco-beat number that sounds almost like Diamond Dogs-era David Bowie with its hopeless tone, background vocals and Pinder's strange resemblance to the Tall Crooked Teeth-ed one. Hayward is not 'Mr. Ballad' despite his incessant trying, but I have to say that 'New Horizons' at least aches like his best work. 'You and Me', however, bashes the living fuck out of yet another acoustic guitar in yet another Hayward rocker that yet again sounds like the first few bars of 'Pinball Wizard' stretched out for four minutes. Thomas writes yet another version of the same song he's been trundling out since 1968 in his only entry, 'For My Lady', which at least qualifies as one of the more 'upbeat' numbers on here. Maybe Ricky T was immune from all of the trouble and strife around him, you think? Or was he just the most uncreative person ever in the history of the world? I blame Republicans.

Making sure to burn a few bridges with their stoner fanbase before they pack it in, John Lodge, in an uncharacteristic fit of sincerity and vitriol, scores his best-ever track with the memorable kiss-off single 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock 'n' Roll Band', most definitely the hardest rocking thing this band's ever produced.  Lodge was apparently quite tired of being considered some sort of guru by his pothead followers (though he didn't seem to mind much when the band was writing crap about lost chords and Reaching Nirvana, and he sure as hell didn't mind signing back up for Prophethood when it was time to revive the Moody Moneymachine six years later), and wrote 'Singer' as a sort of wake-up call that there are maybe a few better things to do with your time than to smoke trash bags full of pot and listen to your Question of Balance LP until you can read through it. I couldn't agree more.  Isn't it funny that one of the Moody Blues best ever songs is the one that probably expresses more true, heartfelt feeling in it than anything else in their career? And that those feelings aren't entirely benevolent? Funny how sincerity does that, huh?

 Capn's Final Word:  Uncharacteristically dour and depressing, which are some interesting new sensations out of the old Mystery Box. But not that interesting.

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Octave - Threshold 1978

The Moody Blues took six long years between Seventh Sojourn and this album (a period of time the Rolling Stones now refer to as a 'short vacation'), snappily named Octave, and why...of course their reunion is horrendous, thanks so much for asking! It's also the last time you'll ever hear Mike Pinder play on a Moody Blues album, and it turns out that hanging out in the pub and collecting royalty checks turned out to be quite a wise decision considering the lame-ass direction his band was about to embark on for the next 25-odd years (not that he was some kind of torch-bearer of great, classic-era melodicism here or anything, see below for details). Octave is simply a weak, unengaging album from both a songwriting quality and rock quality standpoint, twice as ballad-heavy as Seventh Sojourn ever was but with the intriguing bitterness replaced by a mindless accessibility that befits a cast of clowns who've forgotten who the hell they once were. Octave is made up of soft-headed 'mature' pastiches typical of ex-hippies, covering such exciting, rock and roll topics as kids ('I'll Be Level With You'), dull, passionless devotion-pledging love songs ('I'm Your Man'), born-again Christianity ('One Step Into the Light'), all performed with a minimum of instrumental interference, adult-contemporary pap that would appeal to those spineless folks out there who find CSN to be a bit 'rough' and James Taylor too racy because he compares his manhood with large earth-moving machinery. Now, the Blues have always written songs about subjects that most rockers wouldn't touch with a 20 foot pole (much less name an album To Our Children's Children's Children, I mean, that's a motherfucking balls-out boulder-smashing soul-crushing rock album title, if I've ever heard one!), but at least they approached things from a certain, smooshy, potheaded point of view, and even if I never could stand their lyrics it used to be I didn't have to - they were all covered up by 6 million layers of Mellotrons and Mellow Yellows and Mel's Diners anyway.  Not now...the keyboards are all mushed into a single layer of unassuming synth chords, and the vocals are pushed way up in the mix so you won't be sure to miss such classic lines as Like a dog without a home/It's dangerous when you find out/You've been drinking on your own  Wha? Okay, so the lyrics aren't any worse than usual, but I've never had so little else to hold my attention than this blah-blah love-everyone impressionistic nonsense. It doesn't make any difference who's writing (though I'd like to mention that Pinder's 'One Step' somehow grabs the prize as the worst song on here), there's only slight shades of difference between Lodge's more 'mystical' 'Survival' and Thomas' 'down to earth' (read: corny) 'Under Moonshine', and it all falls into the category of lightweight, mid-tempo crud.  The two rockers aren't much better, but there are some neat fuzz guitar noises on the Pink Floyd-y opener  'Steppin In A Slide Zone' to go with its incomprehensible hookline.

 Capn's Final Word:  I'm not willing to say this music isn't for anyone, but I am willing to guess it isn't for you.

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J.P.     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: The good songs are good and the others are well....an acquired taste. This album was their "OK, We've Taken Our Hiatus, So Let's Get Back in the Studio" album but that original Core 7 vibe just wasn't there. At this point, Mike Pinder said, "Uh...nah" and called it quits for good after this album.

Worth the purchase though, if only for "Steppin' In A Slide Zone".


Long Distance Voyager - Threshold 1981

Still probably music for old farts with soft spots in their skulls, but a whole helluva lot more mindlessly catchy than that flatliner Octave, mostly due to the replacement of Mike Pinder with former short-term Yesman Patrick Moraz on increasingly technoid keyboards. As such, I'd say this album would much more easily appeal to your average Top 40 lite-hits radio listener - the vibe might still be essentially warm-fuzzy hippie togetherness, but they approach things from a very solid, song-oriented point of view and make a very strong attempt to not only sound up-to-date, but actually sort of cutting edge.  For 1981, this (along with ELO's marvelous, underrated Time album) was some pretty slick stuff, taking influences from the last days of disco, the burgeoning synth-pop new wave crowd, but also some touches of the 'big', artificially loud, plasticky lead guitar that would dominate pop music five years later. Hey! Good beats, neat, airy synths, and strong guitar...it might as well be ABACAB or 80's ELO (in fact, 'Gemini Dream' might as well be a Time song, and that's a big complement), and I don't hate either one of those that much.  Like 'em? Well, let's say when the time is right, surrounding myself with some clean, professionally-performed former art-rocker pop can be pretty enjoyable.  I hazard to say I'd grab Genesis or ELO before I would Long Distance Voyager, but the fact that I'm saying I'm pretty happy about all three is a huge accomplishment for a band I was pretty much sick to death of four or five albums ago. It just goes to show that with the right combination of high voltage battery cables, bolt cutters, and rooms full of strobe lights, you can reprogram a hippie to make nice pop music.

Hey, man, that's not to say hardcore Moody Blues fans aren't going to like it, though.  They still chorus like an army of prepubescent Mormon boys, and Moraz's keyboards aren't nearly as irritating as they could've been (certainly no worse than Pinder's work on Octave, anyway), though the plastic-fantastic 80's production values might be harder to get into than Natalie Portman during a church picnic. Again, our primary songwriters all contribute. Graeme Edge gets in his usual chunky, off-kilter tune, this time called '22,000 Days', which sounds like Big Generator-era Yes (again, that's a complement, albeit not as much as before), Ray Thomas closes things out with a trio of, well, unsatisfying Ray Thomas songs, including a disgusting disco-prog-boogie mishmash called 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker' which manages to steal everything bad from ELP's 'Karn Evil 9' (puffed-up buffoonery, that irritating voice-of-God narration including another honest-to-Christ poetic introduction) without stealing anything good (rocking like a bad motherfucker with a belly full of gasoline and its tail on fire). It's all quite silly and about as out-of-character as you can imagine, and in general I'd say Thomas's songs sound like some sort of cancer that's attached itself to an otherwise very enjoyable record. 

The three best songs are again Lodge's, who despite taking six years to score his first really great track ('I'm Just a Singer blah blah blah'), has opened the floodgates to a collection of what sounds like long-lost early-70's George Harrison classics, channeling The Didactic One in the excellent 'Nervous' and giving a gorgeous, airy ballad with 'Talking Out Of Turn'.  Hayward sounds the most like his old self, with the opening tempo-setting single 'Voice' sounding very much like a highly slick 80's update of 'Gypsy', complete with those ever-present acoustics and the man's kind vocals, a very listenable but not particularly challenging piece of hackwork by Hay.  Just so you know, the fact that this album has what I would consider to be three great tracks on it makes it the most successful Moody Blues album since Days of Future Passed.  Take that and chew on it for awhile and then try to tell me this is just '80's crap' and try to praise EGBDF to me.  You'll be talkin' to a blank wall, man.  You keep your overblown, numbing, nonsensical 'psychedelic' Moody Blues, and I'll take this hooky, melodic, slick version and we'll all be happy. You might say they sold out to 80's chart success, but one listen to Octave told me that this was one band that needed to sell out, and I'm extremely happy they did. 

 Capn's Final Word: You know, I must not like this band's 'classic sound that much, because every time they deviate from it, I'm all smiles.

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The Present - Threshold 1983

Hmm, the many ballads here are certainly pretty, unlike on Octave, where they were bloodless, and on Seventh Sojourn, where they were all darker than a Burzum fan on Christmas Eve, but I almost feel like it's a bit of a return to the old samey-sounding balladry that killed off my love of the Big Seven band.  Just a bit too lazily formulaic again after the strong, consistently fresh Long Distance Voyager, but by no means bad.  Though the production and Moraz's synths scream out "THIS IS THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES!!" louder than a 'USA For Africa' pin attached to a Members Only jacket, there's still a reliable connection to live drumming and at least a few organic-sounding instruments, making this a lot easier to swallow than, say, Sur La Mer will be. The reason for that is the fact that, on the Present, Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas still get a stab at tossing a few tracks into the mix.  By the next album, Lodge and Hayward would totally dominate the songwriting and turn their two bandmates into glorified hired guns, mostly brought in for touring purposes only.  But more on that later.  Suffice it to say that if spreading around the songwriting duties is yet another one of the key Moody attributes, this is the last time you'll get a chance to hear it.  Not that it makes much of a difference - the Frigging Words of the Frigging Day here on the Grumpy Reviewer Show is ballads and light rockers, so there's not much even stout little rocker Graeme Edge can do to sound distinct out in the middle of this vanilla ocean. With the exception of that slimeball ELP parody on the last record, Thomas never wrote rockers anyway, so it doesn't much matter for him, except I would like to note that his two tracks are once again tacked onto the very end of the record, just like last time. It makes them seem like lame afterthoughts instead of parts of the whole The only notable rocker here isn't even by Hayward - it's by John Lodge and it's a hokey, Jeff Lynne-derivative simulation of actual rocking rather than the real thing called 'Sitting At The Wheel'.  If these are the quality of rockers they were writing back in 1983, I'll take the ballads for $100, Alex.

Have I mentioned the ballads are pretty? Pretty in an air-headed, Justin Hayward-ballad sort of way? It must have something to do with the way he sings these melodies, but I simply can't get bored with songs like 'Running Water' though my reflex is to cover my ears and grasp desperately at the nearest container that might hold a good two quarts of vomit. Am I a pussy for liking what the Moodies are doing on their last two albums as much or more than anything they put out since 1968? Or should I just admit I like my songs clear and structured, and never found anything transportative about the 'classic' band anyway? I simply find that I prefer the fact that Lodge and Hayward are just trying to concentrate on writing good pop songs, not getting all caught up in their idiotic, third-rate sermons as they attempt to cobble together another 'concept' for the nth time. Now, I'd rather the Moodies sound a little less MTV-ized than 'Meet Me Halfway', sure, but I can still recognize that I like the melody quite well. And the band never made anything that sounded quite like the march-tempo sci-fi David Gilmour instrumental excursion 'Hole In The World' before, and I'm damned happy they decided to do it here.

So Present is pretty good, if definitely not better than Long Distance Runaround, and once again I'd like to make sure you understand - I really like these albums better than any of the 1968-1972 albums you care to name. Honest.  Try it out, try to turn off your anti-Eighties filter for a minute, and you might like it too. There are some of us around. I've also noticed a disturbing trend wherein people like to comment on how sexy the Present album cover is.  It's not. Paintings of reclining cartoon-cherubs of indeterminate gender and implied pre-pubescence are not fucking sexy. Neither is fucking Japanimation, for all you closet paedophiles out there who enjoy that disgusting shit. I tell you, if I have to push my way past another 350-pound, zit-ridden sweathog in a Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt fondling his way through a rack of anorexic, pie-eyed, scantily-clad elementary-school-age female anime action figures trying to search out the last one in the 'bent over the chair' pose while on my way to the CD's down aisle 12 at the Fry's Electronics store, I'm going to start snapping some spines like New Englanders snap crab claws. So what if Shirtless Eunuch Number One is handing Fully-Clothed Eunuch Number Two what looks like the world's biggest Ecstasy tablet? This shit's about as erotic as Rush Limbaugh in a rubber corset pleading for someone to spank him with a cricket bat while reading from Slaughterhouse Five. God, people...find a woman and have her slap you around real good for me. Don't like it too much, though.

 Capn's Final Word:  Long Distance Voyager, except quieter and less 'look at me' synth-rock-y, and not as frigging cool.  But for a bunch of ballads that could easily have bored me to tears? Good!

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Stephanie     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Well, I believe you are the first person, (other than those annoying groupie-menopausal fans) who prefer the 80's work over the Core 7.  Amazing. 

This is a great album. One of my favorites.

(See "Sur La Mer" for further comments.)


The Other Side of Life - Polydor 1986

Nasty.  If the last two albums were decent records that happened to be marred by look-at-me 80's production values, this record is a marred look-at me 80's record untouched by goodness. Wait, no I'll qualify that - there were two big hit singles from this record, the marvelous 'Your Wildest Dreams' and the dopey-but-catchy title track (no worse than anything Tina Turner was putting out at the time, really), but the rest is just absolute dreck.  I can't imagine anyone who enjoys the Blues' romantic, mystic balladry being turned on by a bunch of synthetic pop trifles geared towards mid-80's 15-year olds who were responsible for making Phil Collins more popular than Peter Gabriel. Except Phil Collins was more soulful, not to mention looking more like an angry dwarf with each passing year. Let me say that again - compared to this record, Phil Collins was Otis Redding, and I don't just mean 'In the Air Tonight' or a couple of well-chosen Genesis tracks, either.  The Moody Blues are about as sincere here as John Ashcroft hosting a NAACP banquet.  

The shift from the plastic-but-fantastic Long Distance Voyager to this rat-turd sandwich has to be due to Justin Hayward and John Lodge taking it upon themselves to become the 'face' of the band, pushing Ray Thomas and Graeme Edge to the side like yesterday's dirty diapers at the behest of their record company. The true shift came between Present and this one - Now, I can probably name less than five good Edge-written tracks in the history of this band, and for the life of me have trouble figuring out two good Thomas tracks, but isn't it funny that once they stopped having much of a contribution, the quality of the songwriting from the two historically better songwriters tanked faster'n a Jerusalem showing of Passion of the Christ? Had there maybe been some sort of editing capacity from Edge and Thomas to keep Hayward and Lodge from turning into Hall and Oates, or what? Whatever it is, once the last notes of 'Other Side of Life' fade out, this album becomes a Barefoot Slog through Shittown real fast, and though Moraz and Edge get writing credit for one tune, the rest of this album is nobody's fault but the big two.  I mean, 'Rock and Roll Over You'? What is this, fer chrissakes, Kiss? Except musically it sounds like, Jesus, I'm not familiar enough with overheated 80's-shit rock to make a clear comparison.  Let's say the Outfield, though I've never heard a single one of their songs.  Still, with a name like that, they have to be terrible. 'Rock and Roll Over You' is the worst song from the 80's not made by the Outfield. Fucking Outfield. Dirty, stinking dogs.

Okay, whatever. No more track-by-track for this one, because I have to go home to my family soon and I'd rather not be in a violent mood when I do. Shit, I'll be lucky if I can pinch off a hundred lousy words about the equally repulsive, though more derivative Sur La Mer, but I'll worry about that only after taking a handful of Russian tranquilizers and locked myself in a padded room.

 Capn's Final Word:  A 45 rpm single padded out with 35 minutes of MTV pandering.  I heard Hayward and Lodge wore eyeliner on one of the videos from around this time.  I'm not saying I'm surprised at all after hearing this.

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Sur La Mer - Polydor 1988

My initial impression of this album, widely recognized to be the deepest in the dumps the Moody Blues ever got by even their most ardent supporters, was that it wasn't nearly as bad as people made it out to be.  Hell, the first song (yet another omnipresent, inexplicably huge 80's hit, 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere') is a pretty great track by 80's standards, airy and romantic and certainly no worse than the Alan Parsons Project, much less the Cutting Crew or whatever the hairdos were that the Moodies were competing with in 1988. It's a huge ripoff of 'Your Wildest Dreams', sure, but then again Hayward's been ripping himself off ever since he first wrote a song featuring prominent strummed acoustic guitars. Hell, I even like the power ballad second track, 'Want To Be With You', which hearkens back to better times (Long Distance Voyager), and there's some other scattered moments throughout the album that I find semi-enjoyable ('No More Lies', the goofy Thomas-esque nostalgia piece 'Vintage Wine'), even in spite of the complete and utter dominance of Patrick Moraz's synthesizers over the band sound. Domination like Stalin had over the Baltics, like Michigan over Northwestern, like Sprite over 7-up, something so total that not even sunlight can escape the irresistible pull of its banality. This is the band's Judgement Day album, the one during which the Moody Blues computers finally became self-aware and decided they could make schlocky 80's dance-pop better than a bunch of wrinkly hippie-prunes in bad eye makeup, and took matters into their own hands.  This was Moraz's final album with the band because, to paraphrase him in a well-known (and for Hayward and Lodge, well-despised) Keyboard magazine interview, all they did was to program the synths, press play, and let the computers do all the work.  This album's faker than Ashlee Simpson's 'band'.  Or was it her talent? Those looking for Graeme Edge or, especially, Ray Thomas, had better try down at the corner pub in the booth next to Mike Pinder, because that's the closest these clowns came to the studio during the recording of this album. Sur La Mer is the culmination of the mid-Eighties Polydor Records effort to remake the Moody Blues into the Lodge/Hayward show, as egos and bank accounts finally scored a crippling blow against the Blues as a 'band', something which has only partially been repaired since.

What I say is that while certainly this album is terrible, it's really not any worse than Other Side of Life musically, and there's only one song that I could really chalk up on the Great Big Board of Moody Blues Embarrassments, and that's the fucking idiotic Loverboy-rocker 'Here Comes the Weekend' (though 'Miracle' is also mighty nasty in a 3-week dead corpse in the forest sort of way), which sings the praises of going out and shaking your booty on a Friday night. You know, like 'Stayin' Alive', but without all that desperation-of-the-aimless-underclass subtext. Just John Lodge putting on his best lavender t-shirt, white linen suit, and sockless Gucci loafers and hoofing it out to the dancefloor to rub his enormous, sweaty beer gut against some poor, coked-up secretary in a leather micro-mini. Guh...Lord take me now, because the Moody Blues have finally turned into a no-good yuppie dance club band, and John Lodge is their own personal Don Johnson. 

Okay, so I'm so worn out on this band and their endless string of blunders that I'm running out of smarmy put-downs and stomach-turning metaphors to describe their 'music' with.  Again, I'll say I don't hate this album any more than what I naturally should, and actually thing a couple of the songs are fine, but there's as many moments on Sur La Mer during which I wish I was dead (or reviewing Don Fogelberg, the differences between the two being quite negligible) as anything in their catalog.  There's very little else to say about it that hasn't already been said about Other Side of Life, except that this is an advancement of the questionable, greedy decisionmaking by Lodge and Hayward that made that album such a hated, sellout mess.  If you wish, just don't consider this one a Moodies album at all...that's probably a lot closer to the truth. As before, get 'Out There Somewhere' on some cash-in collection and leave Sur La Mer in the cut-out bins with the Patty Smyth and Snow albums of the world where it belongs.

 Capn's Final Word:  Those boats on the cover make me wish I were someplace other than the plastic place this album is.

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Stephanie     Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: This is usually the favorite album of those annoying menopausal women who follow the Moody Blues from city to city and get in cat fights with each other over the meaning of the lyrics to the song "Deep". 

They are very frightening. 

 


Keys of the Kingdom - Polydor 1991

Maybe it's just because the electronics are better, but Keys of the Kingdom is the least artificial, most Moody Blues-y sounding album from these guys since Present, which this one faintly recalls in its ballad-heavy mix and more subdued, less frenetically chart-hounding songwriting. Of course, compared with the Other Side of Decency and Sure Lamer, forty-five minutes of synthesized dogfarts would be hailed as the second coming of Days of Future Passed to fans starving for just the slightest hint of romanticized hippie pastiche. But just because it's a calmed-down, act-your-age improvement (not to mention, at least on a superficial level, a 'reintroduction' of Lodge and Edge to the Moodies) doesn't mean it's really any good at all, but I guess after a mind-numbing succession of lukewarm Moody Blues albums (and my increasingly dispassionate reviews), that's pretty much the best you can expect from these guys most years.  If I already had trouble telling their albums apart on any meaningful level when they were supposed to be at the top of their game, how about now, when they're 'stale', as Moraz put it? The biggest song of this album is Ray Thomas's return to vocals on the frightfully overblown 'Celtic Sonant', all 'mystic' incantation, panflutes, and Hall-Of-The-Ancients reverbed background choruses performed at a tempo slower than the complaint line at the DMV, but hell, it's at least different. I've had enough chart-fellating, arena-rocking, VH-1 schlocking pop Moody Blues to choke Jenna Jameson, so when Ray so unselfconsciously steps up and starts crooning like it's 1971 (or 1171), I can't help but grow a little grin at the fact that the man was so unscathed by the whole Other Side/Sur La Mer discount soul-selling detour. 

Some, and I mean a little tiny morsel, of that grinning fuzzy-headedness infects a few of the Lodge/Hayward compositions here, making them much more ingratiatingly charming than similar works were on the last two albums, but in comparison to the relatively sincere Present, it still leaves a manipulative taste in my mouth.  'Is This Heaven' is half schlocky gimmick and half Beatle-ripped melodic pop, but the guys sound like they're having fun regardless, and 'Lean On Me' is too unassuming and inoffensive to be really hated considering Lodge has rediscovered his talent for channeling George Harrison's (as opposed to George Michael's) more lightweight work.  Okay, so a lot the rockers sound like ELO Part II, and the use of 'funk' dance beats on 'Once Is Enough' is as embarrassing as 'Here Comes The Weekend' was on the last one, and Hayward's 'Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain' makes me want to find Yanni, tie him to a workbench, and insert various sizes and sharpnesses of meditation crystals up his nose until his skull bursts like a watermelon with an M-80 buried inside while burning incense and repeatedly asking him 'Is the aromatherapy helping, Yan? I heard it's supposed to help nasal congestion and stress!'. 

 Capn's Final Word:  Okay, so maybe I'm burned out from too much Moody Blues, but that doesn't mean this idea doesn't occur to me naturally. 

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Live at Red Rocks - Polydor 1993

Lame, synthetic, obviously nipped-and-tucked live album from a bunch of inactive seniors who, like the highly similar Pink Floyd, need to pack their shit up and go home already. Sheeeit, I think they already use the same gospel background singers (quote: 'Awwwwhooooo!!'. Repeat: at the end of each and every vocal line as if this was the Love Unlimited Orchestra or the Reverend Bernie Washington Sunday Morning Joy Singers instead of the Moody Blues).  Why do I say this? Well, for one thing they've fallen into the trap where their elderly original drummer has gotten to be so incompetent he needs a hired-gun babysitter to double all his lines or else the thing train-wrecks worse than Ashlee Simpson upgrading her laptop to Service Pack 2. They already don't have a legitimate keyboard player (or even a 'regular', like the Stones' Denny Jones on bass) after Moraz unceremoniously dumped them, so filling the 'real' Moodies sound is all up to Hayward's acoustic guitar, Lodge's bass, and Ray Thomas's...erm....tambourine.  Right.  Jank, jank, jank.  That's gonna really define a sound, guys.

Anyway, it's all about as 'real' a performance as any of their PC-cwayzy post-Present studio albums were - though a lot of lip service is given to how important and meaningful a performance this was for the band and audience, it's extremely scripted, the arrangements defined more strictly than Catholic school health class. Why? Because, goddamn it, the pre-programmed lightshow and the pre-programmed sequencers and the pre-taped backing tapes just can't handle any motherfucking improvisation, now can they? Add in that it's a well-known fact that the only thing that's degraded worse than Hayward's integrity is his vocal range, and that therefore it's quite clear to these ears that some vocal overdubbing and error-correcting has occurred (though one listen to the mangled pitches on 'Tuesday Afternoon', makes it clear it wasn't nearly corrected enough) and I wonder whether it's honest to even put the word 'live' on this album at all. Again, just like on Keys of the Kingdom, the most effective moment is Ray Thomas's, this time his rendition of the Seventh Sojourn tear-jerker ballad 'For My Lady', which may sound like Robert Goulet belching up his last few vodka martinis but at least sounds genuine, and his voice is still strong.  Must've been because he hadn't tried to outsing a bunch of Roland sequencers like Justin and John did back in '86.

The sequencing is supposed to honor the anniversary of Days of Future Passed, but there sure are an inordinate number of nasty 80's tunes to impress the young concertgoers who only know the band from the Buzz Bin, and again they're programmed, erm..., I mean performed without a hint of risk or live 'danger'.  For all the talk about this being a 'special night' for the band, I guess they feel that way because none of their computer automation screwed up too badly, because it's for damn sure not because they were inspired to push their music any 'higher' than usual or anything.  You can't do that when everything is run by machines, man. I mean, in final analysis this is a 'good' live album if your only criteria is to sound extremely close to your studio albums plus some crowd noise (and I guess I give some credit to the live orchestra adding some nice coloration to the Days material.), except I'm totally confused by anyone preferring this over their studio material. If you already know exactly how each song is going to go, and there's not any surprises, what's the point? To hear how badly Hayward chomps some not-so-high notes? Ugh.  Maybe a videotape might show me a cool light show or give me a good look at the naturally breathtaking Red Rocks amphitheatre, but hearing Moody Blues 'performed' like this is worthless.

 Capn's Final Word:  A poor excuse for a 'live' record, but maybe a half-fair compilation.

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J.P.     Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: By all means, if you get this, get the re-mastered version.  It's the entire concert, including comments between songs by the bandmembers.  It also has the full-length version of "Legend of A Mind". (As opposed to their 2000's "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" which has the mini-version.  Yuk.) The re-mastered version obviously has some improved sound quality.  (Gawd, the sound on the original 1993 release was atrocious.)


Strange Times - Universal 1999

The Lodge/Hayward show again, updated for the techno-fad late 1990's where everything from John Mellencamp to John Denver was 'augmented' by a bunch of electronica drum loops and 'vintage' synth samples.  I'm afraid this album already hasn't aged any better than Other Side of Life and Sur La Mer did, because at least while John and Justin sold their very souls to the Prince of Darkness for a couple of hits on those, this album is hookless and sterile in an extremely dull, over-digested 'serious balladeers' kind of way. Except once again geared towards maximum banality, minimum intellectual engagement, lite-rock hits radio listeners who no doubt find Hayward to be 'dreamy' and Lodge to be 'deep'. As if it would ever be any other way, it's positively loaded with saccharine, acoustic ballads, and I already feel my bladder beginning to polyp as a result of listening to this bullshit. Lodge's voice has deteriorated in the preceding eight years (eight years to come up with lines like 'My love, my love, oh how I need you'?) since Keys of the Kingdom from a decent George Harrison impression to a rather lousy Jeff Lynne one, and his songwriting isn't worthy of either one anymore. Hayward's pipes have similarly hit the skids, but he does a better job of hiding his handicaps under good editing.  But with this quality of material, who cares? This stuff is sickening it's so unchallenging. It's so damn soft we could very well create a new genre for it and call it nerf-rock.

I hear Moody fans think this stuff is great, but I guess if I haven't properly denounced ever listening to the opinions of a Moody Blues fan again, I've failed in effectively presenting the only consistent message I've given in my 20+ reviews of this goddamn band. This stuff is just absolutely bloodless, predictable schlock, and just as false and pandering as anything on Sur La Mer.  Just without the hits. Let it alone and maybe it'll go back under its rock again. Awful, just awful.

Capn's Final Word: The worst, faceless adult contemporary uselessness. Anyone who has the balls to bash the likes of Journey and then turn around and praise this has no place at my table.

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Stephanie      Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Man, your comments are cracking me up!! Nevertheless, I really like this album.  Except for the whole finger-snapping "doot doots" in the song "Haunted".  That ruined a sweet song.  Made it all adult/contemporary-ish.  I wasn't ready for adult/contemporary-ish in 1999.


December - Universal 2003

Ungh.  Christmas album? You woke me up for this? Just as I was having that dream about coaching the Catholic girls' high school gymnastic team and spending all night adjusting their 'gait' again? At least it's got some decent originals on it instead of a bunch of stupid carols, or I'd have been forced to go Bobby Knight on someone's ass. Introduce it to Dr. Marten.  Pop a cap in it. Use it as a flagpole planter. Cause it discomfort. Taunt it, you know, whatever gay guys are doing for foreplay these days. Well, Ray's gone, so this album's about as genuine as a Los Angeles blonde, but they at least sound like old people singing Christmas songs for other old people, rather than old people singing middle-aged people's music to absolutely nobody, like on Strange Times. They're still in overlush, over produced ballad mode, but I hear a few more nods to good 'vintage' music here than I have in, what, twenty years? A bluesy, Eric Clapton-y guitar line here, some Hammond organ there.  You know, the retro-obsessed times catching up with the Moody Blues and forcing them to play music that sounds a bit more like what you think they should be playing rather than fad-of-the-moment crap.  Maybe it's just because it meets (or possibly even exceeds) my expectations of what a Moody Blues Christmas album should be, but I feel rather good hearing Hayward sing 'The Quiet of Christmas Morning' (based on a Bach melody I'm sure you've heard countless times from mall PA's and holiday season on-hold telephone Muzak) like he's trying to be traditional and classy rather than up-to-date and pandering.  Once again, let me remind you that these guys are old, plenty old in fact, and it's not like they were headbanging pulsars of youthful chaos to begin with. They're just now sounding old, and I, for one, welcome it. They've quit pretending and decided to concentrate on sounding melodic again. I'll put it this way...I cringe at the broken not-so-high notes on Hayward's cover of Lennon's 'Happy Christmas (War Is Over)', but I appreciate the effort at making the song 'big', orchestrated, and romantic.

For a little while.  This is still Christmas music, and still will always and forever remind me of slogging through waist-deep snowdrifts on a pitch-dark December 26th morning to sell half-priced aerosol cans of fake window frost and boxes of half-busted glass Christmas tree balls to surly elderly women with bad breath, worse attitudes, and hip arthritis so inflamed you can roast chestnuts over it. I can only stand so much of this crap, since essentially it's thinly veiled Christian rock anyway, and I enjoy Christian rock about as much as a good, enthusiastic Inquisition torture session. But I guess I'm saying you could do much worse by this band than a bunch of heartfelt Christmas songs.  Like, say...HALF THEIR FUCKING CATALOGUE. Take your pick!

Capn's Final Word: Oddly decent Christmas album that won't appeal to anyone young enough to know better.  They do a nice job of making it pretty, though.

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