Strange Times by The Moody Blues

June 5, 2009

Eight years had passed since the release of Keys Of The Kingdom. The century was coming to an end and The Moody Blues were now about 35 years into their career. Strange Times found them far from their orchestral sound defined by their classic seven albums. The music on this release can be considered pop as it is very light and, for the most part, mellow.

Like many of The Moody Blues albums, beginning with 1983’s The Present, it would be measured against their best work and be found wanting. I find it a better listen than their previous several releases. Maybe I was getting used to the new Moody Blues or perhaps I was just growing older along with them.

Justin Hayward would dominate the release as he would write or co-write eight of the fourteen tracks. While most of his creations were ballads and love songs, there were some exceptions which form the foundation of the album’s best work. “English Sunset” is the only track to make use of a grand synthesizer sound and lush orchestration. It clearly stands out from the rest of the album and makes one wish that more of this type of song would have been included. “Sooner Or Later (Walkin’ On Air)” has a nice upbeat pop sound. I believe “All That Is Real Is You” would have made a successful single in earlier times.

John Lodge would contribute four solo compositions as well as three more with Hayward. His solo work here would be some of the most forgettable of his career. “Words You Say,” “Forever Now,” “Wherever You Are,” and “Love Don’t Come Easy” all struggle just to be average, exhibiting none of the fire or beauty that marks his best songs.

Ray Thomas would retire from the group several years after this release. “My Little Lovely” may be his Moody Blues studio swan song. It is a sad farewell as his voice and flute float over the instrumental backing. It is a short reminder — the song is under two minutes — of his many contributions to the group over the years. Graeme Edge’s “Nothing Changes” concludes the album by exploring the recurring theme of looking back. It is a bit pretentious but such was welcome in this case as it provided a nice counterpoint to most of the album’s music.

Strange Times remains another of the forgotten releases in their catalogue. There are certainly much better albums to occupy your time when turning to The Moody Blues. Every once in awhile, however, if you just want to kick back and relax, then give this one a try.

Keys To The Kingdom by The Moody Blues

June 5, 2009

Patrick Moraz was gone, Ray Thomas was back, and unfortunately Mike Pinder was still long gone. 1991 found The Moody Blues releasing their fourteenth studio album and while they would remain a concert attraction, the sales of their albums would begin to decline.

Keys Of The Kingdom was similar to Sur la Mer and The Other Side Of Life as there were some excellent tracks mixed in among the average. There was no unifying theme but rather what appeared to be just a random group of songs thrown together. Patrick Moraz’s departure also found the group eliminating the dominant synthesizer sounds and moving in a much lighter direction, similar to Chicago and other light pop/rock bands of the time.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge were now firmly in control of the group and they would write or co-write ten of the eleven tracks. It would be Ray Thomas, however, who would contribute the most interesting material. His “Celtic Sonant” was a welcome addition as his clear baritone rising above the harmonies and his flute weaving its intricate sounds in and out of the other instruments was a look back to the classic days of the group. While you can never go back completely, this song was a fun visit to the group’s musical past. He also co-wrote “Never Blame The Rainbows For The Rain” with Justin Hayward. While his contributions on the actual track are limited, the song bears his stamp. It is a poetic and melodic look at aging and is one of the album’s stronger compositions.

There are two other very good songs by Justin Hayward. “Say It With Love” is an anthem type production while “Bless The Wings (That Bring You Back)” is a gentle love song that makes effective use of some strings to support its mood. While there is nothing wrong with his other love song, “Hope and Pray,” by this time in his career many of his compositions were taking on a sameness which made them indistinguishable from one another.

John Lodge contributed three solo efforts and while none are outstanding they are at least solid in places. “Lean On Me (Tonight)” is a thoughtful love song and “Magic” is upbeat if average.

The real miss is Hayward’s “Say What You Mean (Parts I and II)” which was outdated in 1991.

Keys Of The Kingdom was a release that came and went without much notice or fanfare. As with many of The Moody Blues post-classic, seven albums, it is enjoyable in places but certainly not essential.

Sur la Mer by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

The Moody Blues returned in June of 1988 with their fourth and last studio release of the 1980s. While the group would tone down the over the top synthesizer sound that dominated The Other Side Of Life, they would move in a decidedly pop direction.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge would write or co-write all ten songs. They would try to create a commercial sound suitable for the late eighties and while Sur la Mer would sell reasonably well it would fall short of the success of their last release. It would also be their last album to crack the American top forty.

When looking at the album credits Ray Thomas is nowhere to be found. While he would still be an important part of their touring act, he would not contribute to this release. He and the long departed Mike Pinder would be missed as it was their creative vision that gave The Moody Blues much of their uniqueness. Without them the group would gradually become an average, or to be fair a little above average, eighties pop/rock band.

All was not lost on Sur la Mer. “I Know You’re Out There” became a hit single. It was a sequel to the 1986 song “Your Wildest Dreams.” The lyrics pick up where the first song of remembering your first love left off. She is still out there waiting to be found. “I Want To Be With You” is a pleasant love ballad. The music may be a little over bearing but the harmonies are right on. Finally John Lodge’s “Love Is On The Run” features a strong vocal and a nice keyboard foundation for once.

The loss of Thomas and Pinder are no more apparent than on the songs “Vintage Wine” and “Breaking Point.” They both contain classic style Moody Blues lyrics which are lost in a simplistic pop sound. Where are the flute and mellotron when you really need them?

The rest of the album struggles. “Deep” by Justin Hayward has some interesting textures but ultimately is brought down by the basic and average instrumentals. Songs such as “River Of Endless Love,” “No More Lies,” “Here Comes The Weekend,” and “Miracle” all are forgettable eighties fare. Sur la Mer ultimately suffers from a lack of vision and concept. They spent their energy on trying to create a commercial sound while ignoring the strengths that had gained them their popularity. If you plan on exploring The Moody Blues catalogue there are a lot of better places to start.

The Other Side Of Life by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

The sixties were long gone and The Moody Blues weren’t young anymore. That’s not to say that they weren’t smart however. They continued to move further and further from their orchestral and classical roots toward a modern eighties sound. Patrick Moraz’s keyboards would be unleashed to create the type of synthesizer pop/rock sound that was so popular at the time. It was polished and sometimes repetitive but it was commercially successful. The Other Side Of Life would reach the top ten in The United States and spawn two hit singles.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge were now the dominant creative force of the group. They would write or co-write eight of the nine songs. Ray Thomas almost completely disappears as he does not receive any writing credit and is only listed as a back-up vocalist. The only non Lodge-Hayward track was “The Spirit” which was co-authored by Graeme Edge and Patrick Moraz and is just average eighties style rock ‘n’ roll.

There are three very good songs on this album. The best is probably Justin Hayward’s hit single, “Your Wildest Dreams.” It has some of the epic grandeur of their past material while retaining a modern sound. It has a wonderful lead vocal by Hayward while the lyrics explore the experience of first love. It would reach the American top ten on Billboard’s Pop Charts plus number one Adult Contemporary and number two Mainstream Rock. It attracted a new generation of fans. Also of note was the second successful single, “The Other Side Of Life,” which is a nice and smooth pop rocker plus John Lodge’s power ballad, “It May Be Fire,” which closes the original release.

The rest of the album has some ups and downs. “I Just Don’t Care” by Hayward is a nice ballad but he has covered that ground a lot better in the past. “Talkin’ Talkin’” is actually danceable which is not what I want from The Moody Blues. Songs such as “Rock “N’ Roll Over You,” and “Slings and Arrows” just don’t measure up with the many superior songs they had created over the years.

The Other Side Of Life is average eighties guitar/keyboards based music which makes it one of the weaker releases in the group’s catalogue. There is nothing terribly offensive but if you plan on listening to some Moody Blues music there are a lot of other albums that are a superior visit. If, however, you are an eighties aficionado or a hard core Moody Blues fan then go ahead.

The Present by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

The Present is now 26 years in the past as it was issued in August of 1983. The Moody Blues returned two years after releasing Long Distance Voyager which had become their second number one album in The United States. While this new release continued in the same progressive rock vein proven successful, it was an over all weaker album and was not a great commercial success as it did not crack the American top forty.

Patrick Moraz was the keyboardist for his first complete album after touring with the group for two years. His playing was now providing the foundation for their sound and it moved them closer to being a typical eighties progressive rock band.

While The Present retained the musical slickness of Long Distance Voyager, the lyrics were not as hopeful or optimistic which gave the album an overall depressing feel.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge would write or co-write seven of the ten tracks but it would be the three by Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas that I found the most interesting. “Going Nowhere,” which was written by Edge but sung by Thomas, is nice seventies rock ‘n’ roll. Edge’s drumming and Moraz’s keyboards drive the song along. Ray Thomas produced the last two tracks on the original vinyl release. The short “I Am” has a mystical appeal. It is, however, the five minute final track, “Sorry,” which contains a classic Moody Blues sound with harmonies and keyboards all in place that may be the best on the album.

John Lodge would write three songs. “Sitting At The Wheel” and “Under My Feet” are typical and average rockers while “Hole In The Wall” is an instrumental. All three are a pleasant listen but are not memorable or up to par with his best work.

Justin Hayward would also write three tracks. His “Blue World” would be representative of the direction that he and Lodge were steering the group. A fusion of guitar and synthesizers pushed the track toward a main stream rock sound. “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” is a gentle love ballad that he was so good at creating and “Running Water” probably contains his best vocal.

The final song was written by Lodge and Hayward together. “Meet Me Halfway” may not be original but does have a nice smooth flowing appeal with good harmonies.

The Present is one of those albums where there is nothing really wrong but nothing outstanding to make it essential either. As such it gets lost among the many superior and creative releases in The Moody Blues catalogue. In the final analysis it may not be inspiring but is it solid which is faint and in this case appropriate praise.

Long Distance Voyager by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

Change was in the air for The Moody Blues. Founding member and keyboardist Mike Pinder had left and was replaced by Patrick Moraz. In many respects Pinder had been the spiritual and creative center of the group. His virtuosity on the mellotron and chamberlin had provided the classical and orchestral sound that had made them famous. Moraz had played with Yes for a spell and was a technically adept musician, his sound bringing a modern element to the Moody Blues.

The other change was Justin Hayward and John Lodge were emerging as a creative force. While elements of their former sound would still remain, they could now be classified as a progressive rock band.

Despite all these changes, Long Distance Voyager was a huge commercial success and would become their second chart-topping album in The United States, ultimately producing two hit singles. It was a very consistent work and is probably the best overall post-core-seven release of their career.

The album’s lead track, written by Justin Hayward, was “The Voice.” It contained somewhat mystical lyric, but the sound was very commercial and contained an excellent guitar solo. It was very representative of the early eighties yet was superior to most of what was being produced. Likewise the successful single, “Gemini Dream,” is a fun rocker that is driven by Moraz’s keyboards.

Graeme Edge would only contribute one song but it would be memorable. “22,000 Days” is bombastic rock with thoughtful and hopeful lyrics. 22,000 were considered about the number of days in an adult life and the song focused on how they should be used.

“Nervous,” by John Lodge, is one of the great lost songs of The Moody Blues catalogue. It begins slow and mellow but gradually soars with strings and an orchestral sound.

Ray Thomas would write a suite of three songs to end the album. While he would spend another two decades with the group, his contributions would dwindle. “Painted Smile” and the wonderful “Veteran Cosmic Rocker” were connected by a short poem. They used circus imagery and have a childlike quality to them. “Veteran Cosmic Rocker” would become a part of their stage act and, as time passed and the group aged, it would take on new meaning.

Long Distance Voyager remains one of the better and more interesting albums to have emerged from the early eighties. It is both powerful and uplifting, serving as a clear statement that The Moody Blues were alive and well.

Octave by The Moody Blues

June 2, 2009

The Moody Blues returned after a five year hiatus with a very different sounding album. The punk and disco era were now in full flower and such groups as Styx, Journey, and REO Speedwagon were dominating the rock charts. Octave would abandon the cosmic and symphonic sound of the group’s past, and move toward one more in tune with the era. As such it would not stand out as a unique creation as did their core of classic albums.

Octave would also be the last album for founding member Mike Pinder. He had always provided a spiritual and in many ways the classical center of their music through his mellotron and chamberlin. Now playing a synthesizer the sound was different and not as grand. Years later it would come to light that he was not pleased with the musical direction of the group. Patrick Moraz would replace him as the group’s keyboardist and tour in support of the album.

Octave would have no unifying theme and be the most diffuse album that The Moody Blues had released up until that time. Each song would match the individual personality of its composer.

The John Lodge composition, “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone,” was typical of the new sound. It is a typical energetic Lodge rocker but the musical center was the keyboard-guitar interplay which was in vogue at the time. Still it was catchy and was a commercially successful single.

Justin Hayward is in ballad mode for this release and while he would not create anything as wonderful or unique as “Nights In White Satin,” his music is still very listenable because of the innate beauty of the songs. “Had To Fall In Love” and “Top Rank Suite” are both very mellow. “Driftwood” is the best of the three as it is a gentle love ballad which was a Hayward trademark by this time.

Ray Thomas created two songs for this release. “I’m Your Man” just disappears but “Under Moonshine” contains a strong lead vocal by him plus some classic harmonies by the other members of the group.

“One Step Into The Light” would be a final spiritual statement by Mike Pinder and his only composition on the album. The music would be more progressive rock than the grandiose sound of his past as he would bring his Moody Blues career to a conclusion.

A fourth Justin Hayward song would close the album. “The Day We Meet Again” would unintentionally or intentionally point toward the future as a new keyboardist was on the way and the grand classical sounds were being left behind.

Make no mistake, Octave remains a very good late seventies album but does fall short of the group’s best work. It was different, more modern, and ultimately a transitional work. Despite all that it still remains a good, if not essential, Moody Blues listen today.