My mother and I continue our conversational reviews of the work of The Moody Blues. My father is once again allowed to contribute his historical perspective under the watchful eye of mother and daughter.
ARC: Bonjour à tous. Je suis ici à Nice avec ma mère et mon père, et nous allons discuter, analyser, et piquer un crise hissy ou deux au sujet de A Question of Balance par The Moody Blues.
Maman: “Piquer un crise hissy?” Enfant, montre ta langue!
Dad: What the fuck are you people talking about?
ARC: Dad, I thought you were taking French lessons!
Dad: I am, but sometimes it’s such a damned hard language to hear. All those weird frigging vowels and everything running together like mush.
ARC: Mother is protesting my translation of the American phrase “hissy fit” into French. All I did was add the word “hissy” to “throwing a fit.”
Maman: It is an unpleasant phrase. Remove it from your vocabulary.
Dad: Or your mother will throw a hissy fit.
Maman: Assez! Back to the subject, please.
ARC: Bien sûr, madame! We’re reviewing A Question of Balance by The Moody Blues, the fifth of the core seven. The musical historians believe this was a significant album on two counts. First, there isn’t so much of the layered Mellotronic hoo-hah, as The Moodies wanted to make an album they could perform live. What a novel fucking thought for a band that made a bundle on tour! More importantly, they allegedly allow a teeny weenie bit of darkness to intrude on their visions of paradise. Took them long enough.
Dad: This came out in 1970, right? That was a rough year. Cambodia . . . Kent State . . . The Beatles breaking up . . . Lennon saying “the dream is over.”
ARC: None of that explains it. The British weren’t involved in the Vietnam War, and Kent State wasn’t their problem. As far as The Beatles were concerned, I would have thought The Moodies would have been thrilled to see them go. They were competitors, after all.
Maman: You have to understand the context. America was the battleground of the generational wars; that was where the changes were most needed. Young Europeans were just as much devoted to pacifism as those in the American anti-war movement, but the battle they fought in Europe—against NATO and The Bomb—became passé; the Cold War had become the new normal. But Vietnam was a hot war, an unjust war, and European youth—at least those of the West—engaged in protest in support of the American anti-war movement.
ARC: Hmm. But the world wasn’t so pretty before 1970. Come on, folks, 1968 was a pretty dismal year. Weren’t two assassinations and all hell breaking loose in Chicago enough for The Moodies to get it?
Dad: We were idealists, and sometimes it’s hard to let go of a dream. Yeah, 1968 was bad, but 1969 was the year of Woodstock, and that rekindled the hope that we could still change things through non-violence, through our numbers. When I look back, I can’t believe how naïve we were, thinking we were going to change Nixon and his boys by marching in the streets. Nixon had the right strategy—getting The Silent Majority, the average folks, on his side. We dismissed the Archie Bunkers as hopeless.
Maman: There was much arrogance. We wanted to believe and we believed we were right. I think we were right, but you never convince someone else to change their minds just because you are right. We alienated the people whose support we needed. We handed them to Nixon.
Dad: And it was right around that time that the SDS split and The Weathermen declared war against the U. S. A.
ARC: Let’s leave the hippie movement divided between the drug-addicted and the psychos and get back to The Moody Blues.
Dad: Cheap shots!
ARC: I love pulling the scraggly beards of you ancient hippies! Look—the alleged darkness really only appears in a few songs, so I’m skeptical that The Moodies really got it, and I don’t agree with the historical view as to why the album was significant. To me, what’s significant is that this album, more than any of the others, conclusively proves that The Moody Blues were Justin Hayward and a bunch of other guys. His songs on this album are so superior to the others that it’s almost embarrassing. Dad, can you do the honors?
(We listen to the opening track, “Question.”)
ARC: (Sigh.) This was clearly the greatest thing they ever did.
Maman: It is superb; very moving, very touching.
ARC: First, it’s nice to open a Moody Blues album without one of Graeme Edge’s silly poems. The furious strum is a deeply dramatic opener, and the use of the Mellotron here is quite explosive. John Lodge really kicks ass on that bass run, but the part that convinced me that they meant business is after Justin starts singing and Graeme Edge breaks off his own furious attack and gives us that POW-POW . . . POW-POW-POW-CRASH! That’s just fucking killer.
Dad: Edge plays like a man who’s been unchained.
ARC: Nice image, dad! The lyrics are very well-written as well, especially the two opening verses:
Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war
It’s when we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed.
Maman: I think the answer to the question is in the non-answer. Our parents had no explanation for any of it except “that’s the way things are.” I know you did not like Ray Davies’ line, “But he’s too scared to complain/’Cause he’s conditioned that way,” but it is a truth you need to understand. Our parents were terrified of challenging anything, and they reacted quite defensively when you asked questions like this. We did not get answers because they did not know the answers and they had no answers. They only knew what the authorities told them.
Dad: C’est très vrai. Nos parents étaient des gens très effrayés. (Maman and I break out into applause. Dad stands up and takes a bow.) Don’t ask for an encore.
ARC: I love the tender and quiet middle of the song, but I’m having a hard time reconciling it with the protest in the opening stanzas. He seems to be changing the subject.
Maman: We are the explanation.
Maman: Your father and I are the explanation.
ARC: Not getting it, maman.
Dad: What she means is that “in a world of persecution,” the one place where we could share our thoughts and our feelings was with the one we loved. Our parents couldn’t understand us, but we found understanding in our love for each other, because that love was . . . curious about the other, not just trying to gratify itself. We wanted to understand each other in a way that we had never been understood before. That line “I’m looking for someone to change my life” is what happened to us.
Maman: It is not sentimental. We shared “the secrets of our souls,” and it was the most liberating experience of our lives. The middle section is perfection: when the world around you makes no sense, love—real love—is the answer. Love was more than just a slogan.
ARC: And that is just as true today as it was then. Oh, this is such a wonderful song—do we have to talk about the next one?
Dad: Well, let’s give it a spin. (Plays “How Is It (We Are Here”)).
ARC: What a comedown. Pinder has no feel for lyrics whatsoever. Someone told him poets use alliteration so he piles it on: “Men’s mighty mine machines.” Just awful. Sixth grade stuff.
Maman: It played better back in the day, in the dawn of environmental consciousness.
ARC: Didn’t you notice that he can’t fucking sing to safe his life?
Maman: Forgive me the sins of my youth, oh, superior one!
ARC: Thank you for admitting it. Okay, Dad. (Plays “And the Tide Rushes In”). Ooh—I have a quote on this one. The guy on AllMusic.com wrote, “‘And the Tide Rushes In’ (written in the wake of a fight with his wife) is one of the prettiest psychedelic songs ever written, a sweetly languid piece with some gorgeous shimmering instrumental effects.” Either he’s tone-deaf or this is the only psychedelic song he’s ever heard. I can name four off Odyssey and Oracle, three off Surrealistic Pillow and a host of others that were far prettier. This song sucks—the lyrics are terribly awkward and the superfluous appearance of the blackbird at the end is the ultimate cop-out. The “shimmering instrumental effects” are the same old Moody Blues version of the curtain that hides the guy who isn’t really a wizard.
Dad: Yeah, I never cared for this one either.
Maman: I disagree. I think the song is structured very well and has very strong melodic flow. I do agree about the last verse, however.
ARC: Next! (“Don’t You Feel Small” comes on.) What the fuck is Graeme Edge babbling about now?
Maman: Our refusal to accept responsibility for our destruction of the planet.
ARC: Then why does he sing, “See the world/Ask what it’s for/Understanding, nothing more.” If it’s all about understanding, isn’t he in effect saying, “Fuck the environment.”
Maman: (Sigh.) I agree that the poetry here is not well-organized.
ARC: And what’s that fucking whispering all about? A child could have written the melody. And Lodge’s falsetto is just awful.
Dad: I noticed that you didn’t complain about it during “Question.”
ARC: Because it was buried by a whole lot of other sounds. Let’s move on to a Lodge song, “Tortoise and the Hare.” (Plays.) Classic album filler. You know, he did pretty well on Our Children’s Children’s Children, but his songs here are really, really trite.
Maman: Disappointing. This is a song I dislike intensely. Pointless.
ARC: Never fear, maman—Justin Hayward to the rescue. (Dad flips the LP over to “It’s Up to You”). Now we’re talkin’!
Dad: That’s one of their best songs—but it doesn’t get the press that the others get.
ARC: Play it again, dad! That intro is so well done—the acoustic opening, the steel guitar panning, and then WHAM! I hate to repeat myself, but when Edge and Lodge had to focus on the rhythm, they really killed it. Very tight.
Dad: Yeah, I like The Moodies when they get down to it.
Maman: There! Listen!
In the world of me and you
All is forgotten when we’re inside
And the words that pass us by
I am not listening—all of it’s lies
That is the same theme in “Question”: “the world of me and you.” The loving relationship as a safe harbor from the ills of the world. It was the source of our strength.
ARC: It’s the source of my strength, too. We do have to deal with a lot of crap in our lives, as girls loving girls.
Maman: Yes, and more so because the two of you are very beautiful and you have taken yourselves out of the meat market, which frustrates the selfish male population looking to add women to their collection.
ARC: Well, we haven’t taken ourselves completely out of it, but even if we had a guy, the fact that we lez off together only has value for men if they can watch. Men suck.
ARC: Not you, dad! If I could find someone like you, I’d be very happy.
Maman: Yes, he can be very useful at times. (Said with a wicked grin on her face.)
Dad: Well, thanks for acknowledging that I have some purpose in life.
ARC: You do, Dad! Now be a good boy and play the next song.
Dad: Just like your mother. (Plays “Minstrel’s Song”).
ARC: This brings up something I noticed. This is their what, fifth album? What I’m not hearing—except for Justin Hayward—is musical progression. Their songs are all very simple chord patterns with very standard rhythms, and you can predict nearly every melody after four notes. The only reason they qualify as “progressive” is they used some weird instruments. Compared to King Crimson, they were musical lightweights. And there they go with the “love is all around” crap.
Maman: I do not care for this song either. This is love as the cliché, not the foundation.
ARC: Singing birds don’t bring love. They bring poop.
Dad: Is this a segue to another attack on Donovan’s seagulls?
ARC: I was traumatized by his fucking seagulls! I see them everywhere now!
Maman: We have good psychiatrists in France.
ARC: Thank you . . . moving on . . . (Plays “Dawning Is the Day”). Not as strong as the other two, but still better than the rest.
Dad: The acoustic guitar here sounds great. Some really nice supporting runs.
ARC: And the chords are more interesting than the others.
Maman: Ray Thomas has a perfectly lovely flute solo here, though I wish they would have lowered the volume on the Mellotron so we could hear it more clearly.
ARC: Agreed. They go overboard with the drama during that section. Uh oh, here comes Pinder.
Maman: You don’t like this song? Tu est folle!
ARC: He has always sounded like a “Melancholy Man,” I’ll give you that. But come on, maman—he really overdoes it with the emotion. Talk about chewing the scenery! The lyrics are fucking silly, incoherent—a combination of end-of-the-world imagery combined with arrogant superiority—the same kind of patronizing crap that Ray Davies gave us on Arthur. Who were these people to judge other people’s lives? Ooh—I made an insider musical pun! Other people’s lives—get it?
Dad: You’re really lucky you never expressed interest in becoming a comedian.
Maman: What lines are you talking about?
ARC: “His life caught up in misery/He doesn’t think like you and me/’Cause he can’t see what you and I can see.” Well, excuse the fuck out of me for missing out on enlightenment!
Maman: (Sigh.) You are arguing nits and not the whole. The song is about our place in the cosmos. The existential isolation under the unfeeling heavens.
ARC: Point noted for posterity. I will give you this—it’s not as bad as the biblical language of the album closer. What’s it called, Dad?
Dad: Uh, “Balance.”
ARC: Yeah, duh. Play it, please. (Narration in background.) Listen to this pompous crap!
After he had journeyed
And his feet were sore
And he was tired
He came upon an orange grove
And he rested
And he lay in the cool
And while he rested
He took to himself an orange
And tasted it
And it was good
And he felt the earth to his spine
And he asked
And he saw the tree above him
And the stars
And the veins in the leaf
And the light
And the balance
And he saw magnificent perfection
Whereon, he thought of himself in balance
And he knew he was
ARC: “He took to himself an orange?” What the hell is that? It sounds sexual, but I’m not sure what you can do with an orange.
Dad: Makes for a pretty big Ben Wa ball!
ARC: “Whereon?” Who was the last person to use that word? Fucking Milton?
Maman: You have made your point.
ARC: Not yet. This is a tacked-on piece to give the album some form of cosmic significance and ironically throws the whole album out of balance. If they had used the balance theme as Justin Hayward laid it out—that we need love to balance out the work that must be done in this sordid world of ours—then they might have had something. But bringing up this enlightenment crapola is almost a parody of themselves.
Dad: I don’t think I’ve played this track since I first got the album. It’s always time to lift the needle before it comes up.
Maman: I live with Philistines! I will argue, for the record, that the poem is about man’s balance with nature, and the environmental theme is also present on this record.
ARC: Tell you what—for the sake of balance, I’ll let you have the last word.
Maman: As it should be.