My mother, father and I continue our exploration of The Moody Blues from my parents’ living room in Nice.
ARC: Well, maman, you have already indicated your approval of “Procession,” the opening track, when we did our review of In Search of the Lost Chord, so make your case.
Maman: Merci, ma fille. My comment was in comparison to “House of Four Doors,” a very primitive attempt to express the idea of musical evolution mirroring human evolution. This is much superior. To begin with, the quality of the recording is excellent, and the sequence is very well planned. Very early they establish music as the pre-language means of human communication with the dialogue between the near and distant beating drums, a very intriguing representation of the power of music to communicate successfully despite the absence of words. Note how the drums merge into one and vocalizations follow as a natural outcome, leading to pitch, melody and harmony. The sound of the sitar reminds us of the cultures who first applied more complex instrumentation and structure to music. The progression then leads us to pastoral folk music of the European cultures, then to the manifestation of even more structure and complexity with the emergence of parlor music—note how the harpsichord pattern echoes strains of “Greensleeves.” The powerful church organ sings of the dominant influence of the church in shaping music, and the timpani hints at the power of the symphony. The electric guitar is self-explanatory, leading us into “The Story in Your Eyes.”
ARC: Where’s Africa?
ARC: I don’t know how you can do a progression of music and ignore African and African-American influence. Without blues, jazz and R&B, rock ‘n’ roll never would have come into existence. To me, this progression is the progression of white people’s music, which proves that The Moody Blues were just a bunch of culturally unaware white guys.
Maman: (Sigh.) You could also argue that they should have included a symphony instead of hinting at it, but one must make choices to include or exclude. A full progression would have taken the length of the album.
ARC: Oh, bullshit. All I’m asking for here is 15-30 seconds to acknowledge the enormous and indispensable contribution of black people to musical evolution. Surely you must get that—you’re the one who turned me onto jazz!
Maman: Yes, yes, okay, I will let you win that one. I still think it is a strong piece, however.
Dad: I’m staying out of this.
ARC: Dad, can you start it just a little bit before they move into “The Story in Your Eyes?” (Music plays.) Oh, yeah, this song kicks ass. John Lodge is outstanding here—the bass really pulls this one together. Good harmonies, too. And the chord structure is more interesting than usual when they get to the bridge.
Dad: Definitely one of their best.
Maman: Note the recurring theme of sanctuary in real love, as in “Question.”
But I’m frightened for your children,
And the life that we are living is in vain.
And the sunshine we’ve been waiting for,
Will turn to rain.
When the final line is over,
And it’s certain that the curtain’s gonna fall.
I can hide inside your sweet sweet love,
For ever more.
ARC: Yes, very powerful and more proof that Justin Hayward really got the balance concept right. Just let it play, dad. (“Our Guessing Game” begins.). And I think Ray Thomas was turning into a fuddy-duddy. This is such a terribly formal song.
Maman: I think it is one of his best songs. The syncopation on the more intense sections is very interesting, and the lyrics are very strong.
ARC: Amazing. I find it boring and over-layered—adjectives I’d apply again and again to this album. And that whole “we’re better than you” theme is really starting to piss me off—“So blind they cannot see all of the things/The way life ought to be.” And who the fuck made you judge and jury, Mr. Thomas?
Maman: You are wrong! The next line is self-deprecating and self-aware: “And with tomorrow what will they make of me?” He is admitting that he could also stand some judgment; that his view of the world may be equally flawed.
ARC: Yawn. So you say. Dad?
Dad: I think I’ll stay out of this one, too.
Maman: A wise decision.
ARC: Okay! On that note, let’s play “Emily’s Song.” (Plays in background.) I understand John Lodge wrote this for his newborn daughter. How come you guys never wrote a song about me?
Maman: A song could not possibly describe you. You need an opera.
ARC: Aww, thank you!
Maman: Putting aside the narcissism you obviously inherited from your father, the song is really more about the growth that comes from becoming a parent. A child can change your entire outlook on life if you are curious and allow the child to awaken your imagination instead of trying to control the child.
ARC: Are you saying I was a growth experience for you guys? I’m so . . . flattered.
Dad: You were also a pain in the ass, but I guess that can be a growth experience, too.
ARC: I am a little bitch sometimes.
Maman: Your father is about to say that you inherited that from me.
Dad: Hey, quit trying to bait me! I’m on a short leash here.
ARC: Another great image, dad! Maman, don’t you think that all men should be on leashes?
Maman: (Laughs.) Only the ones who are worth the trouble. The rest can go to the pound.
ARC: On that note, we’ll move on to the next song. (“After You Came” plays). Intriguing title, but I don’t think they share my definition of intrigue. A pretty sexless bunch, those Moodies. Doesn’t this song seem awkward to you? Like The Moodies are trying to be hot and heavy but all they do is slobber all over themselves. The voices in unison and in turn don’t work; the flow is terrible—you think it’s going to be a rocker and then they do the ethereal shit in the middle eight.
Dad: It’s a clunker. Very busy arrangement, and there’s nothing really driving it at the baseline.
Maman: I will allow your combined judgment to stand.
ARC: Thank you! Okay, uh, flip it. What’s next? (Flute plays over acoustic guitar). Oh yeah, “One More Time to Live.” What a dumb fucking song. The ultimate in empty pompousness.
Dad: I’ve never been able to figure out what the hell they were driving at here.
ARC: They used up their entire vocabulary of abstractions ending in -ion, like Donovan and his fucking colors.
Maman: I think the quiet verses are pretty, if pedestrian, but I agree with your perception of excess.
ARC: Cool! I thought we were going to have a whopper argument. Maman, you surprise me sometimes.
Maman: I am an expert at keeping people on their toes.
Dad: No shit.
ARC: Okay, play the next song, but I don’t want to spend any time on it. (Plays “Nice to Be Here.”) I might have liked this when I was five, but Ray Thomas wrote way too many children’s songs. And the fantasy of an animal jam session is just plain silly, and leads to excess par excellence as they pile on the instruments.
Maman: I find it irritatingly saccharine. Not one of their best.
ARC: We’re on a roll! On to Justin. (“You Can Never Go Home” plays.) This one starts out in a promising manner, but they bury it in too many layers. The simpler arrangements of A Question of Balance would have worked very well with this song. The lyrics are Justin-the-Idealist, which is his weakest perspective. And Lodge’s falsetto crosses the line.
Dad: Some nice guitar work by Justin, but yeah, they overdid it here.
Maman: I agree somewhat, but the melody is very pretty and the harmonies very effective.
ARC: I’ll give you that. I’m now going to put my foot down and refuse to listen to “My Song” again. I’ve already survived three spins and another would put me into a coma. This is not only the worst Moody Blues song but one of the worst by anybody, anywhere, anytime. Pinder, the psychedelic Sinatra! At least he includes a warning notice at the beginning: “I’m gonna sing my song/And sing it all day long/A song that never ends.” Thank you, Mr. Pinder, but I’ve got to wash my undies now!
Dad: You’ll get no argument from me here.
Maman: Nor I. It seems very self-centered and out-of-place.
ARC: They’re running out of gas, aren’t they?
Dad: I don’t think they had much in the tank to begin with. The Moody Blues were fueled more by fan adulation than by their music.
Maman: Your father is simplifying matters, as usual. I will say that I was disappointed by the lack of progression and depth when this album came out. The themes were becoming too familiar. It has more virtues than you recognize but it is not their strongest effort.
ARC: Fair enough. Can you guys hang on for the last album? I’d really like to wrap this up before I leave.
Dad: Can we take a walk and stop for a bite somewhere first?
ARC: I could definitely use some wine and a cigarette. Maman?
Maman: Ce serait délicieux.