This is the last installment of The Moody Blues series, a joint effort with my mother and, when he’s a good boy, my father.
ARC: Well, maman, I said they were running out of gas on Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. I now officially pronounce them out of gas.
Maman: Yes, I agree. This was a very disappointing album on multiple levels. You mentioned the lack of progression in their musical ideas on the last one, and I think in many ways this is a regression.
ARC: Even Justin Hayward slips down to the very average category.
Maman: Yes, as I said, very disappointing.
ARC: Well, then, let’s inspect the damage done to their reputations. (We start the album.) “Lost in a Lost World” is one of the worst opening songs of all time. Pinder continues his sixth-grade poetics with dull lines like “Revolution never won/It’s just another form of gun.” And that evocation, “Come on my friend/We’ve got to bend/On our knees and say a prayer” is a pretty pedestrian comedown from the guys who once held the keys to enlightenment. Notice he has a new toy, a Chamberlin, sort of a Mellotron, and its only use seems to be to add clutter to already cluttered arrangements.
Maman: The Chamberlin sounds foul to me. It has a less muddled sound but it only makes you wish for the real instruments. And yes, the mix is very unclear at times, as if they were attempting to compensate for the poor foundation. Listen to all those voices! I feel very crowded in this living room!
ARC: Yes, and all the voices seem to run together without any clarity in the mix. (Song fades.) At other times they simply bury what might have been a good song, like Justin Hayward’s “New Horizons.” And the Chamberlin with its poor imitation of strings turns this into a sappy pop song.
Maman: This is a good example, or a bad example, of what happens when you are trying too hard to make something out of nothing. Listen—what is Graeme Edge doing with the drums?
ARC: It sounds like he listened to too much “Rain” and “A Day in the Life” and is trying to out-Ringo Ringo . . . on every single measure. Ringo never overdid it like this. Goodness, these songs are terribly long.
Maman: (Sigh). That was another sign of the times. Once Bob Dylan opened the door and The Beatles went that direction, long songs became a status symbol. The Moody Blues were simply trying to adjust to the new norms.
ARC: And not adjusting very well. (“For My Lady” begins in the background.) I think we need some wine. I’ll get it. Keep going—just aim your voice at the laptop.
Maman: What happened to the mother-daughter approach?
ARC: I’ll just be a sec. Go ahead.
Maman: All right. This is a Ray Thomas song, “For My Lady.” It has a very simple chord structure that I believe we have heard before from several artists. G-Dm-C perhaps. Mr. Thomas seems suspiciously enthusiastic in his vocal as if he is trying to overcompensate, just like the rest. I find this song very offensive, for the picture he paints of the lady is stereotypically soft and gentle, as if he is putting her on a pedestal as part of his art collection.
ARC: (Returning). Oh, it’s still on. Bummer. I really hate this song—it’s so sexist.
Maman: I pointed that out while you were gone. (Sounds of wine hitting the bottoms of glasses). Merci, ma fille. It is as if he looks at women as brainless, innocent, unformed. The music is very much like his many songs for children.
ARC: It does. That reminds me. Maman, did I watch Mister Rogers?
Maman: Yes, you did. But you did not watch Sesame Street.
ARC: No. I have always loathed puppets.
Maman: Why did you bring that up?
ARC: Because you mentioned children and it’s very hard to stay attentive when listening to this piece of shit. Oops! We’re on to the next song already! Let me start it again. (Music stops and “Isn’t Life Strange” starts.) This was a top 30 squeaker in the U. S. I’m stunned it made it that far. That phony vibrato on stra-a-a-a-a-ange is just fucking awful. Here’s Justin . . . drumroll, please! Oh, shit, that is the worst falsetto Lodge ever delivered. A 28 inch jockstrap on a 40 inch waist or something. On the chorus it sounds like everyone who was within five hundred meters of the studio joins in. Hmm. I just noticed something: all the words are monosyllabic.
Maman: That cannot be true.
ARC: Let me check (ARC checks lyrics on Internet). No, you’re right—but there are entire lines of monosyllables.
Maman: There is nothing wrong with that when used in a poem for emphasis. Shakespeare and Poe did it very well, but only for emphasis.
ARC: I wouldn’t quite put John Lodge in the same league as those guys. (New song begins.) Oh, here is “You and Me,” where Hayward and Edge rip off a snatch from “Lovely to See You Again” and try to make something of it. They didn’t. At first it sounds like it’s going to be an instrumental, like “Beyond” on To Our Children’s Children’s Children. That might have been a better solution—Justin does some pretty nice guitar work. But no, we have to hear about Buddha under the Bo tree . . . and then a whole lot of disconnected crap about we’re all amazing, we’re all in this together . . . and then boom! Christian propaganda!
We look around in wonder
At the work that has been done
By the visions of our father
Touched by his loving son
Maman: Yes, I remember being very surprised and angry when I heard that line. A complete submission to Establishment mythology.
ARC: Maman, you sound like a young radical.
Maman: I was a young radical. Now I am an old radical.
ARC: You still look pretty fucking hot to me. If you weren’t my mother . . .
Maman: (Laughs.) Child, be still!
ARC: Hey, I thought Dad was going to join us.
Maman: He did not want to join us for this record. He said it gave him heartburn. I think he’s watching a game.
ARC: The bastard. He should be here suffering with the two of us. Plus de vin?
Maman: Merci. Cigarette? (Offers me a Gitane.)
ARC: Merci. Here’s “The Land of Make Believe.” Haven’t we heard that flute pattern somewhere else? It makes the song so sing-songy. Justin sounds nice but there they go again over-layering. Electric guitar makes no sense here.
Maman: None. Note the additional reference to prayer.
ARC: I have. Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s sad to see Justin going down in flames here. Underneath the eighteen-layer cake is a rehash of everything he’s ever done. (We sit and smoke in silence for a while.) One more round of Pinder calls for one more glass of wine. (Sounds of wine pouring.) Who told this guy he could sing? Didn’t he rip off this tune from some Vaudeville song?
Maman: I do not recognize it but the “see it shining” line sounds very familiar. And listen—Graeme Edge is doing the same drum part he did on “New Horizons.” (We sit and drink in silence for a while.)
ARC: Thank god for “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band)”!
Maman: You like this song?
ARC: No, but it’s the last one! Nice bass, though. Hate the unison vocals, which kind of destroy the first person subjective perspective implied by the title. Maybe they should have made it “We’re Just a Bunch of Singers in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.” They could have made it work with syncopation.
Maman: They sound angry, or straining or something. Definitely uncomfortable.
ARC: It sounds like they’re going frantically insane. This was their message to their loony fans who turned them into gods that they were just a bunch of English blokes trying to make a buck in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours. It came a little late in the game, I think. They’d been peddling enlightenment for seven albums and I think the ROI was too good to shut down the operation.
Maman: How did I manage to raise such a cynic?
ARC: I’m not cynical. You have to admit that you flower children had a certain naiveté about the way the world works.
Maman: That is true, but I also think we had a greater sense of vision and hope.
ARC: I’ll give you that. Can we lift the needle? I want to talk with you about something. (Music stops.) But first, I want to thank you for all your insight and wisdom into a band that’s pretty much been a closed book for me.
Maman: And have you changed your opinion as a result of my wisdom?
ARC: Yes and no. I think understanding the context better helps me appreciate Days of Future Passed a bit more than I did, and I found myself enjoying a good part of On a Threshold of a Dream. On the other hand, you know how I love artists who grow and change over time, and The Moodies really didn’t grow much over the years. Seventh Sojourn has the same old message with the same old chords, and they didn’t do darkness very well. The times passed them by; they had neither the musical depth nor the intellectual depth to do anything except what they’d already done.
Maman: There was more fear and more concern with survival in the 1970’s. People lost interest in the search for the higher truths, and the “all you need is love” message The Moody Blues carried forward did not turn out to be true. I believe that love for all humanity is the key, but to say it is “all you need” proved to be naive in the extreme. Still, I appreciate them for reminding us of the importance of love and the simple joys of life. That may sound nostalgic, but I would rather believe that life is good and that love is essential to our existence than otherwise.
ARC: I completely agree. Thank you, maman.
Maman: Mon plaisir, ma fille.