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.
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.