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The Moody Blues - Long Distance Voyager CD (album) cover


The Moody Blues


Crossover Prog

3.32 | 222 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars I find the years from 1979 to 1981 to be a very interesting time period, especially in the realm of progressive rock music. The wide open, anything goes spirit that characterized the 70s had been muted by the emergence of punk and New Wave, both of which turned up their noses at any form of music that relied on unconventional structure or complexity to make an impression while the highly infectious and destructive MTV virus had yet to be unleashed without restraint upon the populace. So it remains an awkward era of uncertainty that benefited some prog groups but disemboweled others. Prog juggernaut Yes had hit rock bottom with 'Tormato' and were struggling to regain respectability with a new lineup and a fresh sound as evidenced on 'Drama.' Pink Floyd had made a bold parting statement with 'The Wall' but they were in the process of fracturing apart for good due to ego-driven infighting. Genesis had made a bit of a comeback with their stunning 'Duke' but then indicated to their fans that the call of commerciality was irresistible for them on 'Abacab.' Jethro Tull was busy moving away from their folk rock roots on 'A' and ELP was still gone with the wind. Not all was lost, however. Rush became a force to be reckoned with via 'Permanent Waves' and 'Moving Pictures' while King Crimson continued to ignore trends and push boundaries with 'Discipline.' But, in general, the magical aura of innovation had left Progland and had drifted out to sea.

This brings me to the Moody Blues, an influential band that had stuck to its trippy, psychedelia-drenched guns a little too long and, in the process, had acquired the stagnating tag of being adorable has-beens from the 60s and early 70s. It's not that they had become less talented; it was more a matter of their ambience, outlook and approach growing too predictable. They still sold a respectable amount of product but they were far from being the attraction that filled arenas worldwide. Many of the members of the band had produced solo albums along the way, further depleting their stock tank of song ideas. Following their 1978 release, 'Octave,' they experienced their first roster change since '66 when keyboardist Mike Pinder left the building. They were fortunate enough to find Patrick Moraz standing in the unemployment line. While I don't consider Moraz to be of the exceptional caliber of an Emerson, Wakeman or Lord necessarily, he did have a knack for re-energizing sagging entities. Just look at what he did for The Nice and Yes, keeping them from falling off the face of the earth (at least for a while). His presence and enthusiasm did wonders for the Moody Blues as evidenced in what he added to 'Long Distance Voyager.' I'm convinced that, if not for Patrick's positive contributions, this revered prog ensemble might have dissolved into the ether.

The dramatic intro that opens the album and 'The Voice' may be typical of their well-established cosmic motif but it's also reassuring in a good way. Too much change all at once would've been unnerving. This Justin Hayward ditty is a light but enjoyable pop composition that succeeds in retaining the band's patented charm while it avoids patronization. Moraz's playful peccadilloes go a long way in adding some much-needed sparkle to their sound. Bassist John Lodge's 'Talking Out of Turn' is next, featuring a brief but intriguing synthesizer-heavy overture bolstered by a real orchestra. While the tune itself is mediocre I can still appreciate the group's willingness to employ then state-of-the-art studio techniques, especially in their stacked vocal harmonies. It possesses a sizeable depth-of-field and a sophisticated symphonic score, as well. Hayward and Lodge co-wrote 'Gemini Dream' wherein Da Moo Bloos get funky now. The dance number comes off as a cross between ELO and the Bee Gees and, while it toys with being trite at times, it steers clear of outright tediousness due to its clever arrangement. Justin's 'In My World' follows. A gorgeous acoustic 12-string guitar sets the perfect mood for another one of Hayward's poignant ballads. I'm no fan of steel guitar per se but B.J. Cole's incidentals on the instrument are tasteful and welcome in this particular case. Patrick's synthetically manufactured chorale effect blending with their voices is very effective and I like how they allow the song to breathe and expand towards the end.

Justin also penned the other highlight of the album, 'Meanwhile.' A bouncy intro leads to a somewhat unexpected minor key chord progression that establishes a noticeable tension in the presentation. The result is that what could've been a happy-go-lucky fluff piece projects a melancholy vibe due mainly to the sad lyrics that keep it relevant. Drummer Graeme Edge puts in his two cents worth with '22,000 Days.' His plodding beat pattern gives the tune a sullen but strong foundation that grounds it solidly. It's a so-so number but I do like the way they tweaked the EQ on the bridge vocals and the song's overall message is timeless. John's 'Nervous' owns a pastoral coloring and I detect a palpable Jeff Lynne influence wafting within that never stoops to the level of blatant plagiarism. Therefore, the song is consistently satisfying throughout. The last trio of compositions come from their resident flautist, Ray Thomas. I've always had reservations about his work because they more often than not have an air of 'Broadway Stage Musical' about them that is off-putting to me. I know it's a matter of taste but I'm just being honest. 'Painted Smile' emits a circus atmosphere that fits the song's 'I'm nothing but a clown' subject matter appropriately but it nudges into the area of being contrived. 'Reflective Smile' is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that consists of a nostalgic soliloquy spoken over a carousel air. The triad culminates in 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker,' a passable number that offers a sarcastic assessment of their role in the rock & roll industry. Thankfully Patrick is given a chance to stretch out for a spell and do what he doeth so competently. The tune ends with a revealing phrase that answers the question of how and why the band has endured. 'He's afraid that he will die,' croons Ray.

'Long Distance Voyager' hit the record bins on May 5, 1981 and ended up in the #1 spot a few weeks later, reviving the Moody Blues' legacy and bringing them back into the spotlight of popularity before the public. While it certainly is an improvement over what they'd been putting out since their remarkable 1970 high-mark achievement, 'A Question of Balance,' this album is one that I must rank as being stuck somewhere between good and excellent. For followers of the Moody Blues this was a delightful surprise that proved to be a shot in the arm for their career but for the uninitiated it might turn out to be a disappointment. It can go either way. Different strokes for different folks, as the song goes but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt because of the uncertain era it was created in. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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