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The Moody Blues - The Present CD (album) cover


The Moody Blues


Crossover Prog

3.03 | 148 ratings

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4 stars The present album might be easily considered reworking of the previous album, "Long Distance Voyager". It exploits an almost identical formula: a decent hit song + a hideous hit song + a mid-tempo Lodge song + 2 lesser Hayward songs + an Edge song + pompous album finale by Thomas. The only diversion from this pattern is the brilliant Hayward/Lodge collaboration Meet Me Halfway in place of a slow song by Lodge (Nervous on "Voyager"). In my opinion, if we have a close ear at the respective sections, "The Present" is the winner throughout, with perhaps one exception (i.e. In My World is slightly superior to Running Water).

The decent hit song. Both albums open with a song which enjoyed a moderate chart success. The Voice is longer and boasts a quasi-prog opening which Blue World lacks, but ultimately they are both good melodies and moody enough to age rather well.

The hideous hit. This time the comparison goes definitely in favour of The Present track. Sitting at the Wheel might be off-putting at the first hearing, but it features one of the finest vocals by Lodge ever, and arguably the best guitar solo in the entire Moody Blues catalogue (played by producer Tony Visconti, by the way), and its overall energetic aura does not seem faked. Gemini Dream, on the other hand, is sheer atrocity, a piece of kitsch, the worst Moody Blues song alongside Time Is On My Side off the debut album.

The mid-tempo Lodge song. On the face of it, Under My Feet seems a blatant rip-off of Talking Out of Turn, and indeed the melody of the former is slightly less memorable. It has two features, though, which save the day. First, there is a lovely mystery intro called Hole In The World, which gets reprised towards the end of the actual song - a welcome, prog-smelling blurring of the boundaries within the tracklist. Second, Talking Out of Turn never approached the level of beauty captured in Under My Feet's middle eight (starting with the line "where were you...") - one of the 80's Moody Blues truly moving moments.

...and now, to something more inviting...

The two lesser Hayward songs. It's Cold Outside Of Your Heart resembles Meanwhile in its slightly countryish feel, and is memorable for Moraz' arpeggios. Running Water is less overblown than In My World, and slightly cheesy, but still decent. Hayward's vocals clearly grow weaker, but the very timbre is still charming and the songs are emotionally convincing, unlike the late eighties efforts.

The Greame Edge song. This time Ray Thomas takes the lead, but Lodge and Hayward sing beautiful backing vocals. This might be the best song ever written by the drummer, the chorus and the middle eight are really moving. Plus there is a rather lengthy coda, full of some clever synth noodling, a rare treat by The Moody Blues.

The finale by Thomas. This time we get two, not three songs to end the album with, but as Painted Smile was rather dispensable, the only contestant for Sorry is Veteran Cosmic Rocker. The two songs are totally different as for their mood and message, as Rocker was a slightly self-mocking statement and Sorry is only another love song. Still, the latter has an elaborate multi-part structure, and again the melody and the arrangement (backing vocals!) are better. Seemingly this was the last outburst of creativity from Ray Thomas, his three efforts from the nineties (Celtic Sonant, Never Blame The Rainbows For the Rain, and My Little Lovely) being somewhat less inspired. And I Am beats Reflective Smile to death, though it is mostly a spoken word set to music, the music is brilliant, arguably the closest to the core-7 sound among all the post-Pinder efforts,

The diversion. Meet Me Halfway has got nothing to do with Nervous, and though the latter was by no means a failure, this time we get a truly haunting original, its feel never to be repeated on later albums. Indeed, the power of this track does not primarily draw from the melody (though all the tensions are built all right), but rather from the arrangement (the perfect balance between the synth and guitar licks plus the unexpected seventies-like tambourine), the rendition (the magnificent high-pitched middle eight resolutions by Hayward), and the overall ominous aura deliciously contrasting with the hopeful lyrics. And there is the dreamy coda, full of comfort. The best Pinderless Moody Blues track, for me.

As far as the songwriting and performance are concerned, this is a mature, good Moody Blues album then. The only remaining question concerns its progressive value. The Moody Blues had never been true prog-rockers, of course, but whatever happened to their art-rock ambitions? For me the approach is still there, there is a feel of endearing pomposity in I Am, Sorry, Hole in the World, Going Nowhere, and even Blue World is more than contemporary pop rubbish. Nevertheless, the sound IS contemporary, sadly, so I do not recommend the album to someone who cannot stand the layers of eighties synthesizers. Weak four stars then.

gero | 4/5 |


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