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The Moody Blues - The Present CD (album) cover


The Moody Blues


Crossover Prog

3.02 | 115 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars 11/15P. High time to praise this close-to-perfect record - a major surprise inbetween a bunch of albums which were hardly decent at best. The 1980s sound is omnipresent, but there's lots of atmosphere everywhere on this album.

Octave had the excellent Driftwood, and a bunch of pieces were at least really good when The Moody Blues played them live. Long Distance Voyager was interesting, but was marred by some extremely uninventive songs throughout. I never really bothered finding The Other Side of Life because Sur La Mer was really horrible.

And then you stumble into this album, a totally unsuspicious record which looks exactly like all the other 80s and 90s Moody Blues CDs: a beautiful cover, songs at around 4-5 minutes length, the same line-up as before. The songs follow the Long Distance Voyager template as well: without Mike Pinder's classicistic visions everything is mostly dominated by Justin Hayward's and John Lodge's country influences. I deliberately speak of 'country influences' because they are hidden really deeply inside of these songs. At some time in music history, somehow unseen, country music sneaked into pop music and - at least that's how I see things - shaped how most (non-jazz) pop ballads sound today. When I first read reviews in which It's Cold Outside of Your Heart was described as a genuine country love song I was pretty sure that the reviewer didn't know what country music is, but after some listens I realised he was totally correct. The country leanings are present, but you actually perceive them as pop - perhaps only because the vocals lack the thick American twang. And already this aforementioned song, often described as an incredibly kitschy piece of music, totally manages to elate me. Just like in Caravan's clever The World is Yours the electric piano doubles the bass guitar and gives the song a deeply resonating fundament. Lyrics-wise it's a standard love song, absolutely pathetic - "and out of the blue it was over, and how would you think I would survive?" - but it works. The heavily sustained Gibson-ES335-notes in the beginning recall Justin Hayward's trademark guitar tone of the early 1970s, his melodies are catchy and Patrick Moraz adds some really tasteful string pads and occasional fluttering arpeggios.

Blue World, Meet Me Halfway (one of my three favorites on The Present), Running Water and Going Nowhere are all of a piece, even though they were composed by different band members. There's a certain wishfulness among them, a feeling of nostalgia streaming out of them like incense or the smell of trees and flowers in the spring. Importantly, this kind of atmosphere only unfolds if you listen to the tracks completely; after all, this is an album which is really meant to be an album and which develops from one piece to the next. Long Distance Voyager was similar, of course, but The Present is more laid-back, it's more relaxed.

Gemini Dream was a stompy upbeat disco pop tune, for instance. The pendant to this is Sitting At The Wheel, a loud and bombastic rock'n'roll song - but a song with an atmosphere, with a slight psychedelic aura shouting through the joyful mania of the reverberated vocals. Not a 1960s type of acoustic LSD trip, but rather a late 1970s glam-fueled Bowie psychedelia combined with the wall of sound production of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass 3LP. It's surprising that the Moody Blues didn't collaborate with former Bowie producer Tony Visconti until The Other Side of Life; this record sounds so much more like Visconti's acclaimed works than catastrophies like Sur La Mer. On this piece however, produced by Pip Williams, Graeme Edge's drums rattle and crash (this guy seemingly had a rebirth when Tony Clarke left the fold). In regular intervals Moraz throws in some of his keyboard pyrotechnics, and in the end Justin Hayward provides a rejoicing and playful slide guitar solo throughout the fade-out. It's definitely a hyperactive song, and maybe not the best on this album, but absolutely fine nonetheless.

Graeme Edge's ominous 22,000 Days, with the deep baritone harmony vocals singing about how many days an average man lives, always seemed to me as a novelty song from a retirement home; maybe you need to be older than 30 to understand songs like these. On this album Edge contributed the calming Going Nowhere, a song with a considerable amount of British folk hidden deep inside the song - at least when you take away the 80s synthesizers and huge drums -, which convinces me a lot more. Ray Thomas is on lead vocals, the melodies are resonant and well-suited for Thomas' voice, and the instrumental arrangements in the intro and the extended outro (including multitracked soaring electric guitars and tasteful Moog lead sounds) do the rest to ensure my pleasure. Gorgeous stuff!

Ray Thomas is again on bord with the two-part track I Am/Sorry. I Am is an esoteric piece of chant, flutes and keyboards which recalls In Search of the Lost Chord a little bit. A track like this could have been a failure on a 1980s album, but the haunting whispering in the background, Moraz' synth effects and the mighty pitch bend before Sorry (listen to it - really!) competently save the song. Sorry begins in a contemplative way with delicate finger-picking and a good melody until it turns into an uplifting rock shuffle with space to boot for harmonica licks (by Thomas) and some fiddly Moog solos in the outro (by Moraz).

The real big surprise, however, is John Lodge's mini-epic Hole In The World/Under My Feet/Hole In The World (reprise). Again, about two thirds of the seven minutes (namely Under My Feet) are pop rock - probably a less successful example of pop rock by the means of this album, weren't it for the great sense of melody in Hole In The World and the competent harmony vocals in the chorus of Under My Feet. Hole In The World is a tight instrumental march with a monotonous percussive synthesizer drone and fat drums, used as the basis for an excellent guitar solo by Justin Hayward which is partly echoed by some synthesizers. (If the Icelandic prog band Şursaflokkurinn weren't totally unheard-of, I would have accused John Lodge of copying their 1981 piece Ranimosk.) The rejoicing fanfare, however, at 1:28, with the lead guitar being dangerously close to the threshold of emptying in amplifier feedback, is a truly magic moment - and this moment is wisely revisited after the last chorus of Under My Feet until the extended fade-out. A little piece of trivia: at 3:34 Moraz adds a little burst of Hammond organ to the mix. As far as I'm concerned this is one of the shortest Hammond organ contributions to any rock album I know, and - apart from the intro of Procession and the weird French TV gig from 1970 - the only Hammond organ use on any Moody Blues album.

All in all I enjoy listening to this album quite a lot - especially during a warm summer evening's reverie, using the record as an activator of both real and fictive memories. There are no disco moments which could wake me from the sweet harmony of this album, it's totally consistent and full of intelligent and well-crafted pop music. I really think that The Present is absolutely able to stand up to the classic seven Moody Blues albums, although - of course - it cannot top masterpieces like To Our Children's Children's Children. Get it if you like the Moody Blues, but if your disappointed by the other Moody Blues records of the 1980s and 1990s. This one truly makes a difference!

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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