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The Moody Blues - A Question of Balance CD (album) cover

A QUESTION OF BALANCE

The Moody Blues

 

Crossover Prog

3.52 | 307 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars A Question of Balance was released in the summer of 1970, and was the most commercially successful Moodies album at the time. This was a mid-tour release, with songs designed to support the band’s need for a variety of tunes for their heavy appearance schedule. It’s a bit simpler than the previous four works, and lacked a blockbuster single, although both “Question” and “Melancholy Man” scored modestly, particularly in Europe. This is a decent effort, but doesn’t have the staying power their other albums of the same period do.

“Question” is a stellar opening track musically, although the lyrical message is abstract and a bit unfocused. The rapid-fire acoustic guitar gives the work a crisp and clean framework, and the mid-song tempo adjustment to a more thoughtful mode, combined with the lush harmonies and keyboards just make this a memorable song overall. The segue into the world-gone-mad rambling “How is It (We Are Here)” is mostly smooth but a bit awkward as the latter work is much more sparsely arranged. Like much of their work during this period, the theme is a bit dated, or rather – na´ve, with references of man’s raping of the earth and nihilistic political behaviors. This was top- drawer stuff in 1970, but really serves to capture just how much more complicated our world has become since then.

Ray Thomas has a penchant for slow, sad songs with strumming guitars and barely perceptible rhythm, which he delivers once again on “And the Tide Rushes In”. His lyrics usually either lean toward a love song, or are so abstract as to have little meaning at all. “Tide” tends toward the latter -

“Then the tide rushes in and washes my castles away; then I'm really not so sure which side of the bed I should lay”.

I really have no idea what point he’s trying to make. This song is also a bit short on harmonic backing vocals and follows a fairly simple rhythm and steady tempo, both Thomas trademarks.

“Don’t You Feel Small?” is the most unusual work on the album, but not because of some complex and experimental arrangement, or due to controversial lyrics or anything like that. Rather, this is a real throwback to the early Denny Laine days of the band with a barbershop quartet vocal arrangement and very thin instrumental accompaniment. This sounds like The Association more than it does the Moody Blues. The only hint at this being a true Moodies song is the slight tempo uptick toward the end, complete with airy flute and what I assume to be Justin Hayward whispering in between notes. There’s really no lead singer on this song – it’s more like the whole band just chiming in for an extended round-robin chorus. Not really a strong song, but I suppose one of the ones included to stock up the touring catalog.

John Lodge offers another of his tongue-in-cheek, not too serious works with “Tortoise and Hare”, a farcical tale about two friends whose actions parallel that famous fable. More spaced-out Moodies background vocals, a fast-paced irregular drum beat, and some very plain guitar strumming, along with the ubiquitous flute that here really doesn’t have much of a sense of purpose.

“It’s Up to You” reminds me a lot of songs like “New Horizons” and “When You’re a Free Man” from Seventh Sojourn – not particularly ambitious, but moves along at a decent pace and has all the trademark Moodies vocals, but without the orchestration or ornate keyboards. By this point in the album it should be apparent to even the novice listener that this is a guitar-focused, simple set of songs that were designed to evoke a loose mood and be quite appropriate for regular concert performance.

I really like the unusual tempo of “Minstral’s Song”, as well as the vocals that include both melodic and harmonious elements to provide a broader range of sound then most voice- heavy Moodies songs. This is a pleasant peace-and-love-and-hugs-and-kisses song, a good tune to listen to in a sunny park on a summer day. Very 1970s sound, and a good lead-in to Justin Hayward’s “Dawning is the Day”, which is a full-blown earth-mom hippy chant. Here again the drums are not at all complex, but the sound is rich and expressive. The band tries out some sequential vocal transitions here, as opposed to the chorus approach they are more known for. Thomas’ flute work is especially creative here, with some aggressive passages as well as strategically-placed abrupt notes among the other instruments. Hayward seems determined to do nothing but pick at his guitar for most of this album, particularly here and on the opening track. This is a very nice song, but certainly not a greatest hit or anything.

The next track, “Melancholy Man” is a keeper though. Pinder sings lead for one of only a few times in the band’s history, and he sets a morbid, almost dirge-like tone (or as close to a dirge as this band can muster). His crypt-like Mellotron tracks are so heavy and brooding that they border on comic at times, and I can’t help but call up images of the Rocky Horror Picture show when I hear this. Nice try, and a charming chapter in the band’s history, but hard to take seriously coming from these guys. It's a fun listen though.

“The Balance” combines the testimony of Thomas’ intangible poetry with Edge’s sappy peacenik choruses for a sentimental and lighthearted truth-seeking climax of an ending –

“Just open your eyes and realize - the way it's always been.

Just open your mind and you will find - the way it's always been.

Just open your heart, and that's a start”.

Like a lot of early Moodies – heavy stuff for 1970, but pretty much just a nice little nostalgia trip today. Musically this is the lightest of the ‘big 7’ Moodies albums of the late 60s / early 70s, and isn’t very strong lyrically. It has its proponents, but in my mind this is overall the weakest Moodies album of that era. Still good, but only three stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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