Albums worth revisiting #1 – THE MOODY BLUES: LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER

THE MOODY BLUES
LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER ****
MoodyBluesLongDistanceVoyager.jpgReleased: 15 May 1981
Label: Threshold
Recorded at Threshold Studios and RAK Studios, London, 19 February 1980 – 14 April 1981.
Produced by Pip Williams
Engineered by Greg Jackman
UK Chart: #7; US Chart: #1.
Justin Hayward – lead vocals (1,3,4,5,6) backing vocals, guitars; John Lodge – lead vocals (2,3,6,7), backing vocals, bass guitar; Ray Thomas – lead vocals (6,8,10), backing vocals, flute, harmonica; Graeme Edge – drums; Patrick Moraz – keyboards; Dave Symonds – narrator (9); The New World Philharmonic – string section
Track List:

    1. The Voice (Hayward) – (5:21) **** (US #15)
    2. Talking Out of Turn (Lodge) – (7:18) **** (US #65)
    3. Gemini Dream (Hayward, Lodge) – (4:09) ***** (US #12)
    4. In My World (Hayward) – (7:22) *****
    5. Meanwhile (Hayward) – (4:08) ****
    6. 22,000 Days (Edge) – (5:25) ***
    7. Nervous (Lodge) – (5:45) ****
    8. Painted Smile (Thomas) – (3:18) / Reflective Smile (Thomas) – (0:36) / Veteran Cosmic Rocker (Thomas) – (3:18) ***

The Moody Blues are best known today for their 1967 mega-ballad “Nights in White Satin”, although they had a UK #1 with their second single “Go Now” back in 1964. By 1981, in the post-punk/new wave era, the band had come to be viewed as something of an anachronism with its penchant for gentle acoustic and orchestral arrangements at odds with the more simplistic and electric approach being championed by the days’ top bands. Indeed, the Moodies had only released one new studio album since 1972, that being 1978’s OCTAVE, which had been largely undistinguished, despite hitting #5 in the UK album chart. This made LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER, released three years later, all the more surprising for its consistently high quality of songwriting and updated sound. The album heralded the arrival of former Yes-man Patrick Moraz on keyboards to replace founder member Mike Pinder. The result was a more modern approach, whilst still retaining the trademarks of gorgeous acoustic guitar arrangements and sympathetic orchestration. The most impressive aspect though was the quality of the songs.

The album opener, “The Voice”, begins with an atmospheric synth refrain from Moraz before launching into an up-tempo acoustic guitar-driven song typical of Hayward. The listener can lose themselves in the lilting harmonies and melodies of “Talking Out of Turn” and the wonderfully glowing ballad “In My World” – possibly Hayward’s best since “Nights in White Satin”. These two songs have extended sections that may seem a little self-indulgent but are not unwelcome because they transport you into their world with a warm glow in your heart. “Gemini Dream” channels Jeff Lynne and ELO extremely effectively with its bouncing synth lines and melodic hook make it the catchiest tune on the album.  “Meanwhile” is another winner of a ballad, more up-tempo this time with a prodding bass line. “22,00 Days” opens like a Pink Floyd mid-tempo rocker with its pounding rhythm and has a big chorus. “Nervous” is another strong melodic mid-tempo tune with slide guitar and heavy orchestration that again echoes ELO. The album’s three-part closer is perhaps the only misstep with its eccentric mix of music hall, eastern melodies and bombastic rock at odds with the more graceful music that precedes it. This was no doubt the intention and on a good day, Thomas’ quirky mini-opera of court jesters and backstage antics can raise a smile through its sheer impudence.

LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER was to be The Moody Blues’ last top 10 album in the UK. It may sound a little dated today production-wise, but so does much of the music from the 1980s and here it is the songs that shine through with a warming glow.

Don’t just take my word for it:

 “Progressive rock bands stumbled into the ’80s, some with the crutch of commercial concessions under one arm, which makes the Moody Blues’ elegant entrance via LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER all the more impressive.” – Dave Connolly, All Music Guide

“LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER is one of the most seamlessly embroidered records I’ve ever heard. The Moody Blues’ musical canon doesn’t always go boom, but it’s dignified, eloquent and, like good sherry, should warm the hearts of their veteran cosmic fans–and any others who choose to listen with fresh ears.” – Parke Puerbaugh, Rolling Stone

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