Life at 33 1/3: Nothing left to prove

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The Moody Blues: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (Threshold)

With “A Question Of Balance” The Moody Blues had an ever so small go at social criticism.  The album’s proposed theme was global and turned its blurry focus on conflicts that pestered the planet; the balance of power, the Vietnam War, stuff like that.

They were never very specific, no reason to take any chances with the fans.  This was The Moody Blues, after all, a bunch of would-be philosophers disguised as hairdressers (or Arsenal-players) looking for a guru.  But the album was a conscious move towards a more basic approach.



The slightly stripped down arrangements would make it easier to reproduce the album live.  The change was not as dramatic as one might fear.  A mellotron is after all a mellotron, and the band were masters of harmony singing, but nevertheless, “A Question Of Balance” – except for the wonderful hit “Question” – was a tame collection of songs.

Lesson learned, with “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” they took a U-turn, immersing themselves in the laboratory of Wessex Sound Studios in London, searching for that old magic of 1968-69.  The mellotron would however not dominate as much as it did on their late 60s classics.  Pinder was just as active on the piano and organ, and they finally introduced the Moog synthesizer on a Moody Blues-album.  In the opening collage “Procession” they even used electronic drums.  Some achievement actually, both reaching out for the future and falling back on a tried and trusted formula.


The album’s title is the English mnemonic used to remember the musical notes that form the lines of the treble clef:  EGBDF. E(very) G(ood) B(oy) D(eserves) F(avour), right?  Beautifully captured by the cover painting.

With such a pedagogical approach to it, one would expect the album’s soluble theme to be about music, the importance of music for mankind through history, or something like that.  It may also have been the group’s original intention.  The opening cut “Procession”, an almost five minutes long collage of music history from the Stone Age through the mythical Orient to modern Western music, certainly points in that direction.  The experiment only works while it is fresh to the listener though, after some spins it just gets on your nerves.


They probably lost interest in the plot, and we should be grateful for that.  Vanilla Fudge tried something similar in 1968 with “The Beat Goes On” with disastrous results.  It’s as if The Moody Blues say “enough of this” the moment “Procession” fades out, and deliver what should have been one of the biggest hit-singles of 1971, Justin Hayward’s extremely commercial and well crafted “The Story In Your Eyes”.  It’s a sweet love song with a worried urgency to it, made even more explicit as it punches out after less than three minutes.  For incomprehensible reasons, this potential no. 1 was not released as a single in the UK; they pressed it all right, with picture sleeve and all – but only for export!  What was the record company thinking?

A messy opening, a wonderful second track, unfortunately the rest of the album is just as tame as its predecessor.  They play well, the arrangements are superb, they are after all professionals, but the music doesn’t sound very inspired, it’s as if they’re sleep walking through it, drowsy, satisfied, with nothing left to prove.



Only occasionally songs of substance peer out from the laidback dullness, particularly Hayward’s other contribution, “You Can Never Go Home”.  I don’t mind Lodge’s charming “Emily’s Song” or Pinder’s spectacular mellotron performance “My Song” – marking the swan song of the instrument’s omnipresence in The Moody Blues sound (Pinder switched to Chamberlin on the next album).

Is there a theme here?  It should be, it’s a Moody Blues-record.  Being generous one could say there’s some sort of  global environmental awareness connecting the dots: tiny paper boats carrying fragile glimpses of hope across a dark sea of pessimism about the future.



It is not a record for the big events.  But it’s still unmistakably The Moody Blues; the sound, the melodic beauty, the gorgeous production qualities, and on days like these that can be more than good enough.  Besides, it’s got “The Story In Your Eyes” on it.

Hmm, I planned to be brief with this LP and ended up talking to myself.  Blame it on the rain.

Released: July 23, 1971

Produced by: Tony Clarke

Contents: Procession/The Story in Your Eyes/Our Guessing Game/Emily’s Song/After You Came/One More Time to Live/Nice to Be Here/You Can Never Go Home/My Song

Personnel:

Justin Hayward – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sitar

John Lodge – vocals, bass, cello

Ray Thomas – vocals, flute, tambourine, oboe, woodwinds, harmonica

Graeme Edge – electric and acoustic drums, percussion

Mike Pinder – vocals, mellotron, harpsichord, Hammond organ, piano, keyboards, Moog synthesizer

First Published in Pattaya Mail on May 20, 2015