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The Moody Blues - Long Distance Voyager CD (album) cover

LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER

The Moody Blues

 

Crossover Prog

3.29 | 191 ratings

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HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
Retired Admin
3 stars [Disclaimer: towards the end of this review I make some speculations about the band's personal motivations behind the songs. Please note that these are only speculations on my part, and not based on any real knowledge of the musicians' lives at the time. I am, however, serious about my speculations, and mean no harm in voicing them]

Unlike many of the classic prog albums, this is an album I was THERE for, bought on its day of release back at the age of 12 in 1981, and although I'd never rank it as a classic, it's an album I know by heart, and so thoughts come easily and freely when thinking of what to say. My elder prog colleagues here at Prog Archives may fondly remember that day in their youth when they took their horse and cart to the local trading post to buy the first copies of CAN's Monster Movie, likewise I was there and remember the fuss (by me, anyway) over this release.

I had spent most of the last decade (age 2-12) listening to mostly Moody Blues albums, and after the pretty good but underwhelming Octave three years prior, this album seemed even at first glance to be a more exciting proposition. For one, there was a new guy on keyboards. I remember buying a copy of Us magazine with the Moodies on the cover, talking about Mike Pinder's replacement Patrick Moraz, who had been in a group called Yes. I'd heard that band's name before, but it didn't mean much to me yet. It was mainly what I heard every night when I asked my mom, "Do I HAVE to go to bed now?" (rim shot).

Okay, side one: immediately this album announces itself proudly with the magnificent single "The Voice", a classic Justin Hayward tune that is inspiring, melodic, has a lovely guitar solo, and deserves its place on the list of greatest Moody Blues songs of all time. It's classic stuff, everything you like about the band is in there somewhere... except the Mellotron, of course - they'd retired that a while back - but Moraz fills the gap with keyboard washes that blend in well with the guitars. Best song on the album? Actually, batting second, John Lodge's "Talking Out of Turn" gives it a bit of a challenge in that respect. A baroque string arrangement over a simple rhythmic pulse makes this one of the least-dated songs of the era, sounding even contemporary today. And as a ballad, it's one of Lodge's best. Lodge and Hayward collaborate on the next tune, "Gemini Dream", a transparent attempt to cash in on some of that disco crossover gold enjoyed by the likes of ELO (sounding not unlike their excellent "Last Train to London"; I think the song is even similarly about nightclubbing). It's a decent tune, but even in 1981 at the age of 12 I had to say "huh?" a little bit. Then Hayward closes a strong side one with the latest in a long line of Hayward ballads (most recent winner entries: New Horizons, Driftwood), "In My World", and though it goes on a tad too long, it's a beautiful number.

Having front-loaded the first side with the songs with hit potential, side two shows some other sides of the band. Even Hayward's opening "Meanwhile" is kind of a quirky song for him, with almost a jazzy riff and vocal in the verses, followed by anthemic bridges and choruses. Not a highlight, but functions as a signpost telling the listener that side 2 will not merely be more of the same. Case in point: the next track is by drummer Graeme Edge - the only guy in the group that doesn't sing, and most of his contributions in the past have simply been his poetry bits, spoken by the departed Pinder - and is about mortality, entitled "22,000 Days" ("it's not a lot! it's all we got!"). It's a strong tune, not a knockout but certainly different from what's come before. Lodge then weighs in with another ballad (come on John, where's the rock and roll you're known for? And no, Gemini Dream doesn't count) about a troubled relationship called "Nervous". It's heartfelt and an improvement over the last album's similar "Survival" (also song 3 on side 2, how about that). And then the album's over.

Wait, no, where's Ray Thomas? He hasn't written or sung anything yet. Ray Thomas of the happy childlike songs about frogs playing tambourines and eating lamb on Sunday, what have you this offering? What? What's wrong, Ray? You look a little down. Yes, the last three songs on the album are a mini-suite written and sung by Thomas, and boy are they bitter, even shocking. "Painted Smile" is Ray's take on the "sad clown behind the happy mask" theme done by so many artists before (e.g. "Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles), but this one really made me wonder what was going wrong in his life. And it's not just sad; it's angry at the audience for indulging him, and it's self-pitying and humiliated for pushing on in the rock world past his prime. Likening himself to a jester implies that he sees his role in the band as nothing but a sideshow; and indeed, he always had to play second fiddle to Hayward and Lodge, and even Pinder, and it's clear his confidence is low. The music is a macabre sort of marionette waltz dance, with Thomas's strong vocal wrenching out all the bitter drama he can muster. This leads into a short linking track, "Reflective Smile", which is a recitation over circus music, furthering the "clown" motif, but with a very twisted vocal, suggesting a descent into madness. This is the Moody Blues?

Finally we get the hard dance-rock of "Veteran Cosmic Rocker" (this time a bit reminiscent of ELO's "Showdown"), which further drives home Ray's dismal caricature of himself, the washed up old has-been rocker, hanging on for dear life to a rock world he has no business being in any more ("he's afraid that he's going to die"). The venom in Thomas's voice is so palpable here, it almost strains off pitch in spots, he's just "going for it", as if this were his last gasp. Well, he wasn't done yet, but in a few years his role would finally be limited to backup vocals and tambourine, and singing the obligatory "Legend of a Mind" in concert. And that's a shame... Ray Thomas provided a key ingredient to the band with his 2 songs per album, frequent flute playing, and strong vocals; after this album, we would only hear increasingly watered-down Hayward and Lodge songs, a situation that quickly produced diminishing returns. One of my favorite things about the band growing up was how all 5 of the members contributed and (with the exception of Edge) sang lead; the eventual obsolescence of Ray Thomas was foreshadowed and the process begun with this album.

Probably the last album by the band you really need to own; it's quite good and offers a couple of classics surrounded by good-to-very-good songs. It offers the same variety in voices and styles that characterizes their classic seven albums (1967-1972). The Mellotron is missed, but apart from that it's very much a typical Moodies album, and worth having.

HolyMoly | 3/5 |

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