Review: The Moody Blues – Timeless Flight
Published on May 7th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
As much as we’d like it to be, this isn’t a review of the whole box set…
…yes, there it is. No, this is a review of the 35-track sampler, which is as good an excuse as any to ramble on about The Moody Blues. They are, after all, one of history’s great bands. More specifically, Rocksucker would advocate the run of albums from 1967’s Days of Future Passed through to 1972’s Seventh Sojourn, all seven of which are really rather mind-blowing.
Days of Future Passed marked the beginning of the second era of The Moody Blues, albeit the first consists only of R&B-ish 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies (home to hit single “Go Now”) in terms of LPs. A collaboration with conductor Peter Knight and London Festival Orchestra, the album took courage from The Beatles’ explorations into the orchestral and indulged it even further.
Parts of the album are solely orchestral, the rest made up by a smattering of psychedelic prog/pop classics such as the Justin Hayward penned pair of “Tuesday Afternoon” and “The Night: Nights in White Satin”, both included here. If you’re unfamiliar, the former is soaring, ecstatic wonder that bears comparison with The Beatles and Love, the latter mysterious melodrama with a spoken word poetry outro the likes of which few, if anyone, have got away with since
Representing 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord are Hayward’s “The Actor”, the elatingly breezy rush of John Lodge’s “Ride My See Saw” and beautiful, haunting Ray Thomas number “Legend of a Mind”, an ornate ode to psychedelic drugs advocate Timothy Leary that breaks unexpectedly into bounciness in a manner reconcilable with Paul McCartney’s immortal “Woke up, got out of bed…” section from the year before’s “A Day in the Life”. It’s one of those questing epics that the Moodies did so magnificently, in fact would arguably go on to better on 1969 LP On the Threshold of a Dream.
Every single track on On the Threshold of a Dream is a resounding triumph, while the multiheaded songwriting dynamic ensured a quite dazzling array of styles not just accomplished but shot through with imagination, adventure and really, really great songs. Hayward’s “Never Comes the Day” is perhaps the greatest of them all; it’s certainly one of the most soulful and uplifting songs ever written, lines like “If only you knew what was inside me right now / You wouldn’t want to know me somehow” worthy of Arthur Lee himself.
The Timeless Flight sampler does well with the daunting task of choosing standout tracks from Threshold, opting to follow “Never Comes the Day” with the closing suite of “Have You Heard (Part 1)”, “The Voyage” and “Have You Heard (Part 2)”, a stunning sequence all written by Mike Pinder. It really has to be heard to be believed, so here it is, along with the foreword-of-sorts that is Graeme Edge poem “The Dream” (also included on the Timeless Flight sampler):
Astonishingly, 1969 did not just yield On the Threshold of a Dream; it also gave rise to To Our Children’s Children’s Children, represented here by Hayward’s “Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time)” and Thomas’s “Eternity Road” (Thomas). A Question of Balance, which is in this writer’s personal opinion the best Moodies album alongside Threshold, followed in 1970 and is shown off on Timeless Flight by Hayward’s breathtaking, two-songs-in-one opener “Question” and Edge’s majestically hushed “Don’t You Feel Small”.
Each song sounds like a new universe unto itself, so vast was their sound in a way that the production merely enabled and assisted rather than artificially enhanced, as is so prevalent nowadays. Would you like to see original vinyl copies of all the albums covered thus far, along with 1971’s also-excellent Every Good Boy Deserves Favour? If not then look away now, because here’s a picture taken by my very own father of the very Moody Blues LPs that he listened over and over to at the time…
As you can see, the album artwork was as meticulous and lovingly pored over as the music itself. What a great thing to own, to actually hold in your hands and feast your eyes upon imagery that indelibly colours in the sounds that you hear. Each era of popular music consumption has its own advantages, but the diminished role of artwork as part of the overall package feels like such a shame when you see stuff like that.
There are some choice cuts from Seventh Sojourn here, too: Hayward’s “New Horizons”, Lodge’s orchestral psychedelia epic “Isn’t Life Strange” (complete with harmonised lead guitars, as if they were some stadium rock band from the next decade) and Lodge’s (Rocksucker says: We can’t be bothered to go back and reconstruct the sentence) ‘Eagles with idiosyncrasies’ heap o’harmonies “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”.
We also get “Island”, a lost Hayward track recorded around time of Seventh Sojourn. Basically a primo slice of exotica with a pop energy, it flaunts lush strings, twinkling harpsichord and a vocal you might describe as a croon. Then it turns into some kind of menacing Bond theme. 1975 single “Blue Guitar” is also remarkable, a stirring number that was credited to Hayward and Lodge but was apparently ‘just’ Hayward with 10cc backing him.
The material remains of a high standard, the only aberration coming in the form of the dodgy smooth sax in 1978 single “Driftwood”, and we get a few live recordings as evidence of what an awesome proposition they were in that capacity. As they drifted into the ’80s, The Moody Blues started sounding more closely aligned with Electric Light Orchestra; but that’s okay because we love ELO too.
As a chronological document of the recorded output of a truly great band, the Timeless Flight sampler is fabulous. Treasures untold await in the actual box set: read more about that here on Universal’s website. Now, how to quail this? In a way, it’s like quailing The Moody Blues as a whole, so we can only say…
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!
The Timeless Flight box set will be released on 3rd June by Universal.
For more information, please visit The Moody Blues’ official website.