Imagine my surprise after scouring through the archives to discover that not a single Moody Blues album has been reviewed here at Prognaut. With over 70 million albums sold - including 14 platinum and gold discs - the Moodies are arguably one of the five or six most influential pioneers of progressive rock. So it seemed a travesty not to include at least one of the 'Classic Seven' Moody Blues albums in the Prognaut Archive.
Protocol dictates that during the year 2012 all archive reviews for Prognaut be restricted to years ending with a '2' or '7', leaving me with the 1972 release "Seventh Sojourn".
During The Moodies 47 years (and counting) career the group has recorded a total of 16 studio albums: "The Magnificent Moodies" (1965), "Days Of Future Past" (1967), "In Search Of The Lost Chord" (1968), "On The Threshold Of A Dream" (1969), "To Our Children's Children's Children" (1969), "A Question Of Balance" (1970), "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" (1971), "Seventh Sojourn" (1972), "Octave" (1978), "Long Distance Voyager" (1981), "The Present" (1983), "The Other Side Of Life" (1986), "Sur la Mer" (1988), "Keys To The Kingdom" (1991), "Strange Times" (1999), and "December" (2003); but it was the five year period between 1967 and 1972 that most prog connoisseurs consider to be the pinnacle of their career.
These seven albums featured the classic Moodies line-up: Graeme Edge (Drums, Percussion, Lead and Backing Vocals) Justin Hayward (Guitar, Lead and Backing Vocals), John Lodge (Bass Guitar, Lead and Backing Vocals), Mike Pinder (Mellotron, Chamberlain, Piano, Synthesizer, Lead and Backing Vocals), and Ray Thomas (Flute, Harmonica, Saxophone, Oboe, Tambourine, Lead and Backing Vocals).
But upon completion of "Seventh Sojourn" The Moodies would learn that success has a price - and the winds of change loomed on the horizon.
The rigors of another world tour coupled with the strain of running their own record label (Threshold Records) had taken a toll on the members, prompting them to take what ultimately became a six year hiatus. It was during this period the members recorded a series of less then stellar solo projects. Ray Thomas produced "From The Mighty Oaks" (1975) and "Hopes, Wishes, And Dreams" (1976); Mike Pinder went on to record "The Promise" (1976); Graeme Edge produced two albums with guitarist Adrian Gurvitz: "Kick Off Your Muddy Boots" (1975) and "Paradise Ballroom" (1976); John Lodge produced "Natural Avenue" (1977); Justin Hayward released "Songwriter" (1977); and Hayward and Lodge teamed up for the most successful of the ventures, "Blue Jays" (1975) which yielded a UK chart single "Blue Guitar".
As a collective The Moody Blues were revered and canonized by rabid followers - 'musical messiahs' - but as solo artists they fell short of sainthood.
In 1978 the members begrudgingly regrouped to record what proved to be the swan song for the classic line-up. The album "Octave" was a half-hearted thinly veiled attempt to package solo projects under the collective Moody Blues banner. The patented five part Moodies harmony were virtually non-existent on "Octave", adding credence to the notion that the entire group was probably not in the studio at the same time. Although the album did produce two moderate hit singles "Driftwood" and "Steppin' In A Slide Zone", it was quite a let down from their past efforts and hardly worth the six year wait.
Mike Pinder opted out of a world tour following the release of "Octave" and officially left the group, concluding that chapter in The Moody Blues career as the decade came to an end.
Pinder's replacement was the talented Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz who had just completed a brief stint with YES, replacing Rick Wakeman (like Pinder - another legend). The addition of Moraz was a transition period for the band - a shift from the conceptual symphonic rock of the 70s' to the radio friendly Top 40 synth-pop of the 80s'. Making "Seventh Sojourn" the final symphonic/progressive album in the Moodies 'Classic Seven' collection.
The recording sessions for "Seventh Sojourn" marked the departure of a familiar Moodies mainstay. Yet for all it's prominence in creating that patented Moody Blues sound the absence went completely unnoticed. It was Mike Pinder's Mellotron. For "Seventh Sojourn" Pinder substituted his Mellotron for a Chamberlain.
Although similar in design to the Mellotron, the Chamberlain proved to be a more studio friendly keyboard. The brass, strings, flutes, and cello tape loops of the Chamberlain produced a much fuller sound without resorting to time consuming studio tinkering and layers of overdubs as was the case with past Moodies recording sessions. It retained their lush orchestral sound while lessening the workload.
"Seventh Sojourn" was the first album from the group to reach #1 in the US, spending five weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 - as well as producing two hit singles: "Isn't Life Strange" (topping out at #29) and "I'm Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band" (reaching #12) both penned by John Lodge. Lodge was responsible for many of the toe tapping rockers over the years with tunes like "Peak Hour", "Ride My See-Saw", "Send Me No Wine", and "To Share Our Love".
As is the case with most Moodies albums the lyrics are a politically charged reflection of harsh reality and turbulent times tempered with philosophical wisdom and Utopian optimism.
Whether extolling the horrors of war and revolution as in the opening track "Lost In A Lost World", or psychological imprisonment and the plight of his friend, LSD guru Timothy Leary in the song "When You're A Free Man", Mike Pinder was the lamented melancholy voice of the group. His spiritually uplifting songs were the highlight of a Moody Blues album for me with stirring tracks like "Have You Heard" and "The Voyage" ("On The Threshold Of A Dream"), "My Song" ("Every Good Boy Deserves Favour"), "Out And In" and "The Sun Is Still Shining" ("To Our Children's Children's Children"), and "Melancholy Man" ("A Question Of Balance").
On the flip side of the coin Ray Thomas remained the effervescent whimsical personality who pulled back that dark curtain of dread, bathing the room in warmth and sunlight on the tune "For My Lady" - a heartfelt ode dedicated to the love of his life. Throughout his career Ray Thomas provided a light-hearted uplifting balance to each Moody Blues album with songs like: "Dr. Livingstone I Presume", "Legend Of The Mind", "Dear Diary", "Lazy Days", "Floating", and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker".
John Lodge may have penned the albums two hit singles, but it's Justin Hayward who is rightfully regarded as 'the voice' of The Moody Blues. With memorable tunes like "Nights In White Satin", "Tuesday Afternoon", "The Actor", "Are You Sitting Comfortably" (which he co-wrote with Ray Thomas), "Gypsy", "Question", "Dawning Is The Day", and "Story In Your Eyes" it's hard not to think of the silky smooth voice of Justin Hayward when reflecting on those 'Classic Seven' Moody Blues albums. And on "Seventh Sojourn" Hayward adds three more gems to his ever-expanding resume: "New Horizons", "The Land Of Make Believe", and "You And Me" (which he co-write with drummer Graeme Edge).
Grame Edge was more than a drummer, songwriter and poet laureate for The Moody Blues. Edge was a visionary percussionist, instrumental in the development of the first electronic drum kit. Together with Sussex University professor, Brian Groves - Edge and Groves created the first touch sensitive electronic drum pad which he used on both "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" and "Seventh Sojourn". And if that's not impressive enough he also sailed around the world with a small crew on his yacht "Delia" during that six year hiatus between "Seventh Sojourn" and "Octave".
"Seventh Sojourn" is a lasting legacy and fitting conclusion to that particular chapter in the Moodies career. It is awash with lush ethereal orchestration (courtesy of Pinder's Chamberlain/Mellotron), beautiful four and five part harmonies (a Moodies trademark), one of the best voices in rock (Justin Hayward), the brilliant sonic pallet of Producer Tony Clarke, and the quiet moments of introspective reflection and euphoria one has come to expect from the legendary band ... The Moody Blues.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on January 15th, 2012