The Moody Blues – Timeless Flight – Universal Music (4 CDs) 534 324-7, CD 1: 74:16, CD 2: 77:30, CD 3: 79:57, CD 4: 74:41 [5/23/13] ****:
(Justin Hayward, guitar, vocals; John Lodge, bass, guitar, vocals; Mike Pinder, keyboards, vocals; Ray Thomas, bass, flute, horn, vocals; Graeme Edge, drums
Additional artists: Kirk Duncan, piano; Jim Cockey, violin; Tom Tomkins, cello; Tim Tomkins, viola, flute; Graham Deakin, drums; Lol Creme, vocals, guitar; Kevin Godley, drums, vocals; Graham Gouldman, bass, vocals; Eric Stewart, keyboard, vocals; Mel Galley, guitar, vocals; Terry Rowley, keyboards; Jim Cockey, violin, glockenspiel; Dave Holland, drums; R.A. Martin, horns, saxophone; Chris Spedding, guitar; Jo Partridge, guitar; Ken Freeman, keyboards; Jeff Wayne, keyboards; Herbie Flowers, bass; Barry Morgan, drums; Patrick Moraz, keyboards; Bias Boshell, keyboards; Paul Bliss, keyboards; Gordon Marshall, drums; June Boyce, backing vocals; Sue Shattock, vocals)
Despite achieving phenomenal success in their time, The Moody Blues are rarely mentioned when talking about great bands of the ’70s and ’80s. The band seems forever tied to the Days of Future Passed album, and its hit single “Knights in White Satin“. That album, and the single’s use of an orchestra and classical arrangements seems to have forever cemented in most people’s minds that that is the sound of the Moody Blues.
On Timeless Flight, the 4-disc version of the much larger 11 CD and 6 DVD set that Universal recently released, it’s clear that the Moody Blues were more than just a “rock band with strings.” While the purchase of a Mellotron (a polyphonic tape-replay keyboard that played samples of various instruments on each of its keys) and their label, Decca’s, attempts to have them record their version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony (an idea they quickly jettisoned in the studio), it initially helped transform the band from a struggling R & B group to an innovative rock band. The band was not to content to simply be the one rock band classical music fans could love.
On Disc 1, we get the most iconic songs from Days of Future Passed (“Dawn is a Feeling“, “Peak Hour“, “Thursday Afternoon“, “The Night: (Nights In White Satin“) in their original stereo mixes, as well as album tracks from In Search of the Lost Chord, and On the Threshold of a Dream. These songs capture a band emboldened by success and embracing the most open-minded parts of ’60s counterculture, from ponderous psychedelic poetry (“Departure” and “Have You Heard Part 1“) to paeans to Timothy Leary (“Legend of a Mind“) to the fun of being in a band like the Moody Blues (“Ride My See-Saw“). While it’s easy to laugh at how seriously the band seems to take themselves, its impossible to deny their craft and sincerity.
On Disc 2, tracks from the albums To Our Children’s, Children’s, Children, A Question of Balance, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and Seventh Sojourn are featured. While sometimes a bit more bombastic than the songs on Disc 1, these songs are still open-hearted psychedelic rock songs, especially “Question,” a protest song about the Vietnam war that rivals “Nights in White Satin” as the most popular Moody Blues song ever. During this time, the band began to move away from the Mellotron, towards a mixture of Moog synthesizer, organ, and piano, which are used to great effect on songs like “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” and “One More Time to Live.”
In 1974, the band, tired of a wild touring schedule, went on a five year hiatus, and Justin Hayward and John Lodge began recording together, eventually forming the group Blue Jays, with producer Tony Clarke. The fruits of that collaboration are heavily featured on Disc 3, as well as songs from the Moody Blues albums Octave, Long Distance Voyager, and The Present. Hayward and Lodge’s solo work sounds very familiar to the Moody Blues, especially the strings-laden “Isn’t Life Strange?” “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone” from Octave is seeped in the heavy sound of the band’s new polyphonic synthesizers, a sign that the re-formed band was going to embrace the sound of the upcoming decade. “The Voice,” off Long Distance Voyager, sounds a lot like the Electric Light Orchestra and “Gemini Dream” could nearly be a disco song.
Disc 4 features songs from albums, Sur La Mer, Keys of the Kingdom, Strange Times, and December. While traces of the band’s psychedelic past lingered on in their wide-eyed vocals and airy production, the hi-tech production of the ’80s stripped away much of the charm of the Moody Blues. As a power ballad, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” is actually quite effective, but it couldn’t be farther from “Legend of a Mind” or “Question.” As a further sign that the band’s sound had fully changed, live versions of their older songs on this disc (from a concert at Red Rocks in 1992 and a concert in Birmingham in 1997) sound slick and shiny to a disconcerting degree. It’s hard to fault the band for this–they were simply embracing new technology, something they had done from the beginning of their career, but the results often sound far too stamped with the sound of the 1980s and early ’90s.
For audiophiles fans of the Moody Blues, this box set may be more expensive than it’s worth, since many of the band’s albums have been released on SACD. The booklet that comes with the 4 CD set is quite informative, but it’s hard to know who the audience for this set is supposed to be. Fanatic Moody Blues fans are likely to want the full 17 CD/ 6 DVD set, while those interested in the band can start with the band’s many compilations (This is the Moody Blues, The Moody Blues Anthology, the Moody Blues Gold, etc). However, the fact remains that the Moody Blues are a band always worth re-discovering, and if this where you start, you won’t be disappointed.
CD 1: Love And Beauty, Dawn Is A Feeling, Peak Hour, Tuesday Afternoon, The Night: Nights In White Satin, Departure, Ride My See-Saw, The Actor (Full Version), Legend Of A Mind, Voices In The Sky, What Am I Doing Here (Alternate Mix), A Simple Game, In The Beginning, Lovely To See You, Dear Diary, Never Comes The Day, Are You Sitting Comfortably, The Dream, Have You Heard (Part 1), The Voyage, Have You Heard (Part 2) (Full Version)
CD 2: Higher And Higher, Gypsy, Eternity Road, Watching and Waiting, Question (Full version), And The Tide Rushes In, Don’t You Feel Small (original mix), Dawning is the Day, Melancholy Man (Full version), It’s Up to You (Tony Clarke Mix), The Story in Your Eyes, After You Came, One More Time to Live, I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band), New Horizons, For My Lady, You and Me, and When You’re A Free Man (Tony Clarke’s Stereo Mix Edit)
CD 3: Isn’t Life Strange (Original Version), Island, I Dreamed Last Night, Blue Guitar, Who Are You Now (Live At Lancaster University / 1975), Driftwood (Edit Version), Steppin’ In A Slide Zone (Album Version), The Day We Meet Again, Forever Autumn, The Voice (Full version), Gemini Dream (Full version), Veteran Cosmic Rocker, Blue World, Sitting at the Wheel (Album version), Running Water (Live at the Forum/1983), The Other Side of Life (Single version), Your Wildest Dreams (Single Edit version)
CD 4: I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, Lean On Me (Tonight), Say It With Love, Highway, New Horizons (Live At Red Rocks/1992), Emily’s Song (Live At Red Rocks/1992), Legend Of A Mind (Live At Red Rocks/1992), This is the Moment, Eternity Road (Live At The NEC / 1997), Question (Live At The NEC / 1997), English Sunset, Strange Times, The Swallow, December Snow