Friday, August 19, 2011

The Moody Blues - A Question Of Balance

I had this album on 8-track as a kid, and even with the limited visibility of A Question Of Balance, the cover art freaked me out.

I don’t know how well you can see it here, but look at it. That dude with cloud hair used to freak my shit as a kid.

What freaks me out now is how much I used to appreciate what was inside that 8-track cartridge instead of what was on the outside.

Like Days Of Future Passed, the Moody Blues were early favorites in my musical upbringing, but they were the sort that began to fade from my appreciation as I got older.

A good example of this is a strange encounter I had with a girl I met at community college. I used our local campus to take advantage of a better student-to-professor ratio for subject matters that I wasn’t extremely proficient in. As a result, my first year of college was spent studying crap like math and science, living at home, and frequenting local bars.

On one day, the professor was late to our class and I struck up a conversation with a nearby student who seemed nutty, but not crazy enough to pursue an intimate encounter with. I started off with a typical “What kinds of music do you like?” introduction and was completely unprepared for her excited devotion to the band The Moody Blues.

It was around this time when I began to question the Moody’s place in rock and roll’s hierarchy, but the girl came off as such an obsessive that I wasn’t going to get into a philosophical debate on the merits of the band.

I did find it strange that she related so much to them, so I inquired where it began.

It started with her father, who filled that blank slate daughter with a trip to a Moody Blues concert and the rest was history.

She went on to voice her love of Justin Haywood in the same manner that girls voiced attraction to Duran Duran, and that is where I bowed out.

As a young adult navigating higher education while examining the rock and roll road I had arrived on, I began to question the landmarks of that road, asking “Were they worthy of further consideration?”

For the rest of the semester, I avoided any meaningful contact and the strange encounter placed further doubts on my opinion of the Moody Blues.

For A Question of Balance, my concerns again rested on the lyrics.

Drummer Graeme Edge returns with the stupid “Don’t You Feel Small” where he attempts to make us appear insignificant by the unlikely method of whispering his lyrics.

Flautist and mustache man Ray Thomas delivers “And The Tide Rushes In,” a nice ballad that attempts so hard to so significant, but ultimately fails with Thomas’ inability to carry a linear thought throughout the tune.

None of this should be surprising for a band that allows such democracy in their creative process. The reality is that probably only two members should be allowed next to pen and paper-Justin Hayward and John Lodge-as everyone else manages to come up short during their lyrical output.

Hayward walks away with the blue ribbon for “Question,” the album’s lone hit and most well conceived song.

The last place award may go to Mike Pinder for the abysmal “Melancholy Man” which manages to be even more morose than the title suggest. By the end of it, Pinder is yelling “I’m a really lonely man” in between pleads of “Pity me! Pity me!” A slow-fade at the end makes it seem like it’s going on forever.

How ironic is it that an album originally designed to show the Moody Blues in a stripped down fashion manages to sound just as bloated as its mellotron-heavy predecessors?

And that is the ultimate failure of the Moody Blue’s legacy. It relies too much on the notion of the band’s importance in relation to Days Of Future Passed-an album that really benefited more from when it was released than what was in it.

Future albums came at a rate of a record a year, and with that kind of schedule, flaws in the band member’s contribution became audibly evident.

A Question Of Balance is no exception.

With one stellar cut, a handful of tolerable tunes, and an even larger percentage of eye-rolling progressive bloat, it follows a pattern that poses a bigger question: do the Moody Blues deserve the perception of challenging art rockers, or are they merely treading water and barely staying afloat.

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