Monday 13 May 2013

Moody Blues "Octave" (1978) (Album Review)

You can now buy 'New Horizons - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Moody Blues' in e-book form by clicking here


Steppin’ In A Slide Zone/Under Moonshine/Had To Fall In Love/I’ll Be Level With You/Driftwood//Top Rank Suite/I’m Your Man/Survival/One Step Into The Light/The Day We Meet Again

When The Moody Blues broke up in 1973, it was met with a sense of relief by all the band. Things had simply got too big: the pressure, the album sales, the expectations, the money, even the size of the jumbo jet built specially for the Moodies waiting at a moment’s notice to whisk any of them off to goodness knows where. Some bands are built for this level of hype and expectation: Oasis, for instance, wouldn’t have seemed half as big if they hadn’t talked the talk and walked the walk and others, like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones seem to have been born for the big-time from day one. The Moodies, though, were always meant to be a ‘cult’ band – mystics from Birmingham who wrote and released spiritual songs long past the point most bands had given up and gone ‘glam’ or ‘pop’. Given that this most peaceful and friendly bands who wrote songs about love and brotherhood could no longer barely look each other in the eye, a rest seemed to be the best thing for all of them. But, sadly, the rest didn’t really help. A well received Justin Hayward and John Lodge album (released as The Blue Jays – see our links below), the ‘War Of The Worlds’ spin-off single ‘Forever Autumn’ and a growing sense of wonder at what the most late 60s of bands would have to say in the late 70s meant that the band gradually drifting together and facing all the same problems again, but only bigger. If ‘Seventh Sojourn’ (released as the last ‘proper’ Moodies album ion 1972) had been a masterpiece made under the most trying and heartbreaking of circumstances. Sadly ‘Octave’ is only a minor gem made under even worse circumstances as the unthinkable finally happened, with Mike Pinder hanging up his mellotron for good and leaving the band during the recording.

I sometimes used to listen to the 1980s Moodies album – work like ‘Long Distance Voyager’ ‘The Other Side Of Life’ and ‘Sur La Mer’ - and wonder how the most 60s of bands suddenly managed to become the most 80s of bands almost overnight. The production is slicker, the songs are more obviously uptempo or downtempo (instead of staying somewhere in the middle of that spectrum as before) and everything sounds big in stark contrast to the often humble and troubled ‘original era’ Moodies songs. The answer is that ‘Octave’ is the missing link, the pathway between the Moodies staying as a philosophically troubled and introverted band and becoming a charts-grabbing pop-loving extroverted one and in truth the two paths don ‘t always sit together that well on this album. But the second half of the Moodies career still has so much to recommend it, winning songs perfectly in keeping with the Moodies tradition of being ‘lost in a lost world’ and ‘Octave’ is no exception. Heard back to back with ‘Seventh Sojourn’ it sounds much more ‘together’, with contemporary production (something the Moodies abandoned round about 1968) and a production sheen that would make even Paul McCartney blush. But heard against one of the albums that come later (next album ‘Long Distance Voyager’ especially) it sounds troubled, anxious and uncertain.

There’s a half-theme on this record of being able to see through the nastier, dirtier side of fame that’s so close in spirit to the Moodies’ final single (and final song from final original LP ‘Sojourn’) ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll Band’ that, surely, the Moodies must have deliberately listened back to where they left off to kick-start them making this new album. To be fair, all the Moodies had touched on the pressures and unhappiness of life in the spotlight in their solo work: gems like Justin’s ‘Songwriter’, Ray Thomas’ ‘From Mighty Oaks’ Mike Pinder’s ‘The Promise’ and John Lodge’s ‘Natural Avenue’, all four of which discuss fame somewhere in less than celebratory terms. Few bands wrote about ‘themselves’ as much and as regularly as the Moodies did (only CSNY and The Kinks as far as AAA bands go) and its natural that so many of their solo songs should talk about a ‘hole’ where a ‘glorious journey’ had once been (Lodge’s ‘Broken Dreams, Hard Road’ and the troubled title track of Hayward’s ‘Songwriter’ in particular). What’s surprising, though, is how much of ‘Octave’ continues that theme, with even the songs written after the session started in doubts as to whether getting back in the saddle is a good thing or not (the only songs that sound sure are Justin’s, although ‘Top Rank Suite’ simply has the band returning to fill a ‘hole’ in an empty life without direction and ‘The Day We Meet Again’ is yet another goodbye song). To some extent ‘Octave’ sounds much as if you’d simply mixed up songs from all four solo projects to make one big happy Moodies album (and, yes, that’s exactly what I have done in the past! It sounds quite good too...) and on about half the album the Moodies don’t even seem to be playing in the same room as each other, which is sadly what they were just beginning to do when they stopped in 1972. So why did such a happy idea – embraced by four out of five Moodies and even Pinder in the early days – become so miserable so fast?

That’s because things went from bad to worse on this album, leading at least a few of the people working on it to think it was ‘cursed’. ‘Octave’ has its roots in the ‘Blue Jays’ album of 1976, originally intended as a joint project between Hayward and Pinder, until old Moodies producer Tony Clarke and original orchestrator Peter Knight came along for the ride, other band members began to look interested and Pinder baulked at a full-way reunion leaving John Lodge to fill his shoes. The rest of the band got talking, however, and decided to do it properly. In the meantime, though, Pinder had completely changed his lifestyle – he’d got married, moved to the States and was enjoying the less pressurised, less grimy world of California (which even its detractors have to admit has more going for it than Birmingham) and was adamant he wouldn’t come home. So the band flew out to him instead, away from the old studios they’d known their whole music life and away from their families in some cases. Along the way Tony Clarke had to leave with the work half-done (after a major row with his wife that led to their divorce), the Record Plant studio the band were working on actually caught alight (thankfully the Moodies tapes were safely stored, but other things by other artists were lost apparently) and Mike Pinder finally decided that he’d had enough and called it a day (which was an especially big problem as the band had moved into his garage to record after the studio fire). Some accounts have Pinder leaving really early on in the sessions (a big problem, seeing as half the record was recorded on his premises!) and Hayward and Lodge playing most of the keyboard parts, but I’m not sure if I buy that (few keyboard players have Pinder’s control of dynamics and characteristic ‘swell’ of noise that’s hard to pull off; I’m willing to bet the rockabilly 50s piano on ‘Top Rank Suite’ is by Justin though). The Moodies had their backs up against the wall and the hopeless, miserable air that had permeated ‘Seventh Sojourn’ seemed to be back to stay. Thankfully the story ends happily: Pinder seems to have enjoyed his life in California these past 35 years, the Moodies go on to score some of the biggest success of their career (and gain a whole new, younger fan base along the way) and the road ahead gets much happier and less heavier.

The Band weren’t to know that then, though, and many of the songs for ‘Octave’ – largely written during work on the project although some sources I’ve read state the band already had ‘Slide Zone’ and ‘Top Rank Suite’ to work on in the first few weeks – are clearly troubled and fed-up. ‘Slide Zone’ tries hard to sound positive and full of life as Lodge’s narrator goes on a fascinating ‘journey’ to unknown places, but for all the glowing production pyrotechnics he ends the song as lost and alone as he’d ever been. ‘Under Moonshine’ is a Ray Thomas song about having been lost in the past, trapped inside a ‘dream’ and missing the places that something extraordinary (presumably his career with the Moodies) once took him. ‘Had To Fall In Love’ is one of Justin Hayward’s typically warm and giving love ballads, but even this has a twist with a narrator so ‘lost and alone’ and seeing the same look on the ‘faces’ of his friends and colleagues. ‘I’ll Be Level With You’ is the biggest surprise, drummer Graeme Edge’s quite horrific song of warning to his newborn baby (which couldn’t sit in starker contrast to Lodge’s ‘Emily’s Song’ from 1971, all lush fairy tales and hope for the future). ‘Driftwood’ is Hayward recapturing the ‘lonely’ figure of many of his 70s Moody songs and is again made into a love song, although it’s tempting to see the narrator’s call for more direction in his life as a plea to the band to get back together. ‘Top Rank Suite’ pictures an empty, vacuous world full of rich millionaires spending money randomly simply to fill in time instead of seeking out spiritual progress and has the angry chorus ‘can’t you tell me why?!’ that might well be the single most Moody moment on the album. ‘I’m Your Man’ is Ray Thomas adding another sequel to his on-and-off romance songs, updating ‘And The Tide Rushes In’ and ‘For My Lady’ that apologises endlessly but adds ‘I’m just a man’ (and I get things wrong). He’s probably just a singer in a rock and roll band, too. ‘Survival’ is a moody (in both senses of the word) John Lodge song about being lost and looking for direction and the emptiness at the heart of his current life, with no demands to go anywhere or do anything. Finally the album ends with ‘The Day We Meet Again’, perhaps it’s biggest masterpiece, as the band wave goodbye to us again (it must certainly have seemed at the time as if another break-up was on the cards) but at the same time seems to be addressed to the band, anxiously asking if they can stay together because it would be better for all of them: ‘The nights have been so lonely, like a dog without a’s dangerous when you find out you’ve been dreaming on your own’. That adds up to an awful lot of misery when you analyse it and actually ‘read’ this album instead of listening to the glossy production or the often upbeat music.

Ironically the one song that sounds unquestionably like the Moodies of old is Mike Pinder’s spiritual and harmony-filled ‘One Step Into The Light’, complete with references to how ‘the old things are returning’. The Moody who’d wanted ‘out’ the most because he didn’t want to be trapped with the ‘old’ sound is the only one who sounds like he hasn’t (for better or worse) moved on from what the band were making in 1972. Now I personally love this song (though I know many fans who don’t) which makes for the perfect ‘goodbye’ for Pinder as he is enveloped in a spiritual beam and seemingly evaporates out the picture (the idea is such a good one the band recycle it for the cover of light sweeping through a blackened door; although ironically Pinder isn’t with them at the time and his picture is photo-shopped in afterwards), but it’s fair to say that of all the Moodies releases this is the most anachronistic, a song as at odds with the punk and new wave of the day as its possible to imagine (although, as we said last week in our review of Lindisfarne’s ‘The News’, the music scene did have a sudden short flirt with nostalgia that year). To be fair, too, musically Pinder is the one whose changed most on this album: having got interested in polyphonic synthesisers (which had grown apace since the band’s split and since The Who had pioneered their use on ‘Who’s Next’ in 1971), Mike uses them throughout this album and doesn’t touch his mellotrons or chamberlains once. The result is an album that’s less obviously psychedelic than usual, but still with nods to the past simply because Pinder was a remarkable player who used the keyboard like no other, more as a full orchestra than a lone accompanying bit of texture. It’s certainly far more in keeping with the Moodies sound than what his replacement Patrick Moraz comes up with on the next run of five Moodies albums, although to be fair to Moraz he did exactly what the band asked of him, updating their sound to the modern day (which sadly makes their 1980s sound seem a lot more dated in our day of 2013 than the band’s 60s works ever will).

Sadly its also the start of a series of rather undemocratic records by this most democratic and equal of bands. Justin Hayward gets four songs here – double what Ray Thomas and John Lodge get and four times what Graeme Edge and the departing Pinder are allowed. In time to come this gets ridiculous, as the Moodies all but become the Justin and John show and leave Ray and Graeme out of things, but it can’t be denied that Hayward is on a roll in this period and deserved to take charge. ‘Forever Autumn’ may have been a job done as a favour recorded in an hour and all but forgotten about by the time it came out in 1977 (some two years after the initial session), but it gave Hayward a wonderful boost. A combination of that hit single and two hit albums (the solo ‘Songwriter’ and the Lodge joint project ‘Blue Jays’) had suddenly made him a ‘hot property’ and the press began to look at Justin as the focal point of what had previously been the most equal of bands. Frankly I could have done without the rather anonymous ‘Top Rank Suite’, but the other Hayward songs on the album are all among the album highlights, three gorgeous ballads that all but sound as if they’ve been taken from a solo Hayward record anyway (just look at the video for ‘Driftwood’, the biggest of the two singles taken from this album, which basically consists of a mirror-image Justin singing to himself). ‘Octave’ just happened to be good timing for him, in contrast to Lodge and Thomas (who were all but written out after this solo work) and Pinder (who’d only just come to terms with the fact that his life with the Moodies was really over). None of the three songs rank quite up there with ‘Nights In White Satin’ or ‘Question’, but then few songs ever released do and Hayward quite rightly gained most of the applause that was forthcoming from this album.

So, in all, is ‘Octave’ a proper Moodies album to tank alongside their original classics – or is it merely a marking time project with the band only half-heartedly involved? In truth it’s about half and half of both. Disappointingly the Moodies rarely play altogether in one room across the whole album (‘Slide Zone’ and ‘I’ll Be Level With You’ being the main exceptions) and – worse – only sing those magnificent Moodies harmonies together across half of it. The songs, too, aren’t quite up to the gloriously high standard the band had maintained during the final part of their original run (1971’s ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ and 1972’s ‘Seventh Sojourn’, both of which I rate as amongst their best work) and in many ways this is their first album not to ‘improve’ on its predecessor, but for all that the strike rate on ‘Octave’ is if anything higher than the band’s usual average and certainly high for any band of the period (for some reasons whole lists of AAA bands reformed in this period but few quite this successfully – just take a listen to the stodgy pair of Small Faces reunions minus Ronnie Lane, the similarly half-hearted Lindisfarne reunion we covered last week or the Grateful Dead’s return after an 18 month hiatus). ‘Octave’ is better than it has a right to be though – and contains another valuable addition to the band’s canon in the gorgeous ‘Day We Meet Again’ – and deserved its success. After all, it got the band touring again for the first time in years (cited by a few reviewers as the real reason Pinder didn’t want to join the band full time), opened up a whole new avenue in America that had been so promisingly opening before the hiatus (when a re-issue of ‘Nights In White Satin’ finally broke them into the top five) and brought the band a whole new audience who otherwise might never have heard them. Frankly, the world badly needed a band like the Moody Blues in the late 70s as a spiritual cornerstone in a period obsessed with power, greed and materialism and even in diluted form their comeback was beautifully timed, however ‘doomed’ the album looked from the outside with all the unhappy experiences making it. The name is perfectly apt too: looking for something that meant ‘eight’ (and so would make this the true Moodies follow up to ‘Seventh Sojourn’- the band didn’t count the Denny Laine era ‘Magnificent Moodies’ album in either count) an ‘octave’ (a span of eight notes that involves taking the EGBDF scale already used by the band in the title of their 1971 LP) is the perfect fit, taking the band back round to the beginning to start again whilst building on something that’s already established (even if, sadly, this is probably the least unified and harmonious Moodies album of them all). Partly majestic, part gorgeous, part dreamy, part intelligent, occasionally lacklustre, ‘Octave’ is few people’s favourite Moody Blues album, a slow burner full of subtle quality moments rather than a glorious record from start to finish and it’s not a recommended place to start if you don’t know much about the band. All that said, though, it’s hard to dislike this album either – unlike a couple of atrocities to come (‘Keys To The Kingdom’ and ‘December’ I’m looking at you!) – as at least it extends and add to one of the greatest legacies in pop, sounding suitably like what came before but moving the journey on just far enough. If nothing else ‘Octave’ certainly doesn’t disgrace what came before it (as more than one fan feared after a six year gap) and if you own and love all seven original albums then ‘Octave’ definitely deserves a place in your record collection.

‘Steppin’ In A Slide Zone’ is probably the most famous moment on the album, although I’m not quite sure why – yes it was the first single, but it would hardly have been my choice knowing the full album (although being a John Lodge rocker it was, perhaps, sufficiently closest in style to the band’s last hit ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll Band’ to make it worth a punt). Many fans love this song, but I’m not entirely sure why. Certainly the brooding opening is ear-catching, with a full minute of sound effects (of a car starting) and swirly, oddly contemporary-sounding keyboards, that makes the song seem more interesting than it really is, but then typically this highlight only appears on the album version anyway and was cut out for the single (which fades up when the drums kick in). A song about being lost, the narrator is caught in some mysterious landscape where he’s ‘standing in a slide zone, stepping through a time zone’. However so basic is everything here (with four-man Moody chants in deep voices, a melody that’s largely built on one note and not much to listen to instrumentally bar a crazy synthesiser and some sadly electronic drumming until Hayward’s riveting guitar solo kicks in) that it doesn’t sound like some scary Twilight Zone of the soul the narrator will be trapped in forever, but as if he’s simply taken a wrong turning down a cul-de-sac. Admittedly, Hayward’s twin guitar attack is fabulous, slightly out of synch with each other and causing a suitably hazy, delirious attack that really does sound like a distortion of time. The song certainly sounds like a lot of fun to play (and the Moodies do play it onstage, often), but the lyrics are easily the worst released on as Moodies album (or single) to date (sample lyric: ‘He told me where a river flows, he showed me how an apple grows, he told me of a magic stream, his face was worn but his eyes were clear’) and don’t really have any deeper understanding other than the fact the narrator is ‘lost’. There’s an interesting moment in the first verse where the narrator is in a ‘limousine’ (suggesting this song is going to be about the Moodies’ massive fame and their feelings of helplessness inside the ‘fame’ bubble with all the pressure and responsibility that ensues) but sadly that fizzles out. They rhyme between ‘slide’ and ‘time’ in the chorus is particularly dull, especially as it’s a chorus that’s repeated six times throughout the song. The second longest song on the album at 5:29, ‘Slide Zone’ quickly outstays it’s welcome for me and seems a strange song to rely on to win back the Moodies’ old fan base. The band return to theme with slightly better results for their single ‘The Other Side Of Life’ in 1986, an even more contemporary-sounding song which at least has a memorable drum break going for it. Sadly, too, its ‘Slide Zone’ – not the majestic ‘One More Time To Live’ or the rocking ‘Ride My See Saw’ - that Lodge uses as his template for a good half of his future songs with the band, all of which sound like poor copies of this one.

‘Under Moonshine’ is Ray Thomas’ first song on the album and it makes a lot more sense if you know his solo albums rather than skip here straight from ‘Seventh Sojourn’. While I can’t say second album ‘Hopes, Wishes and Dreams’ brought the house down, I am mighty fond of first album ‘From Mighty Oaks’, a series of discussions about mortality, love and family and how little events can have big ripples across time. ‘Under Moonshine’ follows a similar sort of pattern, a song where the narrator suddenly ‘wakes’ from a dream and sees life for what it really is (because ‘you’ll never see the woods when you’re a tree’). I’m tempted to see this song as about Pinder leaving the band for good (did I mention how often this band wrote about themselves?) and the reunion in general. It starts with Ray being woken from a ‘dream’ by a ‘light’, leaving him unsure what might have happened had life continued as normal (as a solo artist?) He seems to be paying tribute to founding member Pinder – who brought him into the band in the early 60s - in the second verse, where ‘I’ll do the things this man has done...I’ll sure miss him now that he’s gone’. Acknowledging the ‘pain’ he sees afresh in his companion’s eyes, he admits that ‘love’s in your eyes’ – which could go either way (the Moodies are all about ‘love’ so Pinder’s still one of ‘us’ – or that Mike really has found a new life for himself and no longer needs the group). Ultimately, Thomas waves goodbye to his friend and tells him that the event isn’t as big a loss as he might have feared (‘The world keeps turning, the grass still grows green’). Suitably mysterious and multi-layered to make a Moodies album, this is by far the best of Ray’s two songs on the album, if not quite up to his own best work. The mixture of sounds on the backing track is interesting (there’s a bona fide orchestra for the first time since ‘Days Of Future Passed’, although it doesn’t so anything the mellotron couldn’t have done better), Hayward plays a single stinging note on the guitar and this being a Ray Thomas song there’s lots of flute-playing and certainly an improvement on the last song. Sadly, though, the melody isn’t as strong as some others on the album and the song does rather drift along until we hit that middle eight (‘Sure I feel the pain...’), which given the lyrics’ cry of a sudden huge realisation and understanding that changed his life forever doesn’t really fit and seem a bit of a lost opportunity. Still, this song is more like it – and the opening lines about how ‘dawn crept into my room and stole ,my dream’ seem to have been ‘borrowed’ for the striking album cover, as if all the band are ‘waking up’ from a six-year dream.

‘Had To Fall In Love’ is lovely too, a beautiful Hayward declaration of love that’s as dreamy and light-headed as you’d expect. It’s more impersonal than ‘Nights In White Satin’, sure, and reading the lyrics sheet makes it seem more ordinary than it sounds, but there’s a quite grace, subtlety and beauty in this song that makes it one of the best songs on the album. A simple love song that doesn’t have to fit in too much story into its verses, it still manages to hold your interest thanks to a serene lilting melody and an intriguing harmonic base that never still, perhaps reflecting the wanderer searching for his goal (there’s also a major sense of resolution every time the song goes back to the major key, mirroring the lyrics about the pair of lovers being ‘feted’ to find each other). Ray Thomas gets his first chance to play the harmonica for some years and the four-man Moodies (without Mike Pinder by the sound of it) turn in some of the best harmonies on the album, making the most of an arrangement that manages to be busy but uncluttered, with everything calmly in its proper place. Lyrically this song could be speaking about the impending loss of Pinder again when – in a lyric that’s very close in style to Justin’s ‘goodbye’ songs on ‘Blue Jays’ – Hayward tries to explain that he ‘answered a call’ to reform the band, saw ‘the writing on the wall’ as far as the band’ destiny was concerned and how he can’t explain why ‘he’s still searching for his dreams up in the sky’. Hayward’s double-tracked lead vocal (where he sings both deeper and higher than normal) is one of his strongest, but it’s a shame he didn’t record the lines in tandem with another member of the group, making this song sound suspiciously like a solo recording until the halfway stage when the harmonies finally kick in. Hauntingly beautiful and delightfully executed, ‘Love’ is one of the better ballads in Hayward’s canon and one of the undoubted highlights of this album.

‘I’ll Be Level With You’ is another, the scariest help-I’m-about-to-be-a-dad song since Richard Thompson’s ‘End Of The Rainbow’. With the future uncertain (both the future of the Moodies and the future of Britain, with civil unrest and bad times all round) daddy Edge sounds more frightened than comforted that he’s bringing a new life into this world: ‘I don’t know what I would do if I had to face the things you’ve got coming down the line’ is hardly the most uplifting message ever passed to an offspring. Edge tries to see the world anew from his baby’s eyes, as colleague John Lodge did in ‘Emily’s Song’ seven years before, wondering ‘what you gonna see when your eyes are level with mine?’, but he’s too realistic to get lost in fairytales so instead goes for a pun on ‘level’, deciding that for his son’s eyes to be ‘level’ with him he’ll have to have suffered at some point and that he’d better ‘level’ this fact from the first. Edge isn’t naturally this harsh, though, and the mask slips for a middle eight that charges out of nowhere with pride, like a Shakesperian speech by some Tudor King, with the Moodies manifesto of a future world that’s ‘filled with pity, not pain, that’s loving and sane, not divided by hate, or living in spite till it’s too late’. This is the one happy moment in an otherwise despondent and quite paranoid song that the band wonderfully capture with the strongest band performance on the record. Hayward’s guitars haven’t felt this threatening since the Armageddon on ‘The Story In Your Eyes’, Pinder’s swirly synthesiser licks sound like a demented ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ and Edge’s own drumming is superb, as if trying to smash these nasty thoughts out of his head a la Keith Moon. Against the odds the song ends happily, not with a request to ‘open up the book of ages in my mind’ as Lodge asked his daughter to do (keeping him earth-bound and young in the process and more of a teacher than a pupil) but simply to ‘tell me about what you’re doing from time to time’ when his son is out living his own life. Another of the album highlights and possibly the drummer’s best song for the band, although the rocket-fuelled ‘Higher and Higher’ and the gentle ‘Going Nowhere’ both cut it close.

Side one ends on the peaceful note of ‘Driftwood’, a second Hayward ballad that became the album’s second single and one that’s still heard occasionally today. This is one of those tracks you either love or hate: to fans of the Moodies’ softer side it’s lovely, melancholy, heartfelt and polished – and to their detractors its all the above as well. Punks would be spitting in their graves if they knew that songs like this were going to come in after their self-declared ‘year zero’ of getting back to basics – and yet if I read my punk music write (and I’m quite wiling to accept I don’t) then the main thing they hated in then-modern music was its artificiality. There’s nothing artificial in ‘Driftwood’ barring some rather naff keyboards – Hayward’s worry about being cast aside (again from a situation that could be romantic but could also be about the band falling apart) is poignant and heartfelt, especially the middle eight that swells up not once in the song but twice, determined not to make the same mistakes made in the past (‘I’ve shattered the illusion of fortune and of fame!’) The ‘driftwood’, too, could be a reference to the cover of last album ‘Seventh Sojourn’ which really does feature a piece of driftwood floating out to sea for no apparent good reason (at the time, anyway) and perhaps even that album’s Justin song ‘New Horizons’. In 1972 the band wanted to see what else there was in the world and experience it for themselves, possibly going anywhere towards these ‘new horizons’ – but by 1978 the music world is in danger of discarding them, leaving them driftwood from days passed. Hayward knows here that ‘time waits for no one’ and that if the Moodies don’t get together now they may well be yesterday’s news forever, an oldies act destined to be stuck in the past with nothing new to say. Like much of his solo album ‘Songwriter’, this song is a tad too heavy on the orchestration but has a unique sound almost all of its own: not many songwriters would choose to put that ranting on-the-edge feedback drenched manic guitar solo in this dreamy song for instance, which together with the sweeping strings really does make it seem as if time is standing still. ‘Driftwood’ might not be the most pioneering or even prettiest song on ‘Octave’, but it did its job in sounding both Moodyish and beautiful enough to win over new listeners to the album and is a lovely song when you’re in the right mood for something epic.

Side two begins with ‘Top Rank Suite’, easily the weakest of Hayward’s four songs on the album. A jazzy little pop song, it sounds quite unlike anything else the band ever did, complete with parping saxophones and a backing track that might not feature any of the band at all barring the rhythm section of Lodge and Edge. The song is meant to sound frivolous and light, as the narrator desperately tries to work out why life can be so meaningful and ‘heavy’ on the one hand (with the sun helping a flower to grow and two lovers getting together) and simply a string of empty cocktails, sporting events with VIP tickets and tombolas where nobody present needs or deserves the prizes. Through it all, though, a Moodies chorus surges with the refrain ‘But can you tell me why?’, getting louder and louder throughout the song. Unfortunately by trying to tie these two lyrical strands together Justin deciding to go with light and frothy when it came to the music so that the central message of the song (life is deeper than we think) gets overwhelmed by the witty references to ‘a good bowl of chilli at the jazz club’. The last verse is the most interesting, harking back to the album’s arching theme of the illusions of fame, the couple in the car ‘on our way to the big time baby...the great golden record in the sky’. This is a clever kiss-off for the song, managing to sound like both another empty awards ceremony and the most meaningful thing that can happen to us in life, death. If we treat our life as an empty series of events we aren’t going to have learnt anything by the time we snuff it and if we treat death as simply another awards ceremony for the things we did in life then we’re missing the point of being alive. Sadly this fascinating sideway shift comes too late in a song that features two of the most ridiculous moments of any Moodies record: John and Justin la-la-la ing away high pitched (where they sound like the new Pinky and Perky) and a saxophone part that simply plays the same notes over and over again, albeit not in the same order or with anything approaching logic. If this is another clever trick about living lives to order, then I’m afraid it falls a bit flat, sounding simply like the band have put the sheet music for the part upside down. A great idea for a song, then, but rather poorly done by Moody standards and just when I was beginning to really get into this record. Can’t you tell me why?

‘I’m Your Man’ is one of Ray Thomas’ turbulent love songs that crop up on his music every few years. Sadly the song is never quite sure just how turbulent it wants to be so everything is thrown into the mix: a laidback verse, a strangulated chorus that pushes Ray’s vocals to the limit and a surprisingly twee main riff of six notes that sounds like something your computer makes when you doing something wrong (which mine does often). That’s not to say the song is without it’s plus parts: few songwriters manage to sound as genuinely humble as Thomas and he has the good grace to admit to the listener that he’s been over this ground of apologies for past discretions before (even starting the song ‘here I go again’). There’s a great line too when Thomas sings about ‘life changing key’, the future modulating just out of his reach when he thought he was getting to grips with life and the song does just that. Unfortunately someone’s invited along one of the most claustrophobic orchestras on record to come in and smother hat should be a quite humble and understated song with lots of treacly strings and Thomas forget to finish the song properly, the chorus simply fizzling out ‘I’m just a man, that’s all I am, but I’m youuuuuurs, that’s yourrrrrs, simply yourrrrrrrrrrrs!’ (to put it crudely, we need another syllable in the line to make it scan). Even Hayward sounds out of sorts, turning in a backward guitar part that doesn’t really fit the mood. One of the weaker album songs, this isn’t up to ‘Under Moonshine’ or most of ‘From Mighty Oaks’, but it does at least have a sensible stab at trying to offer us a link back to the Ray Thomas songs on Moodies albums passed done a little differently.

‘Survival’ is one of those songs that always gets neglected somewhere, stranded in the unhappy 8th out of 10 slot that always goes unnoticed on albums and surrounded by louder, stronger songs. John Lodge’s second song on the album, it’s more likeable (and easier to follow) than ‘Slide Zone’ but it again suffers from a lack of band interaction (Lodge and Hayward might well be the only Moodies on this song, which doesn’t even feature drums) and sounds as if John was writing this song for a second Blue Jays project rather than a Moodies one. To be honest, though, this song would have struggled even more to be noticed on that fine album and the orchestration is simply not in the same league as Peter Knight’s parts for that record. Suitably, the lyrics are about the narrator being ‘lost’ in a world where he no longer has any sense of direction, so in a funny way this fits what’s happening in the music, but it’s not all that pleasant to listen to. Lodge’s poetic lyrics have some nice touches in them, however (‘Shadows of days hanging endless in time...shadows of dreams falling out of the blue’) that again seem to refer to the sudden unexpected call to get the band back together after a period of slipping sales and interest where life wasn’t about making art but was ‘nothing more than survival’. Had the ambition of the music and orchestra matched this idea then it would have made for a fascinating song but, in the end, the song takes a full 80 seconds to reach the peak of the chorus and then ruins it by giving us more or less the same tune as in the verse, only louder. In the end this song is simply about making up the numbers and getting an extra song on the album that nobody will dislike but nobody will truly remember either, nothing more than survival, which is a shame given how good some of the words are.

‘One Step Into The Light’ is the one song on this album that could have come from one of the ‘original seven’ Moodies albums, which is interesting given how far most of Pinder’s one and only true solo record ‘The Promise’ drifts away from it. A quiet meditation on either sudden illumination or death, it’s ‘the hardest step you’re gonna take’ because it will completely transform everything in your life in the name of greater understanding – and few are really truly ready for that. Pinder’s sole song or vocal on the album, it’s interesting that the rest of the band should have spent so much time on this song compared to the others, as if they didn’t really accept that this was an ‘ending’ not a ‘beginning’; their past not their future. The song is more than good enough, to stand, however, a gorgeous finale for Pinder to leave the band with, including several references to past songs (‘There’s one thing I can do, play my mellotron for you’ recalling ‘My Song’ from ‘EGBDF’, although to be pedantic it isn’t actually a tape-based mellotron playing on this track at all but a fully digital synthesiser). The swell of both the synth and the Moodies glorious mass harmonies going into the final verse is beautiful and the band have never sounded more like a madrigal choir on this song, which sounds like a 1960s version of a church hymn (‘Life is our saviour, save your soul!’). Pinder’s last recorded vocal is delicious too, understated and tinged with sadness throughout before bursting forth the melancholic final verse about how sorry the narrator is that he can’t ‘take’ us to this spiritual nirvana personally (in another repeat of the words to ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll Band’ all he can do is play his instrument, to ‘blow away our city blues’). The lyrics may again refer to the album cover (or vice versa more likely, seeing as none of the shots in the CD booklet feature Pinder at the scene and most sources acknowledge that he was photo-shopped in afterwards), a ‘step into light’ that ushers in a new realm. What a shame, though, for us fans that this new realm didn’t involve Pinder or indeed many songs this spiritually based ever again. The song ends ominously with what must, surely, have been Pinder’s message to the band about why he wanted to leave them and stay in America with his new wife: ‘we cannot loose, we just have to choose’. The paths between band and founder are diverging, cosmic circles ever turning’, and this is where they part company, the old Moodies sound stretched out on last time on an album where it already begins to sound a little anachronistic. This is still a great song, though, and another of the highlights of the album.

The key highlight for me, however, is the grand finale ‘The Day We Meet Again’. The sheer scale of the problems facing the band (outlined in our introduction) and the changes in the music scene within six years meant that the Moodies were far from certain whether their reunion would be a success or not. Just in case this was really farewell, Hayward speaks to the main Moodies fans he knew would buy this album however poorly it sold and promises to us and perhaps the rest of the band too that we will meet again, someday. Suddenly the ‘Octave’ album, which has lurched from one style to another without the Moodies direction and purpose of old flowers here, with an epic production of spot-on strings, church organy synth (which sounds like Hayward’s work rather than Pinder’s), big echoey swirly guitars (at least four of them!) and a note-perfect mass Moodies choir. The band could easily have done this song as a quiet, muted ballad about worry and doubt (similar in style to Hayward’s ‘You Can Never Go Home’ in 1971), which is almost how the band did it in concert (as can be heard by the rather shaky bonus version on the CD re-issue, only no one told Graeme Edge who drums his heart out as if this was a rock and roll song), but instead they make it a big grand gesture as the Moodies set out their big message, possibloy for the last time, ignoring all the troubles and difficulties around them and declaring ‘the day we meet again, we will walk in peace’. The lyrics address just how badly the band needed this reunion too, however badly it went, as they are worth more as the sum of their parts than separately, Justin mourning the hard times in the opening verse (‘Cause the years have been so lonely, like a dog without a home, it’s dangerous when you find you’ve been dreaming on your own’). A stunning middle eight, that gets repeated again straight away, offers the tension and seems to be addressed to the departing Pinder and whether the band should continue (‘It wasn’t what you took, my’s what you left behind’). It then ends with a sudden, unexpected rise to the heavens, going up the chords note by painful note as Justin seems to draw out his last breaths, calling out to band and fans not to give up believing (‘So hold on, don’t let go, time heals, you know – I know!’, a sequence that takes almost one whole painful minute to sing). Hayward clearly has a lot invested in the song and puts his all into both the sterling vocal and the crazy looped guitar parts that bounce off each other into a wonderful spiral of confusion, chaos and desperation, like the five strands of the Moodies all going their separate ways. Luckily, and triumphantly, this collage of noise finally unites at the end into one united howl of endorsement, gradually fading out to leave us with just the one quiet organ note (which seemingly represents Pinder peeling off to go his own way). A haunting, heavenly tune stunningly performed and updating the traditional Moodies sound with then-contemporary sounds more successfully than any other track on the album, ‘The Day We Meet Again’ finally takes all the strands that have nearly come together across the album and gets them right. This is the band at their best, even with those seven original albums to choose from, and for me by far the peak of their entire reunion years (although admittedly ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ cuts them close).

Overall, then, ‘Octave’ is an interesting album. Some of it works as well as ever, some of it sounds rusty and the band alternate between sounding unified and simply making another solo album. One of the things that made the Moodies great the first time round was their interaction with each other, allowing all five members the space to sing and writer their own songs and cobble them all together for a patchwork quilt of an album that, generally speaking, says the same things in five highly distinctive ways. With Pinder more or less out of the picture and the other four too used to working alone and getting their own way, it takes a while for the songs on ‘Octave’ to gel back to this union and rather than a triumphant we’ve-never-been-away! record like, ooh I don’t know, ‘CSN’ (the 1977 one with the boat) or ‘Blues For Allah’ (the Dead’s reunion record from 1975, albeit after only an 18 month break which,m believe it or not, was long for them at the time), ‘Octave’ is the sound of five men trying to remember what they used to do. Clearly when you’re working in this way things are going to go wrong and they do: ‘Slide Zone’ ‘I’m Yours’ ‘Survival’ and ‘Top Rank Suite’ are among the worst songs the Moodies ever did, vapid space fillers that don’t have much to say or much fun finding out how to say it. But when this album works, as it finally does with the last track, the thought of the most 60s and spiritual of bands embracing the late 70s with all the capitalist greed and shift in feeling suddenly doesn’t sound so strange. The Moodies gave in all too often to the contemporary synth sounds once the 1980s get underway and all but disappear as a proper bona fide recording band in the 1990s, but for now – in 1978 – they’ve got the balance about right and shown at least glimpses of a future in which they can exist side by side with bands younger and hungrier. Some fans wish the Moodies had called it a day in 1972 and left the band as a happy memory and there’s no doubting that the majority of the band’s best work is already long behind them by the time of this album. But I for one loved the fact that this most spiritual and inward of bands were there in the troubled decade of the 80s as a sort of touchstone and conscience for all the other groups out there (the band Marillion sell millions of copies doing exactly the same thing and talking about peace and love, though not quite as well as their main inspiration) and I wouldn’t sacrifice the small nuggets of gold sprinkled across the reunion albums for anything. This album’s ‘The Day We Meet Again’ especially. My advice as before is to leave this and all the other reunion albums until you’ve worn out the seven original Hayward and Lodge era albums incessantly and properly fallen in love with this most wonderful and moody of bands; after that you’ll be desperate to get your hands on anything even half as good, in which case ‘Octave’ and its close sister ‘The Present’ should be your first ports of call. And that’s it for another review, Moodies fan, you know I’m only living for the day we meet again...

A Now Complete List Of Moody Blues Related Articles At Alan’s Album Archives:

'The Magnificent Moodies' (1965)

'Days Of Future Passed' (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)

'Blue Jays' (Hayward/Lodge) (1976)

'Songwriter' (Hayward) (1977)

'Long Distance Voyager' (1981)

'The Present' (1983)

'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986)

‘Keys To The Kingdom’ (1991)

'Strange Times' (1999)


Surviving TV Clips 1964-2015:

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1961-2009:

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967:

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2009:

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One 1969-1977:

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two: 1979-2015

Essay: Why Being A Moodies Fan Means You Can Never Go Home

No comments:

Post a Comment