Moody Blues - Strange Times

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Universal Records / Threshold
Catalog Number: 012153565-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 50:20:00

The Moody Blues are far less progressive now than they were in their early days. They have at least managed to make pleasant music, if not particularly challenging. I'm afraid, overall, that's the case here, too, as there are tracks in the middle that just go by without registering (at least after only a few spins).

But, you can say that the 70s are back with a 90s sheen. No more evident than this: Styx, Jethro Tull (who've never left) and The Moody Blues, among others, have released a disk in 1999 to varying degress of quality and interest. Where Tull's offering was strong, Styx's was mediocre (okay, but not up to past efforts). This disks falls somewhere in between, though closer to the Tull end of things. There aren't moments as on the Styx disk where you feel uncomfortable (or a bit embarassed) by a musical choice. From that angle, The Moodies comport themselves well; the are easing into a come back, and do an admirable job.

The disk sounds great: separation between the instruments, vocals up front but not too up front ... there are times when you swear Justin Heyward is inside your head, just to the left of center (true, really, for when John Lodge handles vocals, too). Heyward sings/wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's fourteen tracks and is in good voice. The album cover captures the overall tone of the album - bright, light, optimistic ... oh, and, in some way, refreshing.

I have to tell you that my all-time favourite Moody Blues track is "Nights In White Satin" - the emotive singing of Heyward combined with the lyrics he's emoting get me every time. Unfortunately, nothing here truly approaches the magic of that track - nor, I suppose, should it. But, that isn't to say that there are moments that come close.

On the more traditional sounding fare, The Moodies bring in orchestrated elements that hark back to Days of Future Past - no, not every song evokes "Nights In White Satin," though they do retain that dreamy, romantic flavour "Nights" had. This is perhaps most evident on "Forever Now." This track also has vaque hints at Paul McCartney, and wouldn't seem out of place for him either.

On the other hand, there are stabs at modernity with the opening track, "English Sunset," and "The One." The chorus on the latter track is a bit out of sync, needing to be a bit tighter. The vocals on the chorus are layered, such that the second line comes in just before the end of the first, but the timing seems off on this. But, it otherwise a fairly nice track. I like the deep guitar tone here, almost cello or violin like (and may, in fact, be; or an upright bass).

"English Sunset" begins with a very ambient feel that becomes slightly techno-like and runs undercurrent throughout. Heyward's vocals are very up front, though a shimmering guitar (Heyward) is sprinkled here and there. And I believe I hear the familiar sound of a Hammond running in between the drums and the bottom end and Heywards voice at the top end. It starts the album off strongly, and lively.

"Haunted," appropriately enough, begins with hauntingly atmospheric keyboards, but this becomes an almost generic ballad. Some great piano notes sprinkled throughout, though, over a rather dreamy arrangment.

Lacking the high toned vocals of Jon Anderson, "Sooner Or Later (Walking On Air)" is nevertheless Anderson like in it's (overly) optimistic, positive, new agey-like message. It's spritely, while being rather low key.

"Words You Say" (several tracks later) made me think of latter day Queen, those gentle, subtle ballads. Though John Lodge doesn't sound like Freddy Mercury, he is singing in a higher range as Mercury did - oh, say on the theme from Highlander. This doesn't quite approach that same kind of power, as this remains low key. There are some orchestrations here, though, that will make you think, more rightly, of the Moodies own Days Of Future Past.

The next track, "My Little Lovely" begins with a guitar line right out of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," but ends up sounding more like Peter Paul and Mary (sans Mary). Of the Moody vocalists, I find I like Ray Thomas' deep, warm tones the best.

"Nothing Changes" is the lone Graeme Edge track, spoken word (a la Days) interspersed with acoustic and electric guitar interludes. A very nice, and very thoughtfull. A glance back at the century about to end, from World War II (well, probably WWI) to the almost present, making literary references along the way. Though not just because of those literary references, I really like this track, relatively short as it is.

Fans won't be disappointed, but in a few spots. Of course, this is far more pop than anything approaching progressive. It's one of those that engenders multiple listenings, however.

English Sunset (5:05) / Haunted (4:31) / Sooner Or Later (Walkin' On Air) (3:49) / Love Don't Come Easy (4:33) / All That Is Real Is You (3:33) / Strange Times (4:29) / Words You Say (5:31) / My LIttle Lovely (1:45) / Forever Now (4:37) / The One (3:39) / The Swallow (4:58) / Nothing Changes (3:32)

Justin Heyward - guitars and vocals
John Lodge - bass and vocals
Graeme Edge - drums, percussion and vocals
Ray Thomas - keyboards and vocals
Danilo Madonia - programming, keyboards and orchestrations

Go Now/Moody Blues #1 (1965)
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 (1969)
A Question Of Balance (1970)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)
Seventh Sojourn (1972)
This Is The Moody Blues (1974)
In The Beginning (1975)
Dream (1977)
Caught Live + 5 (1977)
Octave (1978)
Long Distance Voyager (1980)
The Present (1983)
Voice In The Sky: The Best of The Moody Blues (1985)
A Compleat Collection (1985)
Other Side Of Life (1986)
Prelude (1987)
Sur La Mer (1988)
Greatest Hits (1989)
A Night At Red Rocks With The Colorado Symphony (1993)
Time Traveller (1994)
Best of (1997)
Strange Times (1999)

Genre: Rock

Origin UK

Added: October 1st 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1673
Language: english


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