Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Moody Blues: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)

Of the Moody Blues' main sequence, their sixth album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971) is the only one I'd consider an actual failure. Song for song it's probably no weaker than two or three others, but it leaves a rather weak overall impression on me. One of indecision and lack of focus.

The rot starts with the first song, "Procession," which recycles the idea behind "House Of Four Doors," that of tracing the history of music (gawd) in the course of a single track. This time it's not quite a song - some musique concrete, some log-thumping noises, and a couple of vocal interjections imported from a song on Side 2. It's a step back toward prog territory, and, perhaps not coincidentally, a pretty insufferable track.

The closer, Pinder’s “My Song,” has some musical content, but it’s just as bombastic and aimless, just as much of a drag. Pinder’s enthusiastic, charmingly amateurish compositions were highlights of earlier albums, but with the growing professionalism of Hayward and, to a lesser extent, Lodge and Thomas, Pinder’s songs were starting to sound out of place. As were Edge’s – here he comes up with a full-fledged song, with melody, lyrics, and everything – and it’s groovy – in a kind of awkward way.

What does that leave? Hayward contributes two numbers. “The Story In Your Eyes” is a soaring rocker; it’s the second track, and it nearly redeems the first track to hear it resolve into “Story’s” focused majesty. Justin’s other, “You Can Never Go Home,” follows, roughly, the pattern of “The Actor,” passing through a number of disparate moods, each of which boasts perfect melodies, sighing harmonies, biting guitar lines. Perhaps a little too busy to stand with his best work, but it might be the most concentrated evidence of his almost McCartney-like craft.

Lodge, as usual, doesn’t seem to have settled on a style of his own. “Emily’s Song” is a pleasant but forgettable ballad that borrows considerable from Ray Thomas’s sense of whimsy. “One More Time To Live,” meanwhile, is Lodge’s best attempt yet at a Justin Hayward number – and it’s quite effective, too, with some very dramatic counterpoint singing in the refrain.

Thomas weighs in with “Our Guessing Game,” a little cloying in its bonhomie, and “Nice To Be Here,” which I find to be perhaps the most maddening song in the Moody Blues’ catalog. Not the worst – I’m not even sure I dislike it. I may, in fact, like it. It describes a jamboree – I shit you not – of woodland animals. “And the owl played his oboe / then the frog’s guitar solo / it was all too much for me.” As the liner notes say, quite Beatrix Potter. Thing is, the tune is pretty catchy, and everybody turns in some very nice playing: nifty fuzz-guitar lines, catchy sub-country rhythm work, mellotron cleverly evoking both the wind in the willows and a steel guitar. And the vocals are, as usual, choirboy impeccable. The song really works. And of course there’s good precedent for this sort of thing, with “Yellow Submarine,” for example; but whereas the Beatles even at their most whimsical always sounded like wise-ass rockers, hipsters simply trying on the clothes of old Victoriana, the Moody Blues were quite capable of sounding like the mustachioed old gent in the Sgt. Pepper cutouts. I.e., way out of time, and totally unaware of it.

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