Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Moody Blues: To Our Children's Children's Children (1969)

Their second album of 1969, and their fourth overall: To Our Children's Children's Children. They were setting up their own record company while they were making it, and that and the absence of any hits means that it comes off as a bit of an also-ran as far as their 1969 endeavors go; it doesn't quite seem to get the love that their first three records get. Which is a shame: I think this is very close to being their best album. Better than its immediate predecessor, largely by being relatively unassuming.

Admittedly, it does kick off with a poem, "Higher And Higher," but there's so much sound and even music going on beneath the recitation that it's easy not to be bothered by the doggerel. The concept on this record has something to do with space travel, and the story is that they asked NASA for rocket-launch sounds to use on the record, but what they received was too politely recorded, so they made their own. What they came up with is a pretty impressive cacaphony.

Musically the record tries to pick up where the last left off, with a major composition bisected by another. This time it's Lodge's "Eyes Of A Child" that gets the honor, and Thomas's "Floating" that does the honors. It's not as effective here as it was before, partly because the two halves of "Child" are different enough in tone that they don't really feel much like the same song, while "Floating" is different enough again that it doesn't really get us from one to the other. That is, it's a mini-suite, but it doesn't really pay off like "Have You Heard" did.

Luckily, that's the only lame spot on the record. The following number, "I Never Thought I'd Live To Be A Hundred," might as well be the first: from here on, it's a different album. It's the first two verses of a Hayward number, just him and his guitar. Quite effective as an invocation to what follows; the third verse is spun off and appears near the end of the album, and this bifurcation does work, tying the album together musically.

What follows is Graeme Edge's finest moment yet, the exceedingly groovy instrumental "Beyond." Space travel, right, and here the trip is represented by some spacey dance music, a little reminiscent of the classic Star Trek theme in mood. It fades in and out, alternating with passages of other kinds of music, a little like "House Of Four Doors" but much...groovier. It's a really fun piece, the kind of thing they were reaching for in places on Threshold but didn't really achieve.

It segues into the record's first Pinder number, "Out And In." The key to this record is that on most of the tracks the band finds really infectious grooves - the perfect tempi and rhythmic structures to wring out the maximum emotional juice from the melodies. That's the case here, as the beat is just a little too brisk to let it settle into ballad mode, setting up a bracing guitar figure that sets up the refrain; the bridge is perfectly climactic, and behind it all the Mellotron supplies deep-space washes, the aural equivalent of nebulae.

Side two begins with a song that I've never quite been able to account for in the Moody Blues' oeuvre. "Gypsy" is so much heavier, so much more convincing as a hard rock song, than anything else they ever did, that it almost sounds like the work of a different band. And yet it has that anthemic Hayward vocal, and the Mellotron whispering of the abject terrors of deep-space solitude: it is the Moody Blues. But what got into them? One of their best songs.

It fades into Thomas's second number, "Eternity Road," and the contrast in moods is almost too great. But luckily Thomas has come up with a gem here. Continuing the interstellar theme, but with wonder rather than horror, this song manages to evoke both vast emptinesses and spectacular light shows. The musical setting embodies the lyrics: "turning, spinning, Catherine-wheeling." And again, it's a matter of groove: there's a tautness and urgency here that translates into great musical agility and lightness, like a coin bouncing off a perfectly-made bed; it's why the song makes sense after "Gypsy."

"Candle Of Life," Lodge's other, is another ballad, but for a change he's not trying to sound like Hayward. It has Justin's extravagant melancholy, but the Lawrence Welk-does-disco groove infuses it with a twilight faux-elegance, purple flocked wallpaper and cut-glass chandeliers. Wicked.

So of course it's followed by Pinder's second, and we're back to grooviness. The term "groovy" doesn't actually have anything to do with groove, but here we have that, too. "Sun Is Still Shining" scoots along like the Beatles on their funkiest tricycle. Yes, there's a hint of sitar, but we're so far out past Altair by now that Orientalism isn't even an issue.

After this six-song tour de force of hip pop stylings the reprise of "I Never Thought I'd Live To Be" is particularly effective, bringing us back down to earth. Literally, I suppose, in terms of the concept, because the last number on the album isn't about space at all, but being underground, or on the ground.

And alone. "Watching And Waiting" might just be the apotheosis of Justin Hayward's euphoric-sorrow aesthetic. As a pop song, it lacks the perfection of "Nights In White Satin," "Tuesday Afternoon," or "The Actor," but it really reaches a new level of delirious dolefulness. After all that spaciness, to bring it back down to "watching and waiting, / for someone to understand me / I hope it won't be very long" adds a dimension of cosmic tragedy to the humble, maudlin sentiment. At least, I think that's the intent, and that's how it works for me.

It may not work for everybody.