YOU KNOW the last time I loved the Moody Blues? "Go Now," 1965. Sure, I spent a hundred smoky hours with "Days of Future Past" and "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" and what have you, but the more moody they got, the more I missed the blues.
Production is not profundity, and the Moody Blues have always been a little overwhelmed by the tendency to confuse universal truth with symphonic suffering. Their philosophical wanderings didn't seem to lead them into any new territory: Trying to find enlightenment through "In Search of the Lost Chord" was like writing away for a guru and getting the Exxon guidebook to India. Eventually even the group seemed to lose track, and it waffled apart.
Well, they're at it again, with a collection of pompous pap called "Long Distance Voyager" (Threshold-PolyGram TRL-1-2901) -- one more try that just won't fly. It's basically the same old lineup (Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge) with one-time "Yes" second-stringer Patrick Moraz at the keyboards instead of Mike Pinder. Pinder, incidentally, tried to get a court to enjoin his former cohorts from using the Moody Blues' name without him, but failed. Too bad.
The only pleasant track on the entire album is "Meanwhile," a modest little alone-again number sweetened by the kind of 12-string swell so popular these days. It's getting a little air play, and sliding innocuously by. The other cut tentatively flirting with radio is "22,000 Nights," a more substantial disappointment. Sample message: "Let me go onto tomorrow/One day at a time/Now I know the only foe is time." Carpe diem, all right (22,000 days, for those of you without a pencil, is 60 years and maybe three months).
Or consider "Painted Smile," in which the greasepainted clown reveals an astonishing secret -- his inner heartbreak. From Pagliacci to Gary Lewis, funny guys have been smearing their mascara, but you think Ray Thomas has a new twist? Nothing doing. Laughter is free But it's so hard to be a jester All the time And no one's believing I'm the same when I'm bleeding And I hurt all the time deep inside.
And not being content with that, Thomas launches into one of those reverberating solioquies that blotted all those older Moody Blues albums, this one about "be thankful for your greasepaint clown . . ." and, lo and behold, it's time for the climax: "Veteran Cosmic Rocker."
Songs about being on stage must be cliche No. 3 on the rock 'n' roll list right now. Bad Company, Jackson Browne, Bob Segar, Styx, etc., etc. -- so here come the farsighted and innovative Moody Blues with three or four more. The only superlative left for "Veteran Cosmic Rocker" may be that's it's the most asinine piece of egocentricity yet.
The other songs are mainly love songs, but so torturously drawn out and clumsy as to be self-defeating.
And while we're filling in graves, toss a little dirt for Elton John. This former enfant terrible refuses to age gracefully, or to learn discipline. tIn his heyday, John would have dismissed most of the tracks on his latest album "The Fox" (Geffen Records, GHS 2002) as outtakes. Nowadays he's luxuriating in cheap piques -- the Truman Capote of Top 40 radio.
Although there are four Bernie Taupin collaborations on "The Fox," the more interesting songs were written with Gary Osborne, and "Nobody Wins," one of the two cuts currently getting air play, was written by Osborne with another composer, Jean-Paul Dreau. "Nobody Wins," with a quick, searing bitterness, recalls the dissolution of one romance, apparently the protagonist's parents', and foreshadows the collapse of his own affair. While not solid through, it has a brittle conviction that makes it seem more powerful than the current crop of REO sweetness and light.
The other radio single, "Breaking Down Barriers," also an Osborne lyric, has the most familiar swing of happier Elton John days, somewhat in the "Philadelphia Freedom" vein. "Heart in the Right Place" is a dig at the gossip columists of the world, ultimately too personal to involve the listener fully, but mildly witty (Osborne again): You won't recognize The you I create with my pen But my heart's in the right place Now and again .
On the other hand, John is out of his depth trying to pull an Elvis Costello ("Fascist Faces"), and sometimes he can't even do a good Elton John imitation -- it seems as if you've heard "Chloe" and "Heels of the Wind" and "The Fox" before. What this album lacks is the old wittiness.