Yes & No--Days of Future Passed

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The first album by the Moody Blues (Go Now in the US and The Magnificent Moodies in the UK) featured Denny Laine on vocals and guitar and was a fairly good R&B, soul effort. The next album under the Moody Blues name was Days of Future Passed in 1967 and it sounds absolutely nothing like its predecessor.  It has an iconic cover and is a must-have item for record collections that even flirt with the psychedelic era.  The thing is, it may well be overrated.

First-time listeners sometimes think they have put on Berlioz or Dvorak rather than a rock band.  The London Festival Orchestra mostly gets star billing and one might imagine the Moody Blues themselves standing around uncomfortably trying to keep their tambourines and triangles silent so as not to interfere with the orchestra’s recording.  The concept album goes through the day of a life and begins with a Hollywoodesque, Fred Astaire flourish of strings like the beginning of a sappy movie. Add spoken poetry and we have something of a prototype for early Alan Parsons and some of Electric Light Orchestra’s work—though by then this arty swirl of strings and rock worked out much better. Days of Future Passed  is early days for this sound.

But how does it sound on a drive in 2014?

It’s probably better left in the living room to be enjoyed while seated, perhaps even with some brandy.  There is no question The Moody Blues aimed high here and no one could ever say it’s a bad album.  It’s musically interesting as a mix of pop orchestra and psychedelia, but fusion it is not.  Often the orchestral portions simply rest their bows when The Moody Blues come in and vice versa. The best song to illustrate this is “Lunch Break/Peak Hour” where the two sections are completely different from one another, the first featuring the orchestra and the second handled by the Moody Blues.

There is Fusion, However

“Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin” are both high points of 1967 and of the psychedelic era in general.  In these instances there is a fusion between the group and the orchestra, in fact Days of Future Passed  has some of the best such fusion from the era that experimented with what the Beatles and George Martin had shown could be done when you mix up classical with pop.  On the other hand, few fans would say “Sea of Holes” is a great Beatle song; the same is true for The Moody Blues and their tunes here. When they come through the strings as a group the results are wonderful, as with the entire eight minutes of  “The Afternoon: Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)/Time to Get Away.” There are other areas, however, where the relationship between the band and the orchestra is not readily evident.

The Moody Blues did work out their sound over the next few albums in brilliant form. The new direction (the 180o shift from R&B to psychedelia) heralded by Days of Future Passed doesn’t work on every track. It is, however, fascinating as a document of where they were back then, and it is a clear indication of where they were going.



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