(Disclaimer: Those looking for an overall description of the album will find what they're looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review might not be written in the point of view of a Moody Blues fan.)
Overall Score: 10/15
Best song: “Nights in White Satin” and “Legend of a Mind”
Worst song: “The Other Side of Life”
Now that The Moody Blues were getting old and their studio albums weren't selling as well as they used to, it was time for them to go on massive touring campaigns with full orchestras to lure in lucrative ticket sales from as many nostalgia seeking, middle-aged fans as they could. ...And of course there's nothing wrong with that; if anything, I'm jealous as hell that so many people got to go to one of their concerts, and yet I couldn't have been one of them. (Though truth be told, in the '90s, it's doubtful I would have enjoyed such an experience other than being able to scan the crowd with my eyes and make fun of people in my head.) But anyway, giving concerts with a full orchestras was giving their audiences something especially novel since it wasn't since 1967's Days of Future Passed they've worked with such instruments.
And I can see why some people would be excited to hear them sing with a full orchestra again. Personally, I would have rather heard them bring out an old Mellotron, but perhaps I'm in the minority! Usually, the orchestra sounds pretty nice. Ray Thomas sounds pleasant amidst the full orchestra in “For My Lady,” John Lodge's “Emily's Song” is as pretty as always, and Justin Hayward sounds wonderful performing “Bless the Wings (That Bring You Back)” from their latest album.
Usually, Hayward's vocals are pretty great, as you would probably expect. He hits those high, soaring notes in “Nights in White Satin” about as brilliantly as we could have ever hoped for. But unfortunately, he experiences a few hiccups now and again. We're willing to forgive him in live performances, aren't we? I have no doubt that he required multiple takes to get everything right for the albums. Notably, that falsetto in “New Horizons” is awfully shaky... but that doesn't ruin the song, or anything, since that's still nearly as majestic and soaring as the original was. If any song made excellent use of the full orchestra, it was that one, particularly since the original's keyboards sounded more close to a real orchestra than their classic Mellotrons. I might complain a bit about “Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon),” which is the first time we hear Hayward sing on this album; perhaps it took him just a bit to get warmed up?
They also perform songs from their rock 'n' roll repertoire where the symphony is pretty much given a rest. And thank goodness for that, because the last thing I wanted to hear was a full orchestra trying to do rock 'n' roll! Not surprisingly, they perform the opening songs to most of their 1981-1991 albums, since those were obviously the highlights of their respective albums. However, I do have a list of complaints about their rock 'n' roll songs. First and foremost, those drums are still in '80s mode; they're huge, blocky, which is usually not at all like the originals. That even becomes a problem with the songs that actually came from the '80s. Although I love that Graeme Edge actually performs the drums live, as opposed to a drum machine, it isn't the most energizing thing on the planet. I certainly could have done without the drum solo he gives us at the beginning of “I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'n' Roll Band.” But at least Hayward makes up for it with a rip-roaring guitar solo. Everybody likes guitar solos, right?
Ray Thomas is given a chance to shine in a few places in this album, most notably during his iconic hippie classic, “Legend of a Mind” where you can hear him give a pretty fantastic live flute solo (for those of us who want to hear such a thing). For my money, that's one of the highlights of the album! The orchestra does a nice job providing some liquidly textures in the background as Edge goes at it with his drum kit. Thomas' vocals are still that excellent, baritone, wobbly tone that has always sounded so perfectly fit for the hippie music that he always liked to write. (I'm a bit disappointed, somehow, that he didn't get to perform “Celtic Sonnant!” Again, I'm probably in the minority there.)
This is a mightily decent live collection, but it unfortunately doesn't show these guys in tip-top form. When I listen to these songs, it's a bit too obvious to me that the studio versions of them blow the live renditions away. Nevertheless, the performances are usually quite good and I'd imagine that all hardened Moody Blues fans would like to own this and, moreover, pull it out and listen to it now and again. Maybe I'm not a hardened fan, but I enjoyed this overall.
Whoo... It's like an overture to a Broadway play, except it takes a crapload longer. Usually, these things just give us a small sampling of what's to come, but these guys delve in pretty deeply into their songs. Even though it's nice to hear such grand, orchestral versions of their classic songs (they do “Ride My Seesaw,” “New Horizons,” “Another Morning,” Voices in the Sky,” “(Evening) Time to Get Away,” “Isn't Life Strange,” “Legend of a Mind,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” and “Nights in White Satin”), dragging it on for more than seven minutes was a bit much. The orchestra sounds nice, but they're not doing anything terribly mindblowing and I would imagine were a bit bored having to perform something by The Moody Blues instead of Beethoven, which—let's face it—is about a billion times more exciting than this.
Late Lament B-
Uh oh... They're getting so back to their past that they've even resumed doing that spoken word poetry nonsense. Although the crowd sure seems to cheer for it (but that's also where the band first comes out)! Unfortunately with the return of the full orchestra, they make everything cheesy again. This would have sounded nicer with MELLOTRONS, baby! But I suppose Mellotrons were out of fashion in the '90s or something. I don't get it.
Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon) B
Alright! We're finally getting to the real songs! And it's nice! As we always knew, the song has a pretty melody. Hayward's vocals are a bit weird, though, at some points sounding like they hadn't quite figured out the rhythm of the song. (Surely, they weren't still doing pot before their concerts in the '90s!) The orchestra is *bleh*, but as long as we're willing to accept their use of orchestra, it's not too much of a drag!
For My Lady A-
Still, I contend, that the orchestra is a bit of a drag although it's hard to know why, since this wasn't exactly one of their rock 'n' roll songs. Maybe there was just subtle studio touches I loved about the original? ...Eh, but doesn't this confirm what I've always thought about these guys? They were a studio band. And anyway, Ray Thomas certainly gives a brilliant vocal performance in that way he does, and the melody is still beautiful.
Bless the Wings (That Bring You Back) A-
Uh oh... Songs from one of their new albums! ...But wait, this was handily their best song from Keys to the Kingdom (despite certain objections I've gotten about it!). This also makes appropriate use of the orchestra, which handles those grand, sweeping parts that only a full orchestra could do. Hayward's vocals have improved immensely from “Tuesday Afternoon,” hitting all the notes correctly and sounding passionate to boot. Nice song!
Emily's Song A-
A John Lodge song! ...I grimaced a bit when I saw that I was going to listen to a John Lodge song next, but I forgot that he was as good of a songwriter as any of them back in those Classic Seven days. This gentle and sweet song also makes nice use of that orchestra, which recreates the original's nursery rhyme quality quite well. The strings are well textured, and I like all those twinkly instruments I hear in the background. It's a nice song that's well-orchestrated. One moment where I don't complain too much about the orchestra.
New Horizons A
This is one song that I would be ticked if I didn't hear them play at a Moody Blues concert. (The other one would be “Night in White Satin,” but I think they're probably contractually obligated to play that song.) But you'll also only find this song on the Deluxe version, as opposed to the original single CD release, so I would almost certainly make this a good reason to shell out a few extra dollars. The only reason I can think of that they didn't include this in the original release is that there's just a bit of squeaky feedback noise at the beginning, and Hayward's falsetto doesn't sound that good. (Obviously, the dude has a great falsetto, but he probably needs a lot of takes to make it right in the studio.) But still, as you can imagine, this sounds just about perfect with a full, sweeping orchestra. ...Although hearing it like this makes some of those chords sound a little bit awkward. Someone studying at the conservatory would have been slapped for that. ...But these guys are rock 'n' roll, and it's still beautiful!
Lean on Me (Tonight) B+
Well I wouldn't have necessarily expected it, but the full orchestra actually toned down the poncey poshness that emanated from the original. ...Maybe they would have needed to swallow up other city's orchestras to recreate something like that with the orchestra. This is a pretty song, too. John Lodge's vocals were never the best, and he does come across as a bit weak, letting the orchestra overshadow him too much, but the bouncy melody is nice, and this is fun to listen to. Justin Hayward gives a very nice, high-pitched guitar solo on there. ...This is only song so far that I apparently like more than the original.
Voices in the Sky B+
This is another pretty song of theirs... Although never one that stuck out at me too much. The melody is nice as always, and I don't think the orchestra takes away too much from the original. Hayward does a nice job, as usual, with the vocals, although he doesn't come across as nice and velvety as he did in the original! (Well, just don't be too disappointed that Hayward only had one shot at doing these vocals.)
Lovely to See You B+
...Yeah, there's just something weird about hearing the full symphony orchestra playing during these more rock 'n' roll songs. Orchestras just don't ROCK. The original sounded great and driving with the Mellotrons, but this one... Well, we still have Hayward chugging away with an electric guitar, which is great, but that's about it. I also don't know what the deal is with the female background singers. If the other members couldn't sing, then why not bring in male singers to recreate their tight vocal harmonies? Those drums are a bit blank. They're boringly BIG (I guess they were still in '80s mode), and they needed more blood-pumping fills! But anyway, this is a classic song, and it's lovely to hear.
Gemini Dream B+
Uh oh! They're acknowledging their '80s albums now! This one still sounds like “Sharp Dressed Man” to me. Probably an unfair distraction, since “Sharp Dressed Man” was released later... but what can you do? The orchestra plays a minimal role with this song, which is exactly right, since it's a synth-pop song. It's pretty catchy, and it's still fun to hear more of Hayward's guitaring. (But the keyboards are goofy.)
I Know You're Out There Somewhere A-
Uh oh! They're still acknowledging their '80s albums! (And why the hell would they fail to acknowledge their best '80s album, which was The Present? ...They also don't play anything from To Our Children's Children's Children on here, which I suppose is more baffling.) But whatever. This is handily one of their finest moments of the '80s anyway, and the orchestra gives it another appropriate rest. ...I can't believe I'm saying this, but bring Patrick Moraz back! These boring keyboard tones makes his stuff sound brilliant by comparison! I mean, this sounds like he just turned on his Casio keyboard for the first time. ...But anyway, it's a nice song, and Hayward performs the catchy and soaring melody swimmingly well.
The Voice A-
Again, as long as they're performing the '80s stuff, at least they're performing the right '80s stuff. Hearing it back-to-back with “I Know You're Out There Somewhere” also shows us indisputably how similar the opening songs to their albums were in the '80s. They're all upbeat, dramatic, catchy, and Hayward-led. Again, the keyboards and drums are a bit of a drag. It has me missing Patrick Moraz whose wobbly, high-pitched synthesizers in the original I can actually appreciate now. But anyway, it's a brilliant song! That'll never change, no matter what they do. Hayward's electric guitar stuff is pretty great.
Say it With Love B+
Another one of their opening songs! I say this with love: The Moody Blues' opening songs had been fantastic in all of their studio albums since 1981! But I suppose the main reason they put them all together like this was to give the orchestra an extended rest... There wasn't a whole lot they could have done during a synth-pop song, anyway, and they shouldn't. It's a catchy song that's well performed. ...Though never one of my favorites of theirs, and I still don't care for those female back-up singers. If anything, bring us Moody-Blues-like singers!
The Story in Your Eyes A-
Still good although nowhere NEAR as bright and energetic as the original. The drums are a bit loud and clunky... I like that there are some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano, but I can't hear it well enough. The guitars are crunchy and upbeat and I like Hayward's vocals... as usual! His electric guitar solo is excellent, for that brief moment it pops up.
Your Wildest Dreams B+
Oh no! It's the Jack Horkheimer intro to The Other Side of Life! Gaah!! It also sounds like Hayward was a bit tired of singing at this point; he sounds a bit labored here. Other than that, this is still a nice song though I could fathom a much more lively rendition of it!
Isn't Life Strange B
Yeah, seriously! Give John Lodge a chance to sing! Although I'm surprised to hear him do that weird pulsating thing with his vocals, which I had figured he needed to sing through a giant fan to recreate the effect. But anyway, this is one moment where I think more involvement from the orchestra would have been nice, because the original was such a HUGE and BOMBASTIC song, and they're absolutely struggling to recreate that here. I certainly hear that orchestra there, specifically a horn section tooting away in the middle of it, but they needed more involvement with the build-up. And where is Justin Hayward? We needed some of his guitar as well as his back-up vocals. ...I don't like those female back-up singers at all.
The Other Side of Life C+
Ugh... So far, they had only been performing their good songs. Here, they completely go against that principle and perform one of their terrible songs. There's no mercy, either; they perform this for its entire seven and a half minutes. ...On the bright side, I like that the drums are live, but I don't like that this is boring. The melody never interested me, and the instruments are just filling up space with proper noise. Nothing interesting.
I'm Just a Singer in a Rock 'N' Roll Band A
Are you ready for some rock 'n' roll? ...And then Graeme Edge does a drum solo. (Gah!!) But after that, that loud and driving song that we're all familiar with pops up, and it's a lot of fun to hear! Especially Justin Hayward who lets out a rip-roaring guitar solo in there, which sounds like he was waiting ages for the opportunity to rip that one out. Unfortunately, the vocals seem very weak, and those female back-up singers are really distracting. Grrr! Tell them to leave, please! They don't belong!!
Nights in White Satin A
Ah yes, the song that they must be contractually obligated to perform at every concert. I mean, if they didn't perform this song, then they would probably have a riot on their hands. Good thing it's here, and it's in really good form. Hayward's vocals are nice, and he solidly hits those soaring high notes. ...Although I might have expected perfection, and this doesn't quite get there! (Ugh! I'm so hard to please!) But then again, I'm comparing it to the original, which was about as perfect as it gets. I hear the orchestra there, playing appropriately in the background. I also like hearing good ole Ray Thomas very nicely deliver that flute solo. Mmmm!
Legend of a Mind A
I'd imagine there would be many long faces going out of the concert if they didn't perform this one, either, since everyone seems to like this song as well. (And why shouldn't they? It rules!) As one of Ray Thomas' songs, it's nice to hear him give a performance, since it did seem an awful lot like Hayward's voice needed a rest. Also, Thomas gets to play an extended flute solo, which is pretty excellent as far as those go, so flute fans will get something nice out of this. (I do wish the keyboardist picked a different sound than he did... It doesn't sound terribly great with the flute!)
What happened to the orchestra? ...I would have thought they would have ended things out, but I only hear them barely in the background, sounding probably bored out of their minds. That is, up until a finale at the end. At any rate, I like these good old rock 'n' roll songs, although this doesn't nearly get my blood flowing like the original did. I especially regret that I can't hear that bass-line I loved so much! (Although I can still hear it barely although I can't be too sure if it was a force of my imagination.) Nevertheless, it's a rendition of a classic song... Not flawless, but still good.
Ride My See-Saw B+
Is this album finally over? It seems like I've been writing these track reviews for days. So, they end it with a '90s rock 'n' roll treatment of their old '60s song. (I almost think I'm hearing “Everybody Dance Now” at the beginning of this, which his just … er … wrong.) I suppose they wanted something for the kids to go out dancing to? It's still pretty good. Obviously, the melody is still catchy and nicely delivered. Hayward lets out a few rip-roaring solos here and there. It's fun to listen to.
Only for the Moody Blues diehard. People who have gone to their concerts say that this isn't the best representation of them, and I'll have to take their words for it, since I've never been to one of their concerts!
Read more Moody Blues reviews by Starcollector!
The Magnificent Moodies (1965) | Days of Future Passed (1967) | In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) | On the Threshold of a Dream (1969) | To Our Children's Children's Children (1969) | A Question of Balance (1970) | Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971) | Seventh Sojourn (1972) | Caught Live 5 (1977) | Octave (1978) | Long Distance Voyager (1981) | The Present (1983) | The Other Side of Life (1986) | Sur La Mer (1988) | Keys to the Kingdom (1991) | Night at Red Rocks (1993)