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Octave (Remastered and Expanded)

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Album Review

The remastered, upgraded, and expanded CD edition of the Moody Blues' Octave rates a separate review from its predecessor, offering as it does over a quarter of an hour of new material, as well as a much finer analog-to-digital transfer of the original album, something the CD version has needed for many years. From the opening of "Steppin' in a Slide Zone," the difference in sound quality is like stepping from a flat, two-dimensional screening of a movie into a 3-D screening; layers of vocal and instrumental nuance that were previously hidden in the mix are now more fully exposed, with the result that we are getting to hear this record the way the bandmembers did as they experienced it in playback in the studio. And for the first time, the record's quality, at least in its execution, comes through — some of the songwriting is shaky, as one might expect coming off of a five-year hiatus from working in a group context (with several members' respective songbags depleted); but now one can hear what the members put into those songs to make them acceptable, and as it turns out they did succeed, in large measure. One striking element is precisely how "right" John Lodge's bass seems on numbers as varied in quality as Ray Thomas' "Under Moonshine" and Justin Hayward's "Had to Fall in Love." Upon its original release in mid-1978, this reviewer remembers being struck by the seeming lack of cohesion in the sound which, as it turned out, was a result of Mike Pinder's departure before the completion of the album, which explained the presence of saxes and horns on various tracks. Those instruments and the tracks they appear on — "Driftwood," "Top Rank Suite," "I'm Your Man," "Survival" — sounded the least like the band we all remembered, but at least here they have some of the energy that the members obviously put into them. "Driftwood"'s richness of tone, along with that of "Had to Fall in Love" and even Mike Pinder's lone compositional contribution, "One Step Into the Light," all benefit from the new transfer. And one can now make out Justin Hayward's acoustic guitar on "The Day We Meet Again" — that is the side of their sound, along with Lodge's McCartney-esque bass work and Graeme Edge's drumming, that makes a Moody Blues record, even without the full complement of voices one expected up to that time on their records. The producers have also added a quintet of live tracks recorded at the Coliseum in Seattle and The Summit in Houston, TX, along the tour that accompanied the release of this album. Apparently done in two-track, they couldn't be remixed to 21st century standards, but there's a lot of kinetic energy in the playing, even from newly added keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who can already be heard adding his own flourishes to the new repertory. Preserved here are two songs, "I'm Your Man" and "Top Rank Suite" — the latter offering Hayward a chance to stretch out on guitar, which greatly improves it from its studio original — that disappeared from the band's set list following this tour; and three, "Steppin' in a Slide Zone," "Driftwood," and "The Day We Meet Again," that have endured a lot longer than the album did in most fans' estimations. "Driftwood" offers another opportunity for Hayward and Lodge to stretch out, compared to the studio rendition, and is a long-awaited recognition of this song's worth as it was established on that tour. And "The Day We Meet Again," despite some less-than-optimum recording and an ending that is a little flat on-stage, was one of the highlights of that tour's set, and is a good showcase for Moraz's playing. The accompanying annotation is extremely thorough and informative. One wishes, however, that the art department had sprung for two more pages, so the text wouldn't have been quite so small, and also would have been more judicious than to put black lettering over dark background images on some pages. And they've left the lyrics in as well.


Formed: 1964 in Birmingham, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although they're best known today for their lush, lyrically and musically profound (some would say bombastic) psychedelic-era albums, the Moody Blues started out as one of the better R&B-based combos of the British Invasion. The group's history began in Birmingham, England with Ray Thomas (harmonica, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals), who had played together in El Riot & the Rebels and the Krew Cats. They began recruiting members of some of the best rival groups working in Birmingham, including...
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