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Long Distance Voyager (Remastered and Expanded)

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Album Review

Progressive rock bands stumbled into the '80s, some with the crutch of commercial concessions under one arm, which makes the Moody Blues' elegant entrance via Long Distance Voyager — a number one album in the US — all the more impressive. Ironically enough, this was also the only album that the group ever got to record at their custom-designed Threshold Studio. The latter, given to them by Decca Records head Sir Edward Lewis in the early '70s and built to their specifications — but completed while they were on hiatus and never before used by the band (the preceding album, Octave, having been recorded in California to accommodate Mike Pinder) — was destroyed a short time after Long Distance Voyager's completion, in the wake of Decca's sale to Polygram. In that connection, it was also their best sounding album to date, and in just about every way is a happier listening experience than Octave was, much as it appears to have been a happier recording experience. While they may steal a page or two from the Electric Light Orchestra's then-recent playbook, the Moodies are careful to play their game: dreamy, intelligent songs at once sophisticated and simple. Many of these songs rank with the band's best: "The Voice" is a sweeping and majestic call to adventure, while the closing trio from Ray Thomas ("Painted Smile," "Reflective Smile," and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker") forms a skillfully wrought, if sometimes scathing, self-portrait. In between are winning numbers from John Lodge ("Talking Out of Turn" the pink-hued "Nervous") and Graeme Edge ("22,000 Days"), who tries his hand successfully in some philosophizing worthy of ex-member Mike Pinder. Apart from the opening track, Justin Hayward furnishes a pair of romantic ballads, the languid "In My World" (which benefits greatly from a beautiful chorus heavily featuring Ray Thomas' voice), which distantly recalls his Seventh Sojourn classic "New Horizons," and the more pop-oriented, beat-driven romantic ballad "Meanwhile." In typical Moodies fashion, these songs provide different perspectives of the same shared lives and observations. "Gemini Dream," which was a big hit in the U.S., does sound dated in the post-Xanadu landscape, but never does the band lose the courage of their convictions. Although the title and the cover art reference the then-recent Voyager space probe (forever burned in the minds of anyone who slogged through the first Star Trek movie, but then there's never a brain-burrowing grub around when you need one), only half of the songs have a "voyager" connection if you apply it to touring on the road; apologetic love songs consume the other half. Still, not everything has to be a concept album, especially when the songs go down this smooth. This album should make anybody's short list of Moodies goodies. And, yes, that's Patrick Moraz, ex-Refugee and ex-Yes member, who makes his recording debut with the band here, in place of original member Mike Pinder. The 2008 reissue only adds one bonus track, the minute-shorter single edit of "The Voice," but it is well-annotated and also offers the first significant improvement in sound that the album has ever enjoyed — as good as those harmonies sounded on the original LP (and they sounded great), they're significantly better on the expanded edition, and the playing comes through with startling clarity, full of rich timbres. The upgrade to what was already a pretty good sounding CD was a welcome surprise, and is worth the new purchase.


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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