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Octave (Bonus Track Version) [Remastered]

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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.

Customer Reviews

Moodies' 'come back LP' a delight

I wore this LP out back in 1978. It is a sonic delight from the opening notes from Mike Pinder. After several years off, the original band reformed and recorded this album in California (at Mike's insistence, the story goes). "Slide Zone" is still a concert favorite and cooks. As always, you can count on Ray Thomas to deliver the whimsy. It's here twice with "Under Moonshine" and "I'm Your Man". Justin Hayward's ballads excell as evidenced by the seminal "Driftwood" and "Had to Fall in Love". "Top Rank Suite" is my least favorite Moodies track by a longshot. The horns are blaring and dominate the mix, as can be found on many 70's recordings. John Lodge's "Survival" is beautiful and features standout lead guitar by Justin. The album closes with two haunting tracks. Mike's "One Step Into the Light" is about the most spiritual and uplifting recording I've heard. Justin's "The Day We Meet Again" is my favorite Moodies' track even after 30 plus years. The pulsating organ beats that begin the song, the gorgeous guitar solo from Justin and the gently hopefull lyric is just killer. A wonderful album that is grossly unappreciated. It is the swansong of the "classic lineup" because Mike left after the LP was completed.

You have just entered the twi-slide zone...

Please note that this review is for the 2009 remastered edition of "Octave".

I just stepped in a what? A steaming pile of slide zone you say? Here I go again, defending the indefensible...taking those crappy pseudo prog albums that most prog heads hate and speaking of them in glowing terms. What this entails is taking them in context of the artists' bodies of work and the times in which they were recorded, as well as how they have withstood the test of time. Picture if you will: the year was 1978, progressive rock was on life support, and the Moody Blues had been broken up for more than five years. You have just entered the twi-slide zone.

So just what is up with "Octave", the Moody Blues' supposed "comeback" album? Some say that it is too pop and not "proggy" enough. This point is highly debatable. First of all, the Moody Blues were hardly the most progressive of bands to begin with, eschewing the long songs and unconventional time signatures of their peers in favor of shorter songs and more straight ahead song structure. Where the Moodies were progressive was with their psychedelic flourishes, which often came off as insincere or gimmicky, and their approach to vocal harmony, which was arguably their greatest strength and still evident on "Octave". In this regard, "Octave" may be stronger than its predecessor "Seventh Sojourn". From the chanting vocals on "Stepping in a Slide Zone" to the melancholia of "The Day We Meet Again", the Moodies demonstrate that their voices are their strongest instruments.

In many ways "The Story in Your Eyes" and "I'm Just a Singer...", from "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor" and "Seventh Sojourn" respectively, opened the door for the Moodies' more conventional rock arrangements found here, such as those on "I'll Be Level With You" and "Top Rank Suite". While not typical Moody Blues, they are still good songs. Where the Moody Blues demonstrate that they are really in top form are on ballads such as "Driftwood" and "Had to Fall in Love". Of course, detractors may say that these Justin Hayward compositions are sappy...to which I can only say: "Nights in White Satin". They would not be the Moody Blues without the propensity toward sap. If the Moody Blues' catalog were a tree, it would be a Sugar Maple...OK? This is not a good enough reason to dismiss the musicianship and song writing on "Octave".

3 and a half stars (out of five).

Biography

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...
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