Once again, The Moody Blues have delivered on a recipe so dependable it should be included in The Joy of Cooking. The group's elegant soufflé consists of silkily strummed guitars and gossamer Mellotron and keyboards, capped by a host of agreeable, charcoal-mellowed vocals. There are no new twists on Long Distance Voyager, except perhaps the replacement of keyboardist Mike Pinder by ex-Yes man Patrick Moraz (close your eyes and you'll never know the difference). But this is exactly as it should be: experimentalism is hardly the Moodies' forte. Instead, their evolution takes place between the lines, as they increasingly manage to fill every small hole in the sound with a kind of comforting, pea-soup sonic fog. Like the Genesis of Wind and Wuthering, the instrumental weave here is so tight, the strands so densely and artfully stitched into the fabric, that it becomes difficult to tell one player's zig from another's zag.
The world of Long Distance Voyager is as quaint as a toffee shoppe and would seem to satiate the same sort of sweet-tooth fixation. A vaguely ruminative melancholy appears to be the operative emotion. At their finest, these nine numbers arouse slumbering recollections of treasured feelings from the past, the tangible associations of which hover just outside of memory. Consequently, they leave the listener with a glowing amnesiac longing for–what? A fleeting, once-upon-a-time glimpse at love's grandeur? The innocent and idealistic pastures of plenty of the late Sixties? The cozy, Keatsian pleasures of a pastoral, premechanized way of life?
The Moody Blues' autumnal air of déjà vu is best communicated in John Lodge's and Justin Hayward's tunes, all lush serenades to the idea of love and loss. Songs like "Talking Out of Turn" and "In My World" succeed because they lack lyrical specificity, therefore allowing the mood indigo to wander about wistfully. Such compositions falter a bit when the writer clouds the issue with details, as in "22,000 Days" ("...it's not a lot/It's all you got"). A pocket calculator can determine that most of us are stuck on this orb for that length of time, but to what fount of wisdom is this statistic intended to lead us? That in one lifetime we'll eat 44,000 cheeseburgers? Make 66,000 trips to the bathroom? Most everywhere else, though, the band deals elliptically with romantic loss, which, metaphorically, can mean any kind of loss at all. Add your own brush strokes.
Though it's easy to poke fun at the Moodies' earnest poetasting, it'd be curmudgeonly not to own up to the fact that, in their own way, they're a soulful lot. But their soulfulness derives from a European tradition, one that's lily-white and Byronic. Admittedly, it may be fey and terribly unhip, yet it does celebrate the bittersweet side of human yearning with an uncommon richness of spirit.
Long Distance Voyager is one of the most seamlessly embroidered records I've ever heard. The Moody Blues' musical canon doesn't always go boom, but it's dignified, eloquent and, like good sherry, should warm the hearts of their veteran cosmic fans–and any others who choose to listen with fresh ears. (RS 356)