Strange Times

The Moody Blues

Universal Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Like many people, my first taste of the Moody Blues was through the radio. Songs like "Nights In White Satin" (in all its overplayed glory), "Tuesday Afternoon," "The Voice" and "Your Wildest Dreams" were all part of the pattern of my young life. Justin Hayward and crew might not have had a lot of time on my turntable when I was young, but I listened intensely every time I heard them on the radio.

So why am I utterly disappointed by Strange Times, their first album in years? Is it because a lot of the rich, layered harmony vocals that I loved on some songs just aren't there this time around? Or is it that the music sounds like the band was bored to tears at certain points on this album?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, I realize that music changes as time passes, and change is often good (even if it doesn't seem like it at the moment you first experience it). But I can't fathom why the band would utilize what sounds like synthesized drums on the opening track "English Sunset". It's bad enough that such a gentle tune is turned into a shuffle, but the drumwork sounds like something off a techno album.

And, I realize that I probably expected to hear a lot of the heavily arranged songs like "Your Wildest Dreams" and others which were both poppy and pretty. Unfortunately for me on both counts, The Moody Blues do two things on Strange Times. First, they scale back their sound so much that I often thought I was listening to a group like The Fixx. (No offense to Fixx fans; I'm just saying this style of performance isn't suited for a band like The Moody Blues.) Second, with rare - and I mean rare - exception, there are no vocal harmonies. Tracks like "Sooner Or Later (Walkin' On Air)" and "Forever Now" really would have benefitted from this.

It's not that the harmonies are a gimmick that Hayward and company use; it's that these work well for the band. Case in point: "Foolish Love," easily the best song on the album. Now this sounds like The Moody Blues! The musical arrangement is top notch, the vocals sound angelic, and it's a track that even casual fans would be able to easily identify.

The one thing that strikes me about Strange Times is that, unlike some Moody Blues albums I've listened to, I don't find myself getting excited about the music I'm hearing. This might be because the band occasionally doesn't sound thrilled with what they're doing. "All That Is Real Is You," a track that has a bit of a Celtic taste to it, could have been a real pretty track if it hadn't been executed so lazily; it sometimes sounds like Hayward is about to fall asleep while doing the vocal. And did we really need the tieback to Days Of Future Passed with the spoken-word outro on "Nothing Changes"?

I'll admit, the more I listen to Strange Times, the more is revealed that I like about this album. But this one is hardly a classic, and is a disappointing return for a band that is capable of so much greater work.

Rating: C

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Universal Records, and is used for informational purposes only.