The Present

The Moody Blues

Threshold, 1983

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Sandwiched between the comeback Long Distance Voyager and The Other Side Of Life is this somewhat forgotten Moody Blues effort, which is a shame, because it is at least an equal to its predecessor. In fact, it is the last Moodies effort to feature an emphasis on guitars, contributions from Ray Thomas and a spark of humanity; unfortunately, all three of these would be wiped out on the band’s next three albums.

The Present is similar to the pattern set by Voyager in that it starts with the hit single, trades off Justin Hayward ballads with more up-tempo, semi-cheesy pop/rock numbers, and ends with two Thomas songs that sound fairly out of place. Thankfully, keyboardist Patrick Moraz is still restrained here, limiting his contributions to fill-ins and rarely dominating the songs.

This results in an album of 10 songs focusing on standard Moodies fare – love, whether romantic or bittersweet – and some pop philosophy, which has been the band’s stock in trade since 1968. Those who know the band from “Nights In White Satin” and the psychedelic, Mellotron-heavy music of that period will find something here to like, while those who came on board in 1981 with “The Voice” will be rewarded as well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Blue World” is an odd choice for leadoff song and single. Breaking with tradition, it is a fairly downbeat pop song, both lyrically and musically, although Hayward’s voice perfectly conveys the pessimism of the piece. Only the dated keyboard squiggles between the verses detract, but they aren’t a deal-breaker, and this remains one of the band’s best songs of the ‘80s.

“Meet Me Halfway” takes a couple of listens to sink in, but it also has a dark undercurrent and some good singing by Hayward, sounding a bit like the yang to yin of “The Voice.” Toward the end of the album, Hayward gets another two-fer with “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” and “Running Water,” which are both fairly dull, although the latter is mostly a cappella with minimal instrumentation, a rarity for this band.

The other single, “Sitting At The Wheel,” is a ripoff of both Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” and any ELO song you care to name. John Lodge shouting “Rock and Roll!” in the chorus of a song that is so far away from rock is unintentionally hilarious. His “Under My Feet” isn’t much better, although points are added for the war-drum chant and guitar work of “Hole In The World,” which proved the Moodies hadn’t yet lost the desire to take chances.

Thomas, the band’s flautist and third singer, adds harmony to the otherwise moribund “Going Nowhere,” written by drummer Graeme Edge. The harmonies always have been this band’s strength, but they too would be phased out on ensuing albums, making this one of the last places to hear them.

Thomas also contributes the strange New Age-ish “I Am” and the yearning, faux-majestic, Celtic-flute-infested “Sorry,” which is a bit all over the map sonically but still interesting. Of note is the line “I’m not willing to trade / My life to make the sale,” which fits the song’s context as a breakup piece but also could double as Thomas’ distaste at the way the band’s sound was heading. Perhaps he could read the writing on the wall, because he would be ignored up until 1991’s Keys Of The Kingdom.

The majority of the pieces on The Present are more soul-searching and introspective than most of the band’s work from the ‘80s. In this sense, it recalls the “Classic 7” albums from the previous decade. Granted, half the songs are underwritten and pedestrian, but the disc still shows a creative spark; since things would go downhill fast from here, this remains the last reasonably interesting disc the Moody Blues ever made.

Rating: C+

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