The Moody Blues: The Late ’80s

We resume our assessment of the Moody Blues’ catalog today by looking at the two studio albums released in the last half of the 1980s: The Other Side Of Life from 1986 and Sur La Mer from 1988.

It’s probably not over-stating things to say that the first of those two albums made the band relevant again, following the failure of 1983’s The Present to gain very much attention. Key to the success of the album was the single (and accompanying video) “Your Wildest Dreams” with the young British psychedelic band the Mood Six portraying the young Moody Blues:

Boosted by the video – and the quality of the song, an exercise in nostalgic romance from the pen of Justin Hayward – the album went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the magazine’s Hot 100 and was No. 1 for two weeks on what was then called the Hot Adult Contemporary chart.

The album and single were in the charts from spring through the summer, and I imagine I heard the single, but I didn’t buy the album for a couple of years. When I did, it was kind of a let-down. Beyond “Your Wildest Dreams” and the title track (which went to No. 58 on the Hot 100 and No. 18 on the HAC chart), the album was pretty blah. The closer, “It May Be A Fire” was a collaboration between John Lodge and Hayward, and was all right, as was the duo’s “Talkin’ Talkin’,” but otherwise, the band sounded as tired as it had in 1993 on The Present.

But even a halfway good Moody Blues album from 1986 was a good deal when I got it in 1988. The band sounded like the band had always sounded, with the mysticism pretty much left behind. Back then, I’d have been tempted to give it a B+ just for the high points. But listening more than thirty years later, the dross pulls the album down some. Call it a C+.

I brought home the next Moody Blues album, Sur la mer, just more than a week after it was released in June 1988. I was hooked, no doubt, by hearing the album’s title track, a yearning exercise in romanticism with hints of the idea of soulmates. The track was so closely a follow-up to “Your Wildest Dreams” that the video used the same actress – Janet Spencer-Turner – to play the romantic interest.

With only a couple of exceptions, though, the rest of the album again sounded tired. The sound was there, but the spirit was, for the most part, not. “No More Lies” is a decent love song from Hayward, and his “Vintage Wine,” an elegy for the 1960s, is earnest but simplistic. One review I read recently called “Deep” as “overtly sexual as any piece” in the group’s catalog. Maybe. The same review said “Breaking Point” is much darker than anything else the group has done, and that’s likely true.

But those last two notes are about tone, not quality, and the record, once the listener gets beyond “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” is the sad sound of a band running out of ideas. The charts reflect that: The album went to No. 38, and the title track went to No. 30 on the Hot 100 and to No. 9 on the HAC chart. It’s a C- effort at best.

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