Graded on a Curve:
The Moody Blues:
Days of Future Passed

1967 was a year of grand experiments: from London to L.A. turned-on pop artists were holed up in their studios like Dr. Frankenstein in his castle top laboratory, waiting for lightening to strike in the hopes of creating… monsters. Lofty concepts were the order of the day, and everywhere you looked the lofty concepts worked.

Except!

In November of that halcyon year The Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed, that so-called masterpiece of symphonic glop that fused Pop to Mantovani and inspired numerous others to round up perfectly innocent classical orchestras for their own nefarious purposes.

The Moody Blues’ collaboration with the London Festival Orchestra set an evil precedent, but to me it stands guilty of a far more heinous crime. To wit, the orchestra’s contributions (most of which were written by the Moodies, with the occasional assist from conductor Peter Knight) are populist, easy-listening treacle, and the treacle literally swallows up the couple of very good songs on the LP.

The Moody Blues don’t help matters any–Mike Pinder’s portentous “recitation” at the end of “The Day Begins” is a regrettable pomposity, and remains one of the most inadvertently hilarious moments in rock history. I wish the Moodys had gone all out and corralled Vincent Price to recite the damned thing; what a joy it would be to hear him say, “Cold hearted orb that rules the night/Removes the colors from our sight/Red is gray and yellow white,” and then follow it with a diabolical cackle.

The hackneyed and saccharine orchestration of Days of Future Passed makes it a soundtrack to one very banal acid trip, and the most remarkable thing about it is how much decent music is on it, set like precious stones in Jello. Unfortunately I’m no fan of Jello, and there’s no way I can listen to the good ones by themselves, so hopelessly embedded as they are in the orchestral shlock.

Take “Lunch Break: Peak Hour” for instance. The second half of the song is great, an uptempo psychedelic classic that moves like nothing else on the album. Problem is it’s fused like a Siamese twin to its vapid orchestral prelude, which is meant to evoke images of a busy city center at mid-day. Such trite fare would sound right at home in a Rock Hudson/Doris Day flick, but it’s an affront to all my tender sensibilities here.

“Nights in White Satin” isn’t quite so problematic; yes, the boys subject us to yet another Pinder recitation (who does this guy think he is, Edgar Allen Poe?), but at least they have the common decency to put it after the song, making it possible to turn the damn thing off. But sometimes I listen to it anyway–it’s not every day you get to hear immortal poesy along the lines of “Breathe deep the gathering gloom/Watch lights fade from every room/Bedsitter people look back and lament/Another day’s useless energy is spent.” Look on, Charles Baudelaire, and despair!

Opener “The Day Begins” reminds me of how much I hate waking up; follow-up “Dawn: Dawn Is a Feeling” is pretty in lugubrious way, but doesn’t exactly make me want to get out of bed. It’s impossible actually; all those bathetic strings and woebegone woodwinds weigh me down like one very uncomfortable comforter. As for “The Morning: Another Morning,” it opens with some orchestral mulch that (if you want to look on the bright side) serves as fertilizer for a perky psychedelic pop tune that practically screams Summer of Love.

And so it goes, as orchestral day proceeds inexorably towards symphonic night. The London Festival Orchestra (through no fault of its own) makes a botch of things; the Moody Blues, out of sheer guilt perhaps, do their best to make things right. Symphonic rock is possible, but it requires a synthesis, and this is anything but–the orchestra goes its threadbare way, and the Moody Blues go theirs, and only rarely (see “The Afternoon” and the body of “Nights in White Satin”) do they meet and say hello.

Days of Future Passed is a perplex. The good songs (and we get some more good ones come afternoon and evening) are inextricably mired in the bathos, and there’s no way of listening to them without listening to it all. Millions of other people don’t have this problem; they sit in a dark room with their headphones on and take it all in, and it doesn’t seem to enrage them. It makes them happy. Is it possible they actually like Mantovani?

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night, please get this LP out of my sight. See? The Moody Blues aren’t the only ones who can write really shitty poetry.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C-

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