Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Albums of 1970: The Moody Blues: A Question of Balance

Release Date: August 7, 1970

Personnel: Justin Hayward (vocals, guitar, mandolin), John Lodge (vocals, bass), Ray Thomas (vocals, flute, tambourine), Graeme Edge (percussion), Mike Pinder (vocals, keyboards)

Produced by Tony Clarke

Side 1: Question; How is it (we are here); And the Tide Rushes Down; Do you feel Small; Tortoise and the Hare.

Side 2: It's Up to You; Minstrel's Song; Dawning is the Day; Melancholy Man; The Balance

Known for pioneering the concept album with their 1967 LP Days of Future Past, The Moody Blues began the 1970s with a more stripped down record which included a killer single with "Question." A Question of Balance would reveal a folk influence fused with the cosmic awareness with which the band had become known for. The album would reach #1 in the United Kingdom and peak at #3 in America. 

As evident in the collage of the album cover, The Moody Blues were apprehensive at the state of the world. Justin Hayward mentioned how the song "Question" spoke to this in an interview, "After a decade of peace and love, it still seemed we hadn't made a difference in 1970." The song asks the same questions we're asking ourselves in 2020:

Why do we never get an answer
When we're knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?

The acoustic driven rock of the first section gives way to a more introspective balladry and then picks up for a reprise of the first section for a blistering finish. 

"How is it (we are here)" continues along a similar theme with a more psychedelic edge. The song asks how can we keep taking from the earth and giving nothing back. "And the Tide Rushes In" reflects on how everything disappears with time, all of our worries, ambitions, and triumphs will all vanish as nature looks on with indifference. 

"Don't You Feel Small" moves into a folk rock direction with a prominent flute. It's also about nature, which makes a mockery of the human ego. One look no further than a mirror."The Tortoise and the Hare" uses the famous fable as a metaphor of doing things at your own pace and not worrying about how fast others are moving. 

Side two opens "It's Up To You" a love song about finding peace through love and everyone has the choice to either turn away or embrace the world. "Minstrel's Song" is a catchy tune, defiant against the tides of the time. Love is everywhere if you look, it can come from anywhere. The Minstrel could be anybody, any holy figure with the knowledge. "Dawning of the Day" is even more spiritual, a lovely acoustic number, the simplicity that comes from the sounds of the morning. 

"Melancholy Man" is haunting, filled with monk like chanting, but it's really about redemption, out of a despair will come a cyclical understanding:

A beam of light will fill your head
And you'll remember what's been said
By all the good men this world's ever known

A Question of Balance ends on a hopeful note of compassion with "The Balance." Rock critics tend to turn their nose up to spoken word poetry, but I never minded it, it brings the record to a suitable ending, followed by some wonderful harmonies.

Musically, A Question of Balance improves with multiple listens. It opens on a note of frustration and anxiety and ends with a sense of peace - a spiritual journey with an ecological focus.

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