Long Distance Voyager
The Moody Blues
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Dave Connolly [allmusic.com]
Progressive rock bands stumbled into the '80s, some with the crutch of commercial concessions under one arm, which makes the Moody Blues' elegant entrance via Long Distance Voyager all the more impressive. Ironically enough, this was also the only album that the group ever got to record at their custom-designed Threshold Studio, given to them by Decca Records head Sir Edward Lewis in the early '70s and built to their specifications, but completed while they were on hiatus and never used by the band until Long Distance Voyager (the preceding album, Octave, having been recorded in California to accommodate Mike Pinder), before it was destroyed in the wake of Decca's sale to Polygram. In that connection, it was their best sounding album to date, and in just about every way is a happier listening experience than Octave was, much as it appears to have been a happier recording experience. While they may steal a page or two from the Electric Light Orchestra's recent playbook, the Moodies are careful to play their game: dreamy, intelligent songs at once sophisticated and simple. Many of these songs rank with the band's best: ''The Voice'' is a sweeping and majestic call to adventure, while the closing trio from Ray Thomas (''Painted Smile,'' ''Reflective Smile,'' and ''Veteran Cosmic Rocker'') forms a skillfully wrought, if sometimes scathing, self-portrait. In between are winning numbers from John Lodge (''Talking Out of Turn,'' the pink-hued ''Nervous'') and Graeme Edge (''22,000 Days''), who tries his hand successfully in some philosophizing worthy of ex-member Mike Pinder. Apart from the opening track, Justin Hayward furnishes a pair of romantic ballads, the languid ''In My World'' (which benefits greatly from a beautiful chorus heavily featuring Ray Thomas' voice), which distantly recalls his Seventh Sojourn classic ''New Horizons,'' and the more pop-oriented, beat-driven romantic ballad ''Meanwhile.'' In typical Moodies fashion, these songs provide different perspectives of the same shared lives and observations. ''Gemini Dream,'' which was a big hit in the U.S., does sound dated in today's post-Xanadu landscape, but never does the band lose the courage of their convictions. Although the title and the cover art reference the then-recent Voyager space probe, only half of the songs have a ''voyager'' connection if you apply it to touring on the road; apologetic love songs consume the other half. Still, not everything has to be a concept album, especially when the songs go down this smooth. This album should make anybody's short list of Moodies goodies. And, yes, that's Patrick Moraz who makes his debut here in place of original member Mike Pinder.