Review Summary: Perhaps they're still searching for the chord they lost.
The Moody Blues had created quite a stir with their second album Days of Future Passed
(1967): its innovative cocktail of pop/rock and classical orchestra music was something people weren't exactly used to in 1967. The full orchestral backing gave the album a lush, warm feel, but also made it more challenging for the group to follow up such a project, now having to rely solely on their own abilities. It is safe to say however, that they managed to overcome that challenge quite well.
In Search of the Lost Chord
(1968) is more representative of the sound the Moodies created during the remainder of their golden years than their previous LP. The orchestra may be gone, but Michael Pinder's effective use of the mellotron makes up for it nicely, shaping the definitive sound of the band. Though the musicianship is great, this is not music made to show off, not in the way some progressive acts were known to do. Don't expect long, complex instrumental sections (there are a few longer sections, but nothing overtly 'progressive'). Rather, the songs are generally vocal-oriented. The vocals are pleasant and include smooth harmonies, one of The Moody Blues' strongest trademarks.
This album is arguably their most psychedelic-sounding, a perfect example of late 60's music. It has all the elements typically associated with the era; a drug enhanced utopia, trippy with its spacey, hippie themes and psychedelic illusions. The record may come across as cheesy and dated to some for this, but the quality of the material speaks for itself. Like The Beatles, The Moody Blues took the traditional idea of a pop song into uncharted territory. They generally did these kinds of 'simpler' tunes well, but their real power lies in their more experimental tracks. The Lost Chord
was not yet what can be called a progressive rock album (only marginally), but is a classic of 60's psychedelic pop, comparable to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
. As such, it has acted as more of a predecessor to and an influence on the progressive movement, which was soon to emerge.
The Moodies were noted as one of the most important bands to explore new, artful elements within rock music at the time. Their third album fused different genres and incorporated classical, Eastern and folk influences. The lush soundscapes included a wealth of instruments still considered exotic, and made groundbreaking use of flute, mellotron and vocal harmonies. The Lost Chord
is filled with moments of beauty, containing a euphoric sort of music to which there is a remarkable, youthful enthusiasm. Mimicking Days of Future Passed
, the album introduces itself with Departure
, another piece of spoken word. Though rather than moving through 'a day in the life', this time around The Moody Blues created a loose concept about the search for the sacred syllable 'Om', as evidenced by the very beginning and end of the album.
Ride My See-Saw
is a typical 60's psychedelic single, comparable to early Pink Floyd, and one of the band's freshest-sounding songs even over 40 years later; the mellotron and lead guitars embellish what is already a melodic rocker of the highest quality. Dr. Livingstone, I Presume
is another Sgt. Pepper's
-oriented piece of psychedelia, whereas House of Four Doors
is a lovely semi-ballad with expansions that include snippets of medieval folk, baroque chamber music, and a Tchaikovsky-like symphony. It is divided in two parts, the latter more or less a coda. In between lies flautist Ray Thomas' most epic composition, Legend of a Mind
: a musical tribute to LSD guru Timothy Leary, it combines melodic Beatle-esque pop with exotic nuances under a solid psychedelic guise, and also includes a beautiful extended flute solo. This particular track is an absolute early prog classic.
The album’s second half starts with two compositions from guitarist Justin Hayward, Voices in the Sky
and Visions of Paradise
, which are plethoric examples of his skill for delivering pastoral-oriented folk rock, both providing subtle Asian moods as an extra touch. His third contribution, The Actor
, has a more bombastic orientation while keeping itself in a semi-slow ballad framework. Pinder's The Best Way to Travel
is an acoustic, guitar-centered pop song with spacey mellotron adornments. The Word
is a mystic poem by drummer Graeme Edge that resolves the mystery of the lost chord, and is followed by closer Om
, a lovely track with heavy Indian influences, among which prominent sitar work. Here, the band is shown as its most 'hippie'.
One last thing about this record that should not go unmentioned is the fascinating cover art. The front is colourful and mythological, containing both the divine and pagan thoughts. The Moody Blues were up there with the most innovative acts of their day when it came to exploring mysticism in a variety of forms, and this quality, along with their uncanny sense of melody and arrangement, struck a chord with many listeners on this release. All of these songs have something compelling about them, making this a solid starting point for anyone who wishes to discover these artsy, proto-progsters in fine form (or alternatively, the obvious place to look into them further after Days of Future Passed
). Overall, this is a lovely art rock album, but its appeal to purist progressive fans may be limited. For those with an appreciation for the 60's psychedelic scene however, it comes very highly recommended.