Sunday 20 February 2011
To Our Childrens’ Childrens’ Children
Pop history is a fickle creature in whom she chooses to remember and not to remember, but there can be few bands considered so mighty in their time and who evade contemporary consciousness so thoroughly than The Moody Blues. I can only think of one reasonably recent band that might conceivably have approved of them, and that would be the equally reviled Cast. Even the synthesised kitsch-hounds who resurrected the likes of ELO and Supertramp have given them a wide berth.
The Moody Blues were huge in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, and a genuinely fascinating phenomenon. Looking like time-travelling Edwardian TV detectives, in many ways they are the closest any rock group has come to approximating a real religion - they were more of a gestalt therapy cult than a band. They’re also difficult to "get" nowadays - their vision was as cosmic and grandiose as that of their fellow Brummies Black Sabbath, and yet it was as different as it was possible to be. If the Sabs imagined a universe of pain and suffering ruled by a morose, indifferent God, the Moodies evoked a cosmos saturated with meaning and love.
This is where the difficulty with The Moody Blues begins. There’s no "attitude" about them at all. Their fundamental aesthetic was one of healing, and their music quickly brings to mind the pastel-coloured walls and crayoned pictures of rainbows that one associates with Evangelical churches and centres for recovering alcoholics. What they make you realise is how much, since the ‘60’s, and especially since punk, listening to music, whether Metal, Hardcore, Hip-Hop or Grime, has become a punishing experience. Listen to "Tuesday Afternoon" below (their fan videos invariably consist of fractals or etherial pictures of nature). You’ll hate it. It’ll feel like being drowned in saccharine. You’ll curl your lip and understand just what inspired Johnny Rotten. And then, within a couple of days, just when you least expect it, the melody will sneak back into your memory and you’ll realise how magnificent it is.
In many ways The Moody Blues’ aesthetic was based around a simple refusal to acknowledge the end of the Age of Aquarius and the birth of the squalid Seventies. The band had bought into flower power more heavily than any other British band, recording tributes to Timothy Leary ("Legend Of A Mind"), Yogic meditation ("OM") and telepathy ("The Best Way To Travel"), and perhaps because they hadn’t actually involved themselves with the accompanying drug culture, thought it a great and worthy cause to live their lives by.
It’s easy to see how the damaged burn-outs and drops-outs that spilled into the desolation of the ‘70’s could find sanctuary in their music, but the literal worship that they received from their fans was disturbing to the band themselves. People attended their concerts to heal physical ailments and witness miracles. A core of their most ardent fans firmly believed that the band were benevolent aliens from a faraway planet. Certainly they possessed an almost inhuman capability to avert their gaze from the filth of human existence, and conjure up a lovely melody. 1970’s "Question", inspired by the Vietnam War, was perhaps the nearest they got to acknowledging the confusion that surrounded them, and the nearest they got to expressing anger. Other than that though, their music was pure balm.
You should start off by just dipping the occasional toe in it, though……