The Moody Blues’ ‘The Present’

A couple of months ago, I wrote here:

One of the more confounding moments of my musical life took place in a used record shop in Columbia, Missouri, during the late winter of 1989.

It was the last day of a brief visit with some friends there, and I was doing some record digging while I waited to meet one of those friends for lunch. And as I dug through the shop’s recent arrivals, I came across an album I’d neither seen nor heard about before:

The Present? By the Moody Blues? When did that come out? In 1983, the jacket told me. But why didn’t I know about it? I didn’t have the answer to that question, but I tucked the record under my arm with a few others I’d found and headed to the counter.

About a week later, I got home to Minot, and sometime during the next week, I dropped the album on the turntable, still wondering how it had escaped my attention when it was released six years earlier. Now, a little more than three decades later, I can dig into my reference books and conclude that The Present escaped most people’s attention when it came out in early September 1983.

The album hit the Billboard 200 the week it came out and hung around for twenty-two weeks, peaking at No. 26. At the time, that was the lowest peak ever for a Moody Blues album. Two years earlier, Los Distance Voyager had spent three weeks at No. 1; two-and-a-half years later, The Other Side Of Life would reach No. 9. So, the Moodys weren’t spent as a cultural force. The album just didn’t sell.

Nor did singles from the album do well. “Sitting At The Wheel” was released in September 1983 and got to No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100; the second, “Blue World,” came out about two months later and peaked at No. 62. A third single, “Running Water,” failed to reach the charts.

The first two singles did better on the mainstream rock chart compiled by Billboard, with “Sitting At The Wheel: reaching No. 3 and “Blue World” getting to No. 32, and I suppose I might have heard one or both of them that autumn, as I looked for a radio station in Columbia; my tastes had evolved in the past few years to the adult contemporary format, though, and none of the singles from The Present made that format’s top forty.

So, the album was a flop, sandwiched between two pretty good and successful albums, Long Distance Voyager from 1981 and The Other Side Of Life, which came out in 1986 (and which we’ll consider in a week or two). Is it very good? Well, no. Is it awful? No, again.

It sounds like the Moody Blues, and some of the songs are pretty good, perhaps not as memorable or as focused as the work of previous years.

In talking about previous years, we run into one of the problems with assessing the Moody Blues. As I compare The Present to previous work, do I limit my comparisons with just the two previous albums – 1978’s Octave and Long Distance Voyager from 1981 – or do I dig deeper into the storied psychedelic past, before the band took a six-year hiatus? After pondering that question for a while, I decided it didn’t matter, as The Present, despite a couple of good tracks, was inferior to both Octave (to which I gave an Incomplete) and Long Distance Voyager (which earned a B-).

The singles that got airplay – the mid-tempo “Blue World” and the harder-rocking “Sitting At The Wheel” – are actually decent, though the lyrics are a bit pedestrian (a flaw that seems to have showed up in the Moody’s stuff when they left behind cosmic concerns for those more day-to-day). I prefer “Blue World,” as the music lends it a shade of mystery.

And I think that the best track on the album was ignored. “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” should have been at least the third single from The Present, if not the first. (And I wonder why – as far as I can tell – no country artist has pulled “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” away from pop.)

Beyond that, the album tracks are mediocre at best. Ultimately, it’s a pretty poor album, with nothing like “The Voice” from the preceding Long Distance Voyager or “Your Wildest Dreams” from the following The Other Side Of Life to lift it to any heights. The completist in me is glad to have it in the stacks; the critical listener in me shrugs. Give it a grade of D+.

Here – to my ears – is the best track on the album, “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart.”

One Response to “The Moody Blues’ ‘The Present’”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    “And I wonder why – as far as I can tell – no country artist has pulled “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” away from pop.”

    Thanks for posting this one, whiteray. I was doing country radio at the time this album was released and missed out on it completely. Agree 100% that this song was and is unsold prime country acreage, and although not entirely in his style, I could nevertheless picture Conway Twitty as having had a hit with it.

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