Moody Blues winning new listeners. Veteran band does more than ride nostalgia wave

THE Moody Blues are still ``In Search of the Lost Chord.'' Twenty years after the release of the album bearing that title, the British rock band is busy making music, performing its distinct, textured style of overlaid vocal arrangements and romantic melodies for a new generation of listeners. The Moody Blues have recently released their 16th album, ``Sur la Mer'' (On the Sea). The band - whose audiences range from the MTV (Music Television) crowd to those nearing the half-century mark - is currently on a North American concert tour that will be followed by tours in Europe and the Far East.

The quintet, all in their 40s, fondly refer to themselves as the ``veteran cosmic rockers.''

``We are still kind of changing - unfolding, as it were,'' said singer-songwriter-guitarist Justin Hayward in an interview here on the group's Boston concert stop. ``As long as it is fun and it is a pleasure, the Moodys will continue. And if there are people who want to listen, we will still be making music.''

The Moodys' music retains both the hard-edge sound and symphonic feel familiar to listeners of their earlier albums. Their ballads are frequently love songs interwoven with cosmic references to the meaning of truth, life, and the universe, themes that often preoccupy group members.

Revealing the inner self

``There is a spiritual side to the Moody Blues' writing, which is probably part of a search that all of us have,'' Mr. Hayward says. Hayward says he remains uncertain whether the Moodys should be baring their souls so openly.

``Songwriting is your inner self you are revealing,'' he explains, ``and perhaps a reflection of your life. I envy people who have found their own truth, but for better or for worse I am still searching.''

Some critics have complained their music is too pompous for rock and their arrangements too pretentious, but sales of 50 million records worldwide since the group was formed are testimony to an enduring popularity.

The Moodys' music spans three decades, going right back to the hippie heyday of the '60s. Their melodic musings were associated with the counter-culture movement of that era. It was 1967 when the Moodys made their biggest splash. The release of the epic album ``Days of Future Past'' featured their mammoth hit, the haunting ``Nights in White Satin.'' The platter launched the group to stardom.

This was followed by a string of successful albums, including ``A Question of Balance'' and ``Seventh Sojourn.'' In 1974 the group disbanded, but four years later the Moodys returned from their hiatus, celebrating their reunion with the release of ``Octave.'' In 1981, the Moodys surprised the music industry with ``Long Distance Voyager.'' The album vaulted to the top of the charts.

Hayward credits rock radio for much of the group's success. Many of their songs, such as ``Question,'' ``Tuesday Afternoon,'' and ``Nights in White Satin,'' remain fixtures, on the airwaves.

Audience grew in '80s

``Our audience up until the mid-'70s was confined to our own age group,'' Hayward says. ``In the '80s our audience has grown; the people who were with us are still with us. These last four or five years we probably have more general acceptance.''

To Moody fans, the band cannot be casually dismissed as another dinosaur rock group peddling its sound by trading on nostalgia and collections of greatest hits. The Moodys' music, to many, is a deeply personal affair.

``I know from the number of letters that the band receives, which is a phenomenal amount of mail, the Moody Blues is one of those bands where people seem to write down their innermost, private thoughts to the band,'' Hayward says. ``When people discover a band for themselves without having it thrust upon them, then it means more and stays longer, and it is a more personal feeling.''

Hints of the band's demise surfaced in 1983, following the release of ``Present.'' The album sold poorly.

Hayward says the album was too introspective and that the group should have been looking at the world outside instead.

A surprise Top-10 single

But in 1986, the Moodys recorded ``The Other Side of Life,'' featuring the single and video ``Wildest Dreams.'' That single reached the Top 10 on the rock charts.

The Moodys' latest release, ``Sur la Mer'' (Polygram) is another collection of love songs - a solid and fresh performance - with fewer cosmic inquiries. The sound is cleaner and tighter, a departure from the group's more grandiose arrangements on albums past.

Long gone is the Mellotron, a strings substitute, popularized by the band in their early days. Synthesizers now provide much of the sound.

But for all their achievements on vinyl, Hayward is wary of the lure of commercial success. ``If we started to be ruled by commercialism, then I wouldn't want to be part of that,'' he says. ``You only get satisfaction by trusting your own judgment and doing what you really think is right, for no other reason than for your own integrity.

``The nightmare for a musician is to have a big No. 1 record with a song or a recording that he really doesn't like, and he knows is blatantly commercial. That is a rotten feeling.''

The Moodys apparently haven't taken a cue from their album of two decades ago, ``Days of Future Passed,'' but instead from another album ``To Our Children's Children's Children,'' as they venture further into their third decade.

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