|1. Your Wildest Dreams|
|2. Talkin' Talkin'|
|3. Rock'n'Roll Over You|
|4. I Just Don't Care|
|5. Running Out Of Love|
|6. The Other Side Of Life|
|7. The Spirit|
|8. Slings And Arrows|
|9. It May Be A Fire|
The Moody Blues were in a rather awkward position by 1986, in terms of both artistic and commercial credibility. The band's 1981 album, Long Distance Voyager, had made some inroads towards restoring their reputation as talented art-popsters, after a period of rather embarrassing decline in the late 1970s (as manifested in a variety of failed solo projects, and the abysmal Octave (1978)). But their 1983 follow-up, The Present, wasn't quite as good, and yielded only one minor Top 40 hit. For a mature band still trying to compete in the '80s pop market, another misstep could have had rather serious consequences -- a consideration which must have weighed heavily on the group's mindset during the making of their next album.
Faced with this situation, Justin Hayward somehow managed to come up with two genuinely good '80s pop songs -- one an incredibly breezy piece of romantic nostalgia, the other a more elaborate jaunt into unexplored realms of nightlife. This was enough to prolong the band's viability for a few more years -- and although they became an embarrassing quasi-lounge act in the 1990s anyway, it at least suggests that there was still some hope, even at this late stage.
As against which, the remainder of the album suggests that "Your Wildest Dreams" and "The Other Side Of Life" were stretching Hayward's talents pretty thin. Aside from a fairly atypical number by Moraz & Edge, the rest of the album is utter filler, barely worth the acetate that it was recorded on. As a whole, The Other Side Of Life is a clear continuation of the band's renewed decline, coming off as worse than The Present in the final balance.
Not that the band was working well as a cohesive unit by this point, in any event. The final results for The Other Side Of Life seem to suggest rather diverse levels of involvement for the various members involved, to put it mildly. Hayward is the dominant figure on the album, of course, and Patrick Moraz's keyboard settings are discernible for most of the release. John Lodge, on the other hand, seems to have been somewhat detached from the album's creation -- like The Present, much of the bass work here sounds keyboard-generated. Graeme Edge's involvement isn't particularly notable, save perhaps on the title track. And Ray Thomas ... well, poor Ray Thomas seems to have been barely consulted during the recording sessions. Whether this was due to personal apathy or an ongoing estrangement from the other members isn't entirely clear, but it's fairly obvious that Thomas was a only a group member in the most formal sense of the term, by this stage. (Considering that The Other Side Of Life was a synth-based recording from the mid-'80s, moreover, there's every reason to suspect that Barry Radman's involvement might have been more than just "additional programming and sampling".) There's was not the very image of healthy group dynamic, in other words -- a fact which makes their overall decline a bit less surprising in context.
So ... what specifically can be said about the material?
As alluded to above, "Your Wildest Dreams" went some distance towards reviving the band's credibility in the summer of 1986. Smoothly crafted, and featuring gorgeous high-range vocal work from Hayward, the track made it to No. 9 on the American pop charts -- their first top-ten hit since "Nights In White Satin". It's a fairly light number, of course, but not wretchedly so; the use of a mellotron is a nice touch. Moraz gets in a decent solo towards the end, as well as taking an ambient intro for the first 45 seconds of the track.
"The Other Side Of Life" is a surprisingly elaborate pop number, featuring good atmospheric production, decent lyrics, and good soloing on the guitar and keyboards (Moraz's quasi-Brazilian effects can also be heard in the background, at times; fans of Patrick Moraz might experience deja vu). Hayward's voice shows some of its early charm here, and the stark drum line is a plus. This was only a minor hit (not quite making the Top 40), but was clearly an album highlight.
The only other track worth hearing is "The Spirit". Years later, Patrick Moraz would complain that he was treated poorly during his time with the MBs -- he specifically complained that he was only permitted one songwriting credit in his entire time with the group. Listening to this track, though, one can understand why the band would probably have been reluctant -- his skills at pop-song construction are questionable at best (a fact which had already been borne out by 1983's Timecode, of course). "The Spirit" features a decent chorus, and some good soloing in the instrumental parts, but the verses aren't quite as good. It balances out as a half-decent number, but also comes off as the product of a mind not totally skilled in the medium. The harder-rock elements of the song are probably Graeme Edge's work. Amusingly, Ray Thomas's voice is more discernable here than anywhere else on the album.
As for the rest ...
"Talkin' Talkin'" and "Rock'n'Roll Over You" are a bit surprising, in that such horribly-titled numbers are only mediocre, as opposed to utterly repugnant. The first is a rewrite of "Gemini Dream", featuring half-decent vocal harmonies and not much else. The latter has a certain humour value, especially as regards the elaborate vocal harmonies put into a line as meaningless as, "Like a rock, I'm gonna roll over you". Moraz takes a decent solo in a losing effort.
"I Just Don't Care" is the token sap-infected Justin Hayward ballad of the album; it's coherently constructed, but has no other redeeming qualities that I can see. "Running Out Of Love" is a sad-sack, mid-tempo rock number. "Slings And Arrows" merges the Moodies' normal craft with the ethos of a sub-par honky-tonk bar band, with predictably frightening results. "It May Be A Fire" seems to have been written as an excuse for Hayward to provide an arena-rock guitar solo; the song itself is nothing, and drags on too long.
For those who already have "Your Wildest Dreams" and "The Other Side Of Life" on a Greatest Hits release, there's no compelling reason -- other than being a hardcore Moraz devotee -- to seek out this album.
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 9 Jun 2001)