Threshold 1976 & One Step 1994 / Esoteric 2013
Solo output of former Moody Blue gets beautifully boxed to open up more facets of the Mellotron master.
In their halcyon days, THE MOODY BLUES were more than sum of the band’s parts, yet one of those parts stood out: Mike Pinder’s Mellotron, a major element of their sound. It’s hard to underestimate his contribution to popular music overall, as it was Pinder who introduced his beloved kind of keyboards to THE BEATLES who spread his gospel further on. The details on his friendship with the Fabs are recounted, among other tales, on a DVD that goes with this package comprising both of Mike’s solo albums which, save for a fans-only single, almost make up the whole of the veteran’s musical (there were also two children’s record with him as a narrator) output under his own name and beyond the collective framework. And the albums present the maestro in a different role to that of an innovator.
It was on 1976’s “The Promise” that Pinder decided he wanted to opt out of the group and their big concepts to concentrate on family life and simpler pleasures, although the LP’s penultimate piece “The Seed” sees him recite lines in the vein of the MOODY classics. Recorded while the band were on hiatus – albeit Mike would return for some of the “Octave” sessions a year later – the album reflects its author’s mindset, the infectious confection of “Free As A Dove” putting his message straight from the off and outlining the sonic picture where Mike’s acoustic guitars often dominate over his ivories. As elegantly, this gently rocking cut marries personal affairs with the worries about the ways of the world and takes such a dramatic turn in a flamenco-like middle eight only to resolve in a gospel-infused fervent climax which gives a slightly humorous slant to it all.
It’s picked up by the flute-oiled old-timey pastiche of “Someone To Believe In” as well as instrumental “Air” that features Bobby Keys’ sax in the faux mariachi environment, and once when the funk of “Carry On” pokes at religion again the mood become even more lighthearted, if level-headed. To contrast such a drift, Pinder’s high-spirited piano, spiked with female vocal trio and Jim Dillon’s slide, carries the life-affirming charge of “You’ll Make It Through” and the tremulous “Message” with its electric sitar and cosmic synthesizers, while the famous Mellotron colors only two songs, the neatly orchestrated on ARP strings, and quite heavy, title track and “I Only Want To Love You” which lays out string arrangement under the croon. A pity, “One Step Into The Light,”, later reworked for “Octave,” and one more song from the same sessions didn’t make it here, but there are bonuses on the second CD, new ones, two of them by THE PINDER BROTHERS, Mike’s sons who also play on 1994’s “Among The Stars” – originally a private mail-order release and now a part of the veteran’s canon.
It’s a soundtrack to a comfy evening a home rather than a titular journey, and not for nothing a child’s voice opens the patinated lullaby of “When You’re Sleeping” which marries celestial organ to an earthly steel guitar but, elevated by Chester Thompson’s drums, “Fantasy Flight” takes one right up there, while Alphonso Johnson’s bass anchors the infectiously bubbling “Upside Down” and “The World Today” that ends the record on an optimistic, acoustically-laced note. The involvement of such jazz luminaries underscores the album’s textural depth, so it’s only deceptively simpler in approach than its predecessor, the light funky fusion setting things in motion from the beginning, once the sax-soiled “The Power Of Love (Can Survive)” taps into high-flying pop nerve, before the balladry of “Hurry On Home” and “You Can’t Take Love Away” massages sweetness into one’s soul and turn it into a background music. Even so, the elegant piano-led instrumental “Waters Beneath The Bridge” falls close to its author’s classics of the ’70s as does his kids’ “Waves Crash” and the soulful “Empty Street” with Pinder’s old colleague, Ray Thomas, on flute and Mike on Mellotron. He’s still active, then, yet, having anthologized the past, it’s time the veteran bring on a new album.