|The Moody Blues with the London Festival - Days of Future Passed|
|Music Disc Reviews DTS 5.1 CD|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 25 November 1997|
HDS release by arrangement with Polygram
| Performance 8 | Sound 8 |
This classic album was a turning point for the Moody Blues, with the addition of John Lodge and Justin Hayward on bass, guitar and vocals, and a move to progressive rock psychedelia from the pop material that had given them a respectable hit with Go Now in 1964 but rather little thereafter. It was also a significant recording achievement, employing many of the same techniques that made its contemporary, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a landmark in recording technology and its implementation. Released in 1967, Days of Future Passed was an international hit at the time, although today it is primarily remembered for Hayward’s classic “Nights in White Satin” and, for some, “Tuesday Afternoon,” also by Hayward.
After this point, the Moodies went on to make a good many concept albums, memorable or otherwise, of which the best-remembered are probably On the Threshold of a Dream and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Days of Future Passed is, additionally, one of the earliest rock/orchestral fusion attempts, and one of the rare albums made in the last few decades that actually seems to work, thanks largely to the late Peter Knight. Knight, one of the most influential arrangers and musical directors in British TV and theater, conducted the London Festival Orchestra on this album, and was also responsible for its orchestral arrangements and the interludes between the songs.
Looking at this album from a vantage point over 30 years after the event, it’s easy to regard Days of Future Passed as pretentious, with its spoken rhyming intro and outro (which are possibly rather less pretentious than those on Threshold) and its attempt to depict the passing of a day from dawn to night. However, after the Summer of Love, this early concept album went down extremely well. Surprisingly, perhaps, the material still holds up today, even if only because it’s something some of us remember fondly from the fairly distant past.
This album was recorded on multiple four-track machines, with, I believe, the final submixes being assembled into a single four-track master prior to performing original mixes in mono and stereo. This HDS release is, as usual, completely unadorned with anything useful in the way of production information beyond the standard spiel, “An Introduction to High Definition Surround,” that appears on all of their discs. As a result, it is impossible to know what remastering processes were performed by the team of Adrian Van Velsen, Robert Margouleff and Brad Miller in realizing this extremely impressive surround rendering. For example, did they rely solely on the four-track master, or were they able to locate the original multi-track reels that would have contained the orchestra on one tape and the band on another? It is tempting to think so. A problem which came to light when this album was originally released on CD was that on at least one track (“Nights in White Satin”), the replay machine was slightly off-azimuth when some elements were transferred to the final four-track master. This led to some loss of top-end that had not been evident on the vinyl, due to its limited frequency response. These problems were fixed when this album (along with half a dozen other Moodies albums) was remastered in 1997, and they are also not noticeable here – the surround mix also dates from the same year.
That being said, although this album was essentially commissioned by Decca Records’ Deram label to show off its new “Deramic Stereo” (it was originally supposed to be a rock version of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony!), there are not very many channels available when it comes to spreading them around the room in surround. As a result, there are some flaws in the original recording that show up particularly clearly in this mix. Along with the orchestra, the song arrangements rely on an early Mellotron for much of their fullness, and although the Mark II was rather more reliable than the smaller and later Mark III, it was still prone to annoying behavior. One such example appears about three-and-a-half minutes into the first half of the fifth track (“Forever Afternoon”), where some awkward, brief chords are heard in the rear channels. You can also hear a tape spin up at the point in which this number gives way to “Time To Get Away,” and there is a suspect edit at the end of the orchestral interlude in the second track.
Apart from oddities like this, the result of having too little material to spread rather a long way, the remastering team has done a very good job with the small number of source channels available. Almost every number has a different, interesting and appropriate surround layout, and the team is to be commended for being appealingly liberal in the placement of the sound sources. The spoken prologue and epilogue are placed center rear, with the orchestra across the front, for example, and sometimes we find the band across the front and orchestra at the rear, while at other times it’s the other way around. The unusual drum-based and Eastern-influenced “The Sun Set” places the drums at the rear while we are surrounded by multiple multi-tracked vocals. There is rather too much additional reverb for me on several of the orchestral interludes, but apart from that there is little to fault.
I enjoyed this album a great deal in surround. Although it was originally produced a few years before we first began to experiment with surround mixing, I am sure that had such possibilities been available to the band in 1967, they would have availed themselves of the technology. As a result of excellent work by the remastering team, we can now experience an additional dimension to this classic album.