By 1970, the Moody Blues were an established name in the British canon of progressive rock, and well on their way to crossing the Atlantic, too. Their sophomore release, 1967’s Days of Future Passed, helped put prog into the mainstream, and has been lauded as one of the first successful concept albums. On the Threshold of a Dream, released two years later, was a UK number one, and broke the Top 20 in the States.
Fast forward to the start of the 1970s, and the Moodies – as they’re often known, led by guitarist and songwriter, Justin Hayward – put out A Question of Balance, one of their most popular to this day. Featuring a more stripped-back approach to the lavish experimentalism of the group’s first five albums, it still sees the progressive flame burning, with delicious fusions of Beatles-esque pop and latter-day psychedelia.
The prominent single of the album – it’s opener – is ‘Question’, one of the Blues’ most well-known works. It provides a galloping backbeat set to deliciously 50s’ guitar. It’s a more-than-punchy introduction to one of prog rock’s masterpieces and sets the scene for the rest of the album, one that deals with the human dichotomy of love and hate.
It’s important to note that the album plays out like a full story, albeit one masked in a fever dream. Not only do the tracks bleed into one another, but they each share those classic elements that make up the Moodies’ defining sound. In ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, hushed backing vocals (from songwriter/drummer Graeme Edge) and images of cosmic insignificance bubble up from the ether. It’s one of the more experimental tunes on the record, bursting into a mighty chorus with shades of Phil Spector.
A Question of Balance has its fair share of staple rock, though, for instance in the opener to side two, ‘It’s Up to You’ – sporting a crunchy riff and remaining one of the strongest tracks on here. It’s an old-fashioned rocker, with the mystique of ‘The Minstrel’s Song’ proving a more complex tonic. This one’s full of Beastles-y jaunt, bards and springtime plains.
It’s not an album without imperfection, however. ‘Dawning is the Day’ is one of A Question…’s more forgettable numbers, never really getting past that tired-out message of lovable hippies. But what comes next is one of the Moody Blues’ best and without a doubt, the centrepiece of the album. ‘Melancholy Man’ brings us down from the joyous dawn, plunging into this haunting ballad of a depressed, despair-consumed individual. For five minutes, we descend deeper into a veritable hellscape full of ‘angry voices on the wind’. It’s pure prog paradise.
‘The Balance’, the album’s finale, closes the circuit in true, progressive rock fashion. The story comes to an end, returning to the issue of opening your mind and seeing what a better outlook can bring. Beauteous harmonies and string arrangements take us out with one final, delicate bow.
A Question of Balance, like many albums of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, is somewhat of a pessimistic one. It opens and closes with this idea of questioning why humanity always seeks to destroy eachother. In a society increasingly ruled by political division – still living in the shadow of war – it’s not hard to see why. The Moody Blues’ enchanting, yet world-weary verses, are effortlessly resonant.
And yet, as the title implies, it really is a matter of bringing dark to the light. Of reminding people to treat eachother kindly, and to keep in mind that evil does not always prevail. Wrapped up in fierce, acoustic licks and wonderfully over-the-top production, it’s a cryptic record at times. And yet, absolutely, a classic, half a century on.