On the Threshold of a Dream [Bonus Tracks]

by: The Moody Blues

Upon its release in 1969, On the Threshold of a Dream was the Moody Blues' most advanced album to date, and the first record that the band had a chance to record and prepare in a situation of relative calm, without juggling tour schedules and stealing time in the studio between gigs. However, it was also the first long-player on which they'd had to deliver a large body of new material, the song bag from which they'd drawn their two previous albums, Days of Future Passed and In Search of the Lost Chord, having been depleted significantly. But with all five members writing, it all worked out for the best -- their success over the previous 18 months had earned them enough consideration from Decca Records that they could work at their leisure in the studio through all of January and most of February of 1969, and carry the experimentation that they'd begun in the studio with In Search of the Lost Chord even further. The Moodies could now elaborate on a sound that had been honed and toughened by a string of international tours (including one with Cream in the U.S.) that had been among the most bold and ambitious in rock, transforming them into "the world's smallest symphony orchestra," as it was put at the time. So this album is oozing with bright, splashy creative flourishes in two seemingly contradictory directions that somehow come together as a valid whole. On the original LP's first side (which was the more rock-oriented side), the songs "Lovely to See You," "Send Me No Wine," "To Share Our Love," and "So Deep Within You" all featured killer guitar hooks (electric and acoustic) and fills by Justin Hayward; beautiful, muscular bass from John Lodge; and vocal hooks everywhere. But around all of that were cellos, wind and reed instruments, and lots of vocal layers -- yet the band even found room to display a pop-soul edge on "So Deep Within You" (a number that the Four Tops later recorded). Side two was the more overtly ambitious of the two halves -- after a pair of songs dominated by acoustic guitar and heavy Mellotron, the remainder of the record was devoted to the most challenging body of music in the group's history, mixing romanticism and mysticism, and bringing Michael Pinder's Mellotrons to their most exposed appearance to date on the three-part suite "Have You Heard, Pt. 1"/"The Voyage"/"Have You Heard, Pt. 2." Essentially, this 2008 U.S. CD reissue with bonus tracks is a lower-rent version (packaged in a conventional jewel case) of the hybrid SACD/CD reissue put out in Europe in the late winter of 2006. Apparently Universal Music's management regards SACD as purely a European/Japanese phenomenon, because there is no multi-channel SACD 5.1 Surround Sound layer on this disc, just the straight stereo CD mix that was used on that earlier disc -- which was still a major improvement on prior editions of the CD. The stereo CD mix reveals little details in the playing, from Justin Hayward's multi-layered acoustic and electric guitars to Graeme Edge's percussion -- and the harmony vocals by almost everyone -- that were previously difficult to hear, or merely suggested on the original LP. The nine bonus tracks are identical to those on the 2006 edition, comprised of previously unheard, unedited takes, outtakes, and live-in-the-studio radio performances. The uncut version of "In the Beginning" is entertaining, while the extended version of "So Deep Within You" reveals details unheard on the released cut, and the original, unedited sections of the closing suite are interesting to hear without interruption. But the real treat is the string of live-in-the-studio versions of "Lovely to See You," "Send Me No Wine," "So Deep Within You," and "Are You Sitting Comfortably," which offer different, leaner, and more intense interpretations, and fascinating variations on almost every instrument and most of the vocal accompaniment; indeed, their presence reveals just how much of a work in progress this most heavily produced album to date was for the band. The annotation is extremely detailed and the booklet also re-creates and expands the opera libretto-style insert that came with the original LP. ~ Bruce Eder

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