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Spock's Beard - Spock's Beard CD (album) cover

SPOCK'S BEARD

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.35 | 274 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Three weeks after getting it, I finally can sit down and share my comments about the new release by one of my favorite bands, Spock's Beard. I thought I had to give the album time and space to grow on me (or not) before being able to actually give my opinion about the music in it. So, I've given SB's latest time, I've given it space, and now I've come to a few conclusions of my own, the most important being:

It needs a trim-job.

First, the overall sound. If Feel Euphoria felt like a weak attempt by the remaining band members to adjust to the departure of original- frontman and mastermind Neal Morse,without achieving much success in doing so, then Octane was more of a relief for us The Beard's fans: the band could still make good music, the band could manage to overcome the weight of Morse's shadow by creating a sound of their own. I don't know if many people agree, but for me Octane was a very, very good release, and actually third in my SB's ranking just behind The Light and Snow. Octane had some flaws, but unlike Feel Euphoria, those flaws were more of a still-not-sure-how-to-do-it kind of way (still don't knowing how to write a flowing, totally connected epic) than a still-trying-to-sound-as-if- Morse-hadn't-left-the-band ones. Feel Euphoria had its moments but in the big picture, it was a failure; Octane, on the other hand, was a success, for D'Virgilio finally showed us he could sing like D'Virgilio, not like Neal, and the band showed us they could write great non- Morse-sounding music. So, after considering this, how does "Spock's Beard " come out? Well, let's say it from the beginning, Morse is all but forgotten in this group's music. Yes, finally, and after some trial-and-error, the band has shaken itself free of Morse's shadow and the sound of their music is virtually Morse-free. This music is pure Spock's Beard (the new version, that is), still with some references to bands like Kansas and others, but not to the sound that Neal created. That is almost gone. With maybe the exception being the first song (a great song by the way). So, prepare yourself for some pure american-style prog- rock like only The Beard can deliver. Prepare yourself to listen to an album with almost no Morse references. But also,...

... prepare yourself to endure some of the band's WORST songs of all time.

Yes, sadly, this album is TOO LONG. It seems like A.Morse, D'Virgilio, Meros and Okumoto decided to record as many songs as possible, with no regards as to the QUALITY of some of them. So, alongside the great tracks, we have not only a couple of fillers, but a couple of DISASTERS. Let me say a word about each track:

On A Perfect Day (10/10), outstanding track! This one, as I've already said, is the only Morse-era-sounding song, and very good at that, because it's not pure-Morse: it is like a mix of the best of the first era with the best of Nick's era. But some parts could easily be mistaken as being taken straiight out of Kindness of Strangers or Beware of Darkness, were it not for D'Virgilio's throat-rasping voice to reminds us this is the NEW Beard. A short mini-epic, great melodies, great singing by Nick (I have to say he's very good at times in the mic, at times he's flawed... but as a drummer he's underrated: he's a MASTER). It has all the ambiguity, the happy-yet-not-that-much aura typical of Morse-era songs... lots of acoustic guitars, piano... Wonderful song, great epic-sounding chorus. . I should give it a ten. Yes, ten it is!

Skeletons At The Feast (9/10), An instrumental mostly in odd time signatures. A riff in full hard-rockin' (almost metallic) sound starts this song in a blast! Actually, it seems as if The Bearders have been listening to Dream Theater as of late, for there are elements there to be recognized as coming from the New York Greats' textbook. After the anger, the riff continues with some soloing before changing to regular 4/4 with some keyboards that sound like The Flower Kings. The track alternates between hard and soft, with ELP's references along the way, too. This, above all the other numbers in the album, shows us how fantastic these 4 musicians are.

Is This Love (7/10), the first sub-par song although this one is not bad, just not very good. A straight rocker, the prog elements are almost missing here. It's just good ol' rock n'roll played by one of the best bands around. The chorus is catchy and the song in general is better than what most people would think if I just toldl them that it sounds a lot like a mix between U2 and some American band a la Skynard.

All That's Left (9/10) a melancholic, moody song with great jazzy, soft drumming by underrated master D'Virgilio; the chorus, very melodic, reminds me of Kino's Picture album. Very good short and quiet song. The piano sound is prominent here. And, again, Nick's singing passes the test.

With Your Kiss (10/10), the longest single-track-song in the album, it starts with dreamy landscapes with the vocals over guitar arpeggios. Suddenly some electronic drumming puts us off with surprise... but we soon get used to it because the melody over it is GREAT. This section reminds me of Mullmuzzler (LaBrie's solo project). Later on the acoustic drums will return, but the overall atmosphere of this great song remains. The middle section with distorsions and D'Virgilio speaking rather than singing is not a high point but it barely makes a dent in the song's quality. Now D'Virgilio plays a pure tom-tom-driven rhythm, with some vocal accents that add to the festive ambient. Suddenly the noise recedes and, over acoustic guitars, Nick delivers some of his best singing in the album. Another brilliant song that makes us believe this is going to be THE album... but,

Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go (3/10), but they had to include this! Man, this is the most UNINSPIRED AND BORING song in all of The Beard's discography... the dull rhythm makes me want to go watch a lightbulb's entire life cycle instead. And the lyrics: AWFUL AT ITS MOST AWFUL. Just the worst lyrics this side of... well, this side of my cat trying to write a poem about catching mouses with no claws... I just can't believe how they could have "created" this... Atrocious. The Slow Crash Landing Man (5/10), as if the preceding song wasn't boring enough, this track is so SLOW and DRAGGING that conciousness starts to abandon us. The melody in the chorus is somewhat decent, but it's so mundane, so run-of-the-mill, so I-could-have- written-it that it really doesn't make this track worthy of attention. What is happening? After such a great start, the album is falling, crashing down to pieces! Will the next song save this album from utterly collapsing?

Wherever You Stand (5/10), No, it didn't. Another any-joe's-band track, this pure rocknroll number is like a copy straight out of Octane but without the good melodies and hooks. What a bland, lame song. It's better than "Sometimes they go" because at least it has some energy, but don't keep your hopes high for this one. It ultimately fails, too.

Hereafter (7/10), it turns out that some silence was the key! Well, not really. But here, with just D'Virgilio singing over piano, we finally get back, if not to greatness-territory, at least to good-territory. Very inspired performance by the master drummer... his singing by itself makes this track a welcome addition... The only problem is, after such awful tracks as the last three, this one, a SLOW track, doesn't manage to wake us up completely. Yes, the damage is done...

As Far As The Mind Can See, (8/10), I will rate this as an epic and not as four different tracks. It starts very energetically, in what feels like a caffeine relief after the insomnia- medicine we ingested a few moments ago. The melody in the first chorus is decent, and finally we start to open our eyes again. The second section is more urban-jazz oriented, a great bass funky bass by Meros (another underrated master), with great guitars by yet another underrated performer as A. Morse, great keyboard accents by Okumoto, and precise-as-always drumming by artisan D'Virgilio. Very, very good section, this one reeks of "progness". The third one is more hard thumping than the other three, with some metal wind instruments making us remember the Morse-era. At last we get another good chorus by The Beard a la Octane. The final part is faster, blazing keyboards very much like The Flower Kings. Some fanfares by the winds take us back to the melodies of the beginning, and we finsih the song in pure climatic fashion. Now, the song is very good. But there are two problems: one, we're still half-awake, half-sleep after the three tragedies we experienced just some 20 minutes ago... and, two: it lacks cohesion as an EPIC. It's not a good EPIC. Like A Flash before my Eyes in octane, but specially like A Guy named Sid in Feel Euphoria, this one feels more like a collection of good songs than a true, single- content epic. I, for one, loved A Flash Before My Eyes, mostly due to some beautiful melodies to be found in it, but never regard it as a true smooth-flowing epic like The Light or At the End of the Day... Let's face it: in this department, Neal Morse was (is) a master; D'Virgilio and Co. still aren't.

Rearranged (6:07), this one is decent but it seems like an afterthought. There was no point to include any song after the "epic". But no, The Bearders HAD to keep on recording tracks. Actually, let's be fair: this is a very good song, with a great main verse, lots of kinetic energy, a competent chorus, and that's it. The album FINALLY is over.

Why the "finally"?, you may ask. Don't you like long albums? Well, yes, I do. I love long albums. Someone that owns all The Flower Kings' albums HAS to learn to love LONG records. But then again, sadly, this one is NOT a TFK's album, nor it reaches the same level of quality. Roine Stolt is Roine Stolt: he's just crazy with what I call "elephantism", that is, making the longest possible albums, but he's a genius at that! I've never dozed while listening to a TFK album... with SB, I started to venture into Freud's Territory more than a couple of times. The biggest drawback is, there aren't just a couple of fillers: what we have is a couple (three, actually) of ATROCITIES. For 15 minutes that actually feel like 60 we are subjected to the worst EVER SB's songs. 15 minutes of boredom, of mediocrity... and what for? For the sake of... what? For the sake of being "prog" by ading as many tracks as the cd format's capacity allows for? Bad, bad decision.

What was starting to sound like a masterpiece, ended up being a very good album, an excellent addtion to your collection, that sadly requires the listener to drink lots of caffeine before listening to it, lest the latter half of the cd gets lost in oblivion.

I'll give it four stars just because the good tracks are GOOD. And just because this is The Beard. And just because I think your collection will benefit rather than suffer when you add this album to it.

Recommended for: All fans of Spock's Beard. All fans of good prog that don't mind having to listen to a few awful tracks.

Not recommended for: People with their stereo's remotes broken.... You will damn and curse yourself till the end of time for not being able to press SKIP when marvelous "Sometimes they go" starts hurting your ears....

The T | 4/5 |

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