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Spock's Beard - V CD (album) cover


Spock's Beard


Symphonic Prog

4.14 | 826 ratings

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5 stars Led once again by positive reviews on this site I decided to give Spock's Beard a go with this album. My only personal reference point was the fact that I really liked Neal Morse's "?" and figured that the work he did with his former band would definitely have his prints all over it. I wasn't disappointed. I find "V" to be an excellent example of 21st century symphonic progressive rock. A few things really separate this group from their modern-day European counterparts: The occasionally surfacing jazz influences and the liberal use of the good old B-3 Hammond organ. It's such a versatile and expressive instrument and I love the sound. Plus I must add that Morse is one of the most brutally honest lyricists I've heard in a long while and that, too, is refreshing.

Starting with a beautiful bagpipe-type organ sound on "At the end of the day" the group introduces the listeners to one of the musical themes that will recur throughout the album. We are then treated to a verse and chorus that reminds me of early Yes. Then we are surprised with a Spanish flamenco-influenced progression that is mixed with full, strong vocal harmonies. The Hammond takes a great lead and the drums (which are admirable from beginning to end) provide an energetic drive underneath. If there is a weak link here it is the inconsistency of the lead guitarist. Sometimes his tone is a little unnerving. But, for a song that's over 16 minutes long, the music never gets boring. The message of this song seems to be a calling out of hypocrites with "at the end of the day it's what you do, not what you say" and I suspect he may be talking about himself. "Revelation" is a song of contrasts that can be starkly jolting. There's a very nice lead from the Rhodes piano mid-way through that really stands out. It's about a man battling a spiritual beckoning that he can't get away from and, in the end, goes "underground" to escape it. "Thoughts" is one of the album's most unique songs. It starts peacefully with an acoustic guitar underneath the verse but then startles us again with a jarring chorus. We then slip into a jazzy vocal passage that is reminiscent of a Manhattan Transfer sound followed by a Chris Squire-like bass lead buffered by a string quartet. Yeah, strange but it works. These guys don't suffer from a lack of imagination, that's for sure. The lyrics suggest that perhaps total honesty with your significant other is not always the best of policies. "All on a Sunday" is a fine song with a Hammond-fueled melody about wanting to be someone else. "Goodbye to Yesterday" is a welcome change of pace and the only laid back song on the album. The acoustic guitar and piano are very effective as the words describe someone trying to make that first step in a new, more positive direction. "The Great Nothing" is divided into 6 sections and over 27 minutes long but it is the highlight of the album. It seems to be a tale of how the purity of musical inspiration and talent can be thoroughly corrupted by the cold and calculating music business. "From Nowhere" starts with electronic voices and an orchestral feel with an acoustic guitar coming in to introduce us to the main musical theme of the piece. Heavy Cellos reminiscent of ELO take over before the Hammond bursts in to finish it off. "One Note" gives us another musical theme and sets us up for "Come up Breathing" with its acoustic guitar and organ lead. "Submerged" features the piano and more very strong bass guitar work. "Missed your Calling" has a fantastic chorus hook and the best electric guitar lead on the album. "The Great Nothing" starts with the original theme played on acoustic guitar before the heavy Cellos return to lead us to another section of some inspired instrumental performances by the band members. A return to the "One Note" melody leads to a big, big ending befitting the total work and then features a fadeout of glistening notes that rise and fall around each other like spray at the base of a waterfall. I love those kinds of endings. (Kinda like the tail end of "Close to the Edge").

This is a great example of premium quality North American symphonic rock and I would rank it right up there alongside Kansas and Rush as far as style and content goes. I can only apply that opinion to this particular album (since it's the only one I've been exposed to from this band) but I don't say that lightly. This is a very well thought out and professionally produced project from a group of outstanding musicians.

P.S. Since first reviewing this album I have collected most of the rest of the Spock's Beard catalogue. "V" still shines slightly brighter than the others in my eyes, mostly because it is more consistent. While not a true masterpiece per se, at 4.7 stars it's close enough to warrant rounding up to a five star rating.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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