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SPOCK'S BEARD

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.35 | 283 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

stefro
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Despite a fair amount of filler, this eponymously-titled 9th studio album by the legendary US Prog- heroes contains some of their strongest group-work yet of the post-Neal Morse era. It also happens to be one of their longest too, featuring over 75-minutes worth of new material spread over 14 tracks, as well as featuring a 4-track mini-concept piece at the album's tail-end named 'As Far As The Eye Can See'. All in all it is all good news for the fans, and, especially in this age of short, sharp indie-punk, thumping dance-nonsense and 3-minute pop wonderment, reflects genuinely good value for money and is yet another reflection of the modern prog-scene as one of music's most fan-orientated sub-genre's. But what of the music? Album opener 'On A Perfect Day' may steal it's title from Lou Reed, but that's the sum of their similarity. It's an excellent start, featuring SB's penchant for strong hooks and overlapping melodies and manages to project the core, quintessential sonic feel of the band. In fact OAPD may just be a contender for the definitive SB tune. Nick D'Virgilio's voice is smooth, almost jazzy, and his ability to mimic and, yes, improve on Neal Morse's vocal style is spookily akin to Phil Collins gradual usurpation of Peter Gabriel's front-man role in NDV's childhood heroes Genesis, a move best summed up by the pastoral UK progger's then-label-manager Tony Stratton-Smith exclaiming that "He[Phil Collins] sounds more like Peter Gabriel than Peter Gabriel!". Indeed, NDV has achieved exactly what most fan-boy rockers rarely do, i.e. follow in almost the exact same footsteps of one of his heroes and attain almost the same comparative degree of success. It's a genuine feat, and it once again goes to show just what an accomplished, enthusiastic and important progressive rock band SB have morphed into over the years. Album no.9 may not be their best, but it is both accessible and steeped in the history of prog, a tricky combination that is incredibly hard to pull of in this modern, digital age. But back to the tracks. Sophomore song 'Skeletons at the Feast' is a funkier affair than its predecessor, with Ryu Okumoto prominent, but it isn't until the gorgeous pop-flavoured harmonies of 'All That's Left' that we are treated to another near-classic. NDV pushes the Phil Collins-style-and-feel-quotient to the limit here, with strong, impassioned vocals gliding over the top of Ryu's soaring keyboards. The song may rankle with some die-hard proggers, but there is no denying that it's a piece that wouldn't look or feel out of place on a latter-day Indie-pop album or in the top ten of the US and/or UK charts. Just with synths and more noodling. Help is on hand however, for those wanting something meatier, and the electric-rock of 'Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go' duly supplies. Alan Morse lets rip with a killer zeppelin-inspired riff, brimming with his usual invention, the slamming guitar-sound founded on the steady, tricky bass-work of Dave Meros, whilst NDV's powerful drumming cleverly compliments yet more highly intricate keyboard-and-moog histrionics from the Osaka-born finger-wizard. The highlight of SB though has to be the four-song cycle that completes the set. Aptly-named 'As Far As The Mind Can See', each song takes on a different style, from straight-ahead prog to uplifting CSNY- inspired chorus-rock. 'They Know, We Know' continues the albums pattern of giving all the best songs a comma in the middle, with the famous SB harmonies - Morse, NDV, Ryu - working yet again in almost- perfect harmony. 'Rearranged' closes things nice and mellow and tops off a highly-satisfactory effort. The down-side though, has to be the claims and counter-claims that the band's sound is inching towards a poppier west-coast sound, and maybe it's true. Several songs simply amble along, either taking the straight-highroad thru commercial rock territory, faux-metal mumblings or summery schmaltz, but they still retain the bands unique sound. Maybe it's an experimental approach, maybe the guys are getting older and chilling out in their wiser years. Who really knows. But one thing is for sure. It doesn't make their tunes any less enjoyable and it doesn't make their style any less progressive. It's prog-rock people and the hint is in the name of the music.

STEFAN THOMAS TURNER, LONDON, 2008

stefro | 4/5 |

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