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

THE LIGHT

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.84 | 493 ratings

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The Progmatist
4 stars The Beard's debut album is a difficult one to rate, and I think most of this is due to the fact that its merit is so dependent on its context. I agree with the last reviewer who argued that THE LIGHT may have helped to revitalize the progressive rock scene into the 90's. Check your prog catalogue. You'll probably notice a significant gap of quality prog throughout the hair metal 80's. Yes released their last good album in 77. Genesis fell off the table in the same year. This left symphonic proggers clinging to their Rush releases in that dark but glittery period to maintain a sense of order in their universes. But then came the Beard with THE LIGHT in 95: a loud and unrestrained response to the stagnant prog scene; a reminder that prog was not dead but had only forgotten what it had set out to do.

And THE LIGHT makes no qualms about what it sets out to do. And that is restore the complexities (and often excesses) of the giants of the 70's while introducing a modern twist that would ensure the new sound's relevance in a different time and place. Some may argue that Dream Theater had already paved the way for 90's prog with their IMAGES AND WORDS masterpiece in 92, but that release could not have done it alone. Like Spock's Beard, Dream Theater was a response to its particular context: the muddy drones of early 90's grunge needed its counterpart, and Dream Theater came at just the right time with their instrumental virtuosity, high-pitched wailings and piercing guitar and keyboard solos. In this way, Dream Theater may have set the stage for the prog renaissance, but in many ways Dream Theater was an untameable circus that needed a more grounded counterpart. The Beard would provide it.

With THE LIGHT, Spock's Beard steps onto the stage Dream Theater forged and shows that prog can be quirky and fun while still being grounded in accessible melody. This is the neo-retroism that the Beard patents with their debut. It is a nod to the compositional structuralism of 70's prog while at the same time advancing something else entirely: THE LIGHT agrees with the 70's sentiment that emotions need to be earned to be deserved, but it offers that emotions need not be few and far between and that indeed they may be ever-present through accessible melody and compositional coherence. In this way THE LIGHT rejects the 70's notions that musical emotions need be intensely subtle and that each lesser compositional section need be subordinated (even sacrificed) for the greater whole. THE LIGHT appreciates the acquired beauty of Hackett's Firth of Fifth solo in Genesis' SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, but it questions whether the effect needed to be earned by the delicate flute motif followed by blazing synths that finally fall into the wonderful solo, and it wonders whether the beauty need be acquired in the first place. THE LIGHT asks whether the softer melodies of Yes' CLOSE TO THE EDGE are only made relevant by the funky or even chaotic developments that precede them.

In this way, THE LIGHT looks back to these 70's influences while offering an alternative to their characteristic elusiveness. It shows in the title track opener that each musical section can be elevated in its own right while still contributing to a greater whole, and it demonstrates with Go the Way You Go that a prog song can be coherently melodic while still offering quirky breaks and smirk-inducing transitions. In short, THE LIGHT proves that great prog music should not be afraid of putting melody on the front stage. In fact, it should do everything in its power to make sure that it does. And while THE LIGHT does not always succeed in these efforts, its fearlessness and unashamed enthusiasm make it one of the more interesting releases from a mainstream prog act of the past 15 years.

The Progmatist | 4/5 |

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