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Spock's Beard - Octane CD (album) cover

OCTANE

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.12 | 275 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

R-A-N-M-A
2 stars Octane is so far the only post Neal Morse Spock's Beard album that I own. I cannot say that I am in much of a hurry to run out and get any more at this point. I might later, it isn't a total turn off, but it has been moved down the priority list.

The first part of the album is made up by the multi-track epic "A Flash Before My Eyes." Right away one of the first things which I notice on this album when I put it up against the likes of say V or Snow is how much weaker it is lyrically. In a word I would say it's cheesy; with lines like "Dancing through the land mines" or "Like a bomb packed with Diamonds." I am bringing this up here in my introduction because is a criticism I can extend to all the songs on the album. You can consider it to apply unless I say otherwise.

Octane begins on a high note. The Ballet of Impact is short three part suite. I can't say exactly which of the three parts are which, but I can say for sure that the extended instrumental intro is excellent. Unfortunately, the portion with vocals is not able to hold up. D'Virgilio does not sound like he is into it on this song. He lacks energy and emotion. I acknowledge that he is not as strong a singer as Neal, but that has not stopped him from singing much better on later tracks. It drags down what might otherwise be an excellent track.

I Wouldn't Let It Go is a fairly decent track. It is not very progressive, but enjoyable in "Heartland" rock sort of way; in the vein of guys like Tom Cochrane or Tom Petty. It is augmented by the keyboards and wailing which are not generally found in that genre. Already D'Virgilio's singing is better than the first track.

Surfing Down the Avalanche has a rocking base line all the way through. That's about the only thing nice I can say for it. I find the lead guitars and vocals grating. This is a song which I do not listen to unless I am reviewing it.

After the tragedy of Surfing is She is Everything. It is another multi-part song like the Ballet. Also like the Ballet the instrumental introduction is excellent. Is a slowly rising build up to the singing portion. It has a shorter intro than the Ballet, but at least once the vocals do come in you don't immediately wish they hadn't. This is what I meant when I said D'Virgilio is better later on in the album. I like the backing guitar here too; it has just a hint of Marillion. The solo is well played, but generic. Still, this is probably the strongest complete track so far.

Climbing Up the Hill is a fair, upbeat little rocker. The singing is unfortunately in the same style as Surfing. Not quite as bad and it feels a little more appropriate on this style of song. It isn't stretching to be "Hard Core" anywhere near as bad as Surfing either. The keyboards while not very prominent do keep it from getting too boring. The guitar solo is a throw away, luckily it doesn't get much time.

The end of Climbing bleeds right into the shifting mellotron interlude of Letting Go. It isn't very smoothly played at times, but it does feel like something that might have come out of Tangerine Dream rather than Spock's Beard. I like the tail end of this one; the way it lifts away.

Of the Beauty of it all, starts off much the same way the Ballet ends. It has a similar lyrical style. It is still a turn off. By a minute and a half in that is all but a memory. The long instrumental coda to "A Flash Before My Eyes" is the counterpart to the Ballet intro. The brass is well put to use. Overall I'd have to say Flash is fairly weak as an epic but it does end on a high note.

This first track after exiting Flash is NWC. It is a keyboard driven instrumental. They kept him penned up for most of the epic so it's only fair that they let Okumoto loose at some point. Good thing they did too, because this piece is great! By far the best track.

There Was a Time is heavily pop influenced but still proggy. After NWC this is the next best track. It is well sung, and lyrically, better than anything in Flash. The sample track of this on PA is the whole reason I decided to get this album. If we could assign genres to songs rather than bands this would definitely be in the crossover-prog section. It's pop styling and sunny demeanour make it stick out, for good reasons, on what is otherwise a darker album.

The Planet's Hum, follows a bit of a trend on this album; it starts off very well. I love the acoustic guitar, bass and flute intro. If they had continued run with that idea, with would be a superb track. Just after the first minute when the change up occurs things go downhill, and in a hurry. It's like I'm right back to Surfing. The singing is really early on and the guitar is fuzzy and unimaginative. Things do make a change for the better though when the vocal harmonies come in and the fuzzy guitar is given the boot. It manages to close very well just as it opened, but it's short. The Planet's Hum is inconsistent especially when you figure in the fact it only clocks in at 4:42.

Watching the Tide is a melancholy vocal driven and piano supported piece to being with. It's all around very tame. D'Virgilio just isn't hitting his notes well enough. At a few points, the rest of the band kicks in briefly to give you a little hope, but it never lasts too long. The strings are kind of a nice touch though.

As Long as We Ride is another inconsistent track. It's main body is very generic and dull, but at many points interesting stuff sneaks in. I begrudge it. It has no right to sound as good as it a does at some points. I shouldn't have to wade through the schlock to get to the good stuff!

Octane is inconsistent. It vacillates from truly entertaining to ho hum to grating. Quite often all three of these states are achieved within the same track. The stand outs are Letting Go, NWC and There Was a Time. If the whole album were up to those standards of creativity and song writing this would be easily at a four or a five. Instead a few generic tracks (I wouldn't let go, She is Everything, Climbing the Hill), a few awful tracks (Surfing Down the Avalanche, Watching the Tide) and a bunch tracks that are all over the map (The Ballet of Impact, Of the Beauty of it All, The Planet's Hum and As Long as we Ride) drag Octane down into two and three territory.

Spock's Beard even without Neal Morse is still a talented band. I think they needed to apply some serious shears to this album. Shorter can be better if a greater proportion of it is good. I give Octane two out of five. I think musically the good does outweigh the bad here despite the low numerical rating. The problem is that is comes in so many little chunks broken up by some boring and at times outright bad filler.

R-A-N-M-A | 2/5 |

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