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Spock's Beard - V CD (album) cover

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Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

4.16 | 593 ratings

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lazland
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This album is another one of those which tends to divide prog fans the world over. You love it or you hate it. Actually, specifically, you either love Neal Morse or hate him, because I think it is universally accepted that the standard of musicianship here and on other albums by this band is nothing short of exceptional.

For myself, I believe that this work represents a highpoint of Morse's career, probably only eclipsed by the debut Transatlantic effort. It is also, in my opinion, the clear highpoint of this band's output, although I might stress that the two are not necessarily linked.

The album is bookended by two incredible, daring, and massive opus tracks, At The End Of The Day, and the twenty seven minute long Great Nothing.

The opener starts proceedings in magnificent, symphonic, fashion, and is, indeed, the type of track that many Yes fans were hoping the old boys would come out with in 2000. I love the chorus in this, amongst the grand mellotron and symphonic soundscapes. It is, in reality, about the perfect neo-prog track, because it is created with such a knowing and loving nod to the symphonic masters of yore.

In between, we have a series of shorter tracks. Revelation is an interesting, and enjoyable, mix of light and heavy moods, with a distinctive commercial edge to proceedings, particularly in the chorus. Thoughts Part II is more of a throwaway track to me, too frenetic in parts for its own good, but still with some delicate and enjoyable vocals.

All On A Sunday is basically an enjoyable pop/prog romp, with a lovely upbeat rhythm, swirling keyboards, and relentlessly upbeat guitar backing Morse clearly enjoying every second. As with albums such as 90125, to which this album has understandably been compared, there is nothing wrong with a deliberately commercial song, as long as it is as well performed and well meaning as this.

The final short track is Goodbye To Yesterday, and is the type of lush acoustic number which lifts my spirits every time I hear it, all of this underscored by a delicate and mournful mellotron. Morse, I feel, has very rarely sounded better as he sings his heart out on a piece of lost love.

And so to the magnum opus, Great Nothing. You really are asking for trouble when you name a track in such a fashion, but, thankfully such worries are quickly dissipated. The opening section is extremely dark and foreboding with a taste of Wagnerian opera to these ears, with a brief, and lovely, acoustic guitar interlude before a tremendous riff brings the track to life, when Okumoto shows his pure class on organ. The following piano and vocal introduction to the main track is wonderfully lovely, and oozes sheer class. As we move on into the "main section", there is, at first listen, a confusing mix of moods and signatures, and it really isn't until many listens that you learn to appreciate the fact that it does gel together very well. Many passages are extremely reminiscent of The Flower Kings more experimental instances, whilst others are deliberately designed to give the impression that this is Spock's Beard's very own Close To The Edge, or Tales From Topographic Oceans, i.e. a collection of movements creating one whole suite.

Throughout, the band are performing at the top of their game. Such a suite demands tight playing and strong production to bring us the contrasts between bombastic and delicate, and it wins here on every level. I think a special mention should go to Dave Meros, whose ferocious bass playing at the more bombastic phases is simply incredible, but, in reality, all players shine on what is a very ambitious track, which could so easily have fallen apart, but, instead, ranks as one of the finest symphonic pieces of modern times. It also passes that very difficult trick of keeping the listener's attention throughout, right up to the fantastically uplifting conclusion.

This is an extremely good album, and by far my favourite that the band released. For any readers of this review who might have come across Transatlantic late in that project's career, and are curious about exploring the bands that make up the supergroup in more detail, this is the perfect place to start with Spock's Beard, because, in truth, they really didn't come anywhere near the heights of this symphonic delight on other releases.

Four stars for this. An excellent addition to any prog rock collection, and a must for all lovers of symphonic rock. It only just falls short of the masterpiece rating to me.

lazland | 4/5 |

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