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Spock's Beard - Feel Euphoria CD (album) cover

FEEL EUPHORIA

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.26 | 350 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars It must have been crisis control mode in Spock's Beard land when charismatic frontman Neal Morse decided to leave the popular crossover prog group in 2002, more or less right at the peak of their ever growing popularity and furthering status as a modern progressive rock group of note. Mr Morse wished to continue to make music fuelled by personal religious beliefs that had become hugely important to him, clearly realising that it wasn't appropriate to present that in the framework of the band (although religious references certainly popped up throughout many spots on their first six albums, with the final Neal-fronted Spock's album `Snow' rife with them!), and his departure left the remaining members with not only having to decide whether to carry on or not, but also leaving them with the unenviable task of having replacing their likeable frontman and key songwriter.

The band must have surely realised they had worked hard at building up their reputation through six albums since the 1995 debut `The Light', so they deserved to be given the chance of proving their worth without Mr Morse. An easy choice was the promotion of insanely talented drummer Nick D'Virgilio to frontman, an engaging vocalist in his own right, having sung plenty of backing vocals and occasionally taken the lead singing himself a few times on their previous albums, as well as on his own solo album `Karma' way back in 2001. The `reboot' of the band also meant an opportunity to shake up and experiment with their existing sound, to play around with a range of styles that perhaps wouldn't have worked so well on their earlier works (helped with the addition of a few close associates of the band assisting with the song-writing), and when `Feel Euphoria' arrived within a year of both Neal's quitting and their previous double album `Snow', it was instantly obvious the new Beard were not simply going to remake their past albums and were full of an emerging inspiration and determination to impress.

`Onomatopoeia' attacks with the force of a mule-kick, an up-tempo ballsy rocking opener that shows the band is all business, the whole track blasted with Alan Morse's strangled guitar aggression, Dave Meros' grumbling mud-thick bass and Nick's D'Virgilio's powerhouse pounding drums. The piece is permeated with a sleek metallic heaviness and a very modern sound, Nick's confident voice laced with more than a bit of a `rock-star' swagger to it, whooping excitedly then roaring the next with ease, but it still finds time for some brief yet lighter acoustic interludes backed to keyboardist Ryo Okumoto's eerie rising Mellotron. The introduction to `The Bottom Line' comes pretty close to the previous version of the band, starting with a super-dooper proggy opening of whirring synth wig-outs, snappy drumming, searing Mellotron veils and a soaring symphonic theme that glides with pride. The track then settles into an eclectic range of melodic vocal-driven passages, always remaining melodic with constantly top-notch multi-tracked silken harmonies from Nick, although the ballad-like reflective finale seems uncomfortably shoe-horned in and is a bit of an anti-climax.

The seven minute title-track `Feel Euphoria' is unexpected and intriguing, sacrificing tunefulness for a slinking electronic danger, tortured heavy guitar wildness and a distorted snarling vocal from Nick. There's almost a skewed jazz-fusion experimentation going on here, and along with frantic ranted rap outbursts and an improvised runaway gnashing tantrum-throwing instrumental finale it's easily one of the strangest and most schizophrenic pieces to appear on a Spock's album to date! The divisive `Shining Star' then proves a nice come-down, an unapologetically romantic and radio- friendly popper with a killer melody, warm inviting chorus and lovely harmonies that should have won the group a whole bunch of new female listeners at the time!

`East of Eden, West of Memphis' may not be the most memorable tune of the album, but the sly rocker purrs with a cool groove, has nice dreamy vocals in the chorus and a jaw-dropping break- neck skittering instrumental burst in the middle. But it's on his first Spock's song-writing credit that bassist Dave Meros delivers the sublime `Ghosts of Autumn', a haunting piano tune that grows in dignity and power with a glorious intelligent chorus, but it's the instrumental stretch in the middle from the three minute point onwards and climax that marks it amongst the very best pieces from the band, with Alan delivering the most soaring of guitar solos alongside Ryo's cascading Mellotron serenity that completely captures the same magic and grace of classic era Genesis. It proves to be one of the greatest moments any version of Spock's Beard has ever committed to disc.

And if we were in the Seventies and the age of vinyl, that would have been the ideal place for `F.E' to wrap up, delivering a strong thirty-eight minute LP that would be easier to give more replays, with a great selection of challenging rock pieces, a couple of compact tunes and just enough grander prog-rock moments.

But the band obviously felt the need to reassure their fans that they still had their `prog' credentials ready to go (although much of the album up to this point already showcased that just fine!), and they delivering a six-part, twenty minute suite `A Guy Named Sid'. Starting with an introduction of twitching electronics, pulsing bass, swirling synth soloing and mysterious guitar chimes all sounding like a James Bond soundtrack meets the Ozric Tentacles, it settles into a grunting Hammond organ-roasted heavy rocker, breaks for some more reflective softer ballad passages flecked with dreamy electric piano, wild and loud percussion-dominated interludes, luscious Gentle Giant-like group vocal complexity and reaching Mellotron-lifted grandiosity to close on. It's perfectly reliable, has (of course) terrific musicianship and improves on repeated listens, but in some ways it comes across as a cut-and-paste/tick-the-prog-boxes epic-by-numbers that doesn't quite have enough in it to warrant being dragged out as long as it is, almost like a bunch of unrelated sketches slung together for the sake of putting together an `epic' that prog fans so often demand. It perhaps seems like an early practice run for the similarly presented (but more inspired and successful) multi- part epics on their next few albums like the `Octane' suite and `As Far as the Mind Can See', but that's discussion for another time...

But it's STILL not over - the ironically titled `Carry On' is a final very Neal Morse-flavoured uplifting pop-ballad with sparkling piano, jangling acoustic guitars and warm group vocals, and there's even a pinch of Beatles-esque orchestral fanfare sprinkled throughout too.

Speaking of carrying on, the disc does just that if you have one of the special editions that adds even more bonus tracks - `Moth of Many Flames' is a throwaway but harmless runaway acoustic rocker performed by Alan Morse that sounds like a one-take demo and has a little bit of a nod to Jethro Tull's `Skating Away' throughout it, but more interesting is Ryo's exquisite `From the Messenger', a pure electronic solo piece in the manner of Tangerine Dream with plenty of the tastiest ambient Mellotron atmospheres. Both would have severely jarred with the rest of the album, but they still perfectly capture the `anything-goes' approach of the recording sessions for the disc!

Although right from the start there were those who never accept this `new Beard', this band of impeccable musicians more than deserved the benefit of the doubt, so the chance that things would turn out fairly well were always pretty high. If anything, `Feel Euphoria' is a far more challenging, experimental and less obviously accessible album to the instantly enjoyable previous double `Snow' that soared with winning commercial vocals and golden harmonies. Yes, it's overlong, darts in endless directions that will likely annoy some listeners and showed the band initially struggling a little with lengthier compositions that their former colleague used to so effortlessly pull together, but it was clearly a group of musicians finding their feet and seeing what worked, something that would continue over the next few Nick-fronted albums to equally inconsistent but highly admirable results. Besides, all the sh*t-hot playing the group is known for was more evident and unrestrained than ever, truly a band giving it their all.

Almost fifteen years later, `Feel Euphoria' remains one of Spock's Beard's most fascinating, unpredictable (perhaps even a little frustrating!) and diverse discs that has only proven its worth more and more since its release.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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