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Spock's Beard - Day for Night CD (album) cover


Spock's Beard


Symphonic Prog

3.28 | 452 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars I guess these fellas spoiled me. This was the last of the six studio albums from the Neal Morse-era Spock's Beard that I acquired. I ignored the PA evidence and anticipated beyond reason that it would entertain me just as much as the other five do. I'll admit that the lower rating it has garnered on this site and the abundance of less-than-enthusiastic reviews of "Day for Night" caused me to wait on buying this CD but I also thought that I'd like it more than most do. However, after repeated listens over several weeks I see their point. The truth hurts. This album is basically missing some essential ingredient that's hard for me to put my finger on. It's not from lack of effort because the hard work they put into recording it is obvious. It doesn't stem from poor musicianship or slipshod production, either. What it comes down to is that it suffers from the sub-standard quality of the material that Neal composed for this project and that's understandable. You can't win 'em all. Every artist goes through a slump and I have to accept that fact and try not to be too critical when it happens. Forgive me if I am.

"Day for Night" charges from the gate well enough, though. Ryo Okumoto's growling Hammond organ offers the promise of a thrill ride, followed by a typical Spock's Beard grand entrance with prog flags a flyin' and a solid verse/chorus/verse/chorus path to get things started right. Here Neal speaks to those who naively idolize and envy musicians with a sarcastic "don't you want to live my way?" line but he also drops hints that this album wasn't easy to write when he sings "your dreams were disappearing/so you disappeared into your head/there's no freshness in your feelings/so you feel like going back to bed." After a calmer acoustic guitar-based section and a return to the boisterous intro both Ryo and guitarist Alan Morse turn in hot solos before they repeat the chorus to the end. It's not a song I'd include in their greatest hits collection but it serves well as an opener. Just lately I've come to savvy this band's fascination with all things Gentle Giant and why they put a tune like "Gibberish" on most every album they produced. It's cool stuff to play with. This one has their usual American rock & roll slant to it and the intertwining vocal parts are performed perfectly but Alan's noisy guitarisms cross the line into annoying territory and tarnish the beauty of Okumoto's Mellotron moments that show up later in the track. It lacks the usual SB cohesiveness, as well. And I might be guilty of reading too much into the lyrics but lines like "wind raging, you remain at the mast/still slaving to be free at last." lead me to think there was some malaise creeping into the group's this-thing's-not-developing-as-fast-as-we- had-hoped-it-would career.

The best cut is next, the strong rocker "Skin" that also happens to be one of the more un-proggy songs on the CD. What it has in spades is a hard-as-diamond groove and a melody that sticks in your head like an earwig. More inner frustration is expressed when Neal sings "like a star with a blue moon rising/you complain but you keep on surprising yourself/like a dog who's been kicked all over/you tried to quit but you can't stop kicking yourself." The good news is that despite the pathos it's a killer tune that deserves several replays. The bad news is that the album has now peaked and it starts to tilt to the south from there on, starting with "The Distance to the Sun" in which they get all Simon & Garfunkel on us by presenting a wispy, harmony-laden air that never rises above boring. It also continues the Debby Downer vibe with "there is no use, you'll never win/they'll only kick you back again/back to where you've been/and you're never satisfied/your wants just change/you've been playing an unwinnable game." Holy cow. And you thought Porcupine Tree had depressing lyrics!

This band usually excels when they create long and involved prog epics but "Crack the Big Sky" doesn't even come close to the high mark they set with previous ventures in that arena. The ever-tight rhythm section of Nick D'Virgilio/Dave Meros kicks things off impressively before another huge symphonic prog introduction is unveiled. Then an unexpectedly cool jazz segment briefly raises your hopes for something special to occur. But what follows is an uncharacteristically ho-hum verse/chorus pattern that disappoints and the number never finds its footing again. The horn section is a spiffy addition midway through but guest saxophonist John Garr turns in a schmaltzy, honking-like-a-goose ride that makes me think he was recruited from the Bill Clinton junior high school marching ensemble. It reeks. I loathe it so much that I'm tempted to hit the skip button which is what the track warrants because the rest of the tune seems cruelly forced. Ryo and Alan gallantly try to rescue it with some decent solos but it's a lost cause. "The Gypsy" is next but it isn't much of an improvement. Here Neal adopts his sometimes effective/sometimes not "scary" voice and musically I get the feeling that the group is trying too hard instead of letting things flow naturally. The words are still on the downside, as well. ".I awoke to ten white policemen/who held me until I choked/they brought me in like McCarthy and Nixon/that isn't all she wrote/log on to the suicide note." he growls. The lame acoustic guitar tag at the end signifies that they were desperate to find a way out of this song and that's all they could come up with. Neal is usually a master when it comes to taking flight with a power ballad yet "Can't Get It Wrong" (co-written with Alan and Nick) never leaves terra firma. Don't look for a bright spot in the lyrics, either. I envision an awkward phone conversation with his lady love in which he laments that "I can't get it wrong/and I can't get it right/and I can't seem to get it at all tonight." Bummer.

"The Healing Colors of Sound (Part 1)" is an instrumental beginning to what appears to be about a 21 minute-long epic consisting of six interconnected tunes that segue from one to the next. This hot, spirited intro has plenty of fun, exciting prog elements flying about and you begin to think that this might be going somewhere wild. But "My Shoes" doesn't maintain the momentum with its subtle start where Neal ties in the "you'd like to be in my shoes/wouldn't you now?" variation on the theme from "Day for Night" except this time it springs from the lips of God Almighty. The song's just okay but when they break down to the piano towards the end it's an excellent but short-lived move. "Mommy Comes Back," some kind of an ode to unfit mothers, is a flawed attempt at being funky where even more trouble arrives when they try to get cute with the funny sound effects, ruining the already tenuous mood. It's a jumble of disconnected musical ideas that get funneled into a pointless loud/soft/loud/soft rut and it gets irksome. "Lay Down" is another Morse power ballad but it fails to put you under any kind of spell as it just meanders along. He seems to be telling us that when the ills of the world start getting to us we should "lay it down now/lay it down now/lay it down." but he makes it sound more like an act of accepting defeat than conquering fear through faith. "The Healing Colors of Sound (Part 2)" at least elevates the song back to an up tempo feel and this part of the series actually works quite well with a piano rumbling underneath the fray, the orchestral horns colorizing in full bloom and vocal lines weaving in and out of each other. Displaying a rare case of optimism, Neal confronts all the negativity and sings "but you can turn around/to the healing colors of sound," reassuring us that music is the magic elixir that can cure one's blues every time. (Of course, we proggers knew that all along.) "My Shoes (revisited)" delivers the expected and much needed gigantic ending but Alan's overwrought, extended guitar lead is nothing I haven't heard a thousand times before and the point soon arrives when you just want them to end it already! The abrupt, stop-on-a-dime halt indicates that they felt the same way.

The reissue version has bonus home demo recordings of "Day for Night" and "Gibberish." The former holds no surprises but the latter is actually less abrasive than the studio take so I consider it a nice gift. Thanks, boys.

The album that preceded this one, "Kindness to Strangers," had an infectious energy throughout as if they were saying to the music biz "back off, we're on a roll that you can't stop." This one has a somber tone of near-resignation to it that can't be glossed over so perhaps the toll of touring and the pressure to sell units was getting to them at this juncture and this is an honest reflection of that stress. The album they made after "Day for Night" is arguably their greatest due in no small part to their adopting a "you may not understand prog but there's plenty of folks who LOVE what we do so deal with it" attitude that pervades that superb CD. So I'll chalk this one up as a temporary setback and not a trend for these troopers. I've conjectured ad nauseum about what is wrong with this album but the truth is that I don't know why it is so mediocre. There's just something vital that's missing. If you do spring for this set of songs prepare yourself to be underwhelmed. I am. 2.4 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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