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Spock's Beard - Beware of Darkness CD (album) cover


Spock's Beard


Symphonic Prog

3.68 | 515 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars Neal Morse and company honored the principles of symmetry by following their 1995 debut album "The Light" with the complimentary "Beware of Darkness", borrowing the title track from George Harrison (by way of Leon Russell). In this interpretation the song dovetails neatly with Morse's later conversion to a born-again, black-and-white theology, in which 'light' equals goodness and 'darkness' is evil (" will kill you", he ad-libs in the overwrought final chorus).

Likewise, the album itself showed hardly any forward evolution, despite the addition of auxiliary keyboard wizard Ryo Okumoto, completing what most fans would consider the classic Beard line-up. If anything the music was even further entrenched in the past. A song like "Thoughts" (yes, it rhymes with "Knots") is self-consciously clever in a Mom, look at me! sort of way, but the instrumental and verbal gymnastics would have been more impressive if GENTLE GIANT hadn't already covered the exact same territory a quarter-century earlier.

It's a pity, because the album works just fine when it isn't aping classic Prog conventions (which, keep in mind, were hardly conventional back in the 1970s). "The Doorway" stands out as a thrilling vehicle for the band's collective skills, flowing from knockout ensemble complexity to equally challenging acoustic interludes and back again, over eleven-plus exhilarating minutes. But even here the extended piano intro was lifted wholesale from GENESIS, circa "Firth of Fifth".

This is a band that sometimes doesn't know when to quit. The big "Supper's Ready" finale to the song "Walking on the Wind", complete with bass pedals and choral mellotrons, sounds artificially inflated instead of ecstatic. The sixteen-minute album centerpiece "Time Has Come" repeats rather than develops any of its (many) themes. And what could have been an effective slammed-door conclusion to "The Doorway" is followed by a rising instrumental coda adding nothing but length to an already fine track: an ongoing refrain in Neal Morse's career.

Add to that the adenoidal melodrama of Morse's singing, as always an acquired taste, and lyrics best described as painfully trite. "Some people are like gravy / spilled on God's Sunday shirt" (from the rousing anthem "Waste Away") is a more or less typical couplet, and wouldn't have sounded so inane if intended as satire, which probably wasn't the case.

But that's Spock's Beard for you. Expect a degree of Prog Rock overkill in every department and you won't be disappointed. Otherwise you might hear only the exhausted efforts of a talented band running too hard in the wrong direction on a fast-moving musical escalator.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |


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