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Spock's Beard - The Kindness Of Strangers CD (album) cover

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 491 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

R-A-N-M-A
5 stars I first came across Spock's Beard back when Canadians were allowed to use Pandora. I put in a Rush song and one of the tunes which happened to pop up was by Spock's Beard, and from that time on I've been a fan. They have, despite what some might say, a sound that is their own. They've got loads of talent and great song writing capabilities. It's a recipe for entertaining music if not commercial success. And when it comes right down to it, would you rather listen to a good band or a famous band?

Eventually, anyone who wants to check out Spock's Beard will come across the Kindness of Strangers. If you peruse the selection of previous reviews you find a pretty wide range of opinions on the album. For some it's repetitive trash, for others one of the best albums released in the last decade. I think it stems from the fact that Kindness is a very diverse album. On some tracks it's an all out prog barrage, on others you can clearly tell that they were looking for a more commercially viable sound. What it makes for is an uneven album. My take on that matter and one that I share with many other reviewers is that ultimately there is a good deal more to be positive about rather than negative and would do no harm by adding it to your music collection.

The style of the album is archetypical Spock's Beard; a complex brand of hard rock with a healthy mix of organs, mellotrons and keyboards backing Neal Morse's strong lead singing and some very sweet vocal harmonies.

The first track on the album is The Good Don't Last. It comes in three parts, all of which are very good. The strongest is the hard rocking introduction. It doesn't really set the mode for the song strangely enough, but you'll see a lot of this type of work from the band, just not always this great! The body portion of the song is the Good Don't Last proper. It's well sung, the lyrics can be a bit goofy at times, but great at others. I sense some bitterness, especially when they mention "all the popular songs" in a list of hallow pursuits which humanity has apparently engaged in. There is a gradual return to the fiery introduction before finally segueing into the final portion of the song is the Radiant Is. I'm not really sure what that means. What I can tell you about it is that it has slower tempo, but not all together subdued. It has some fine vocal work, smashing drums and wailing guitars. The Good Don't Last is one of my all time favourite SB tracks it's only real flaws are some wild stylistic changes and a first transition which arrives like a flight of stairs to a blind guy.

I was pretty verbose on that first one there, but there really is a lot to it. The next track is the somewhat unfortunately titled Mouth of Madness. This a piece that at first I didn't like, but over time I've come to appreciate more and more. It is definitely in the complex hard rocking vein. The many body of the piece is good, but the later solo work, especially the keyboard is really what makes it worth a listen.

Cakewalk on Easy Street is another song which has taken me a long time to warm up to. It still has a long way to go before it gets up to Madness, never mind The Good Don't Last or Harm's Way. It has another very strong introduction, keyboards this time and a great fuzzy guitar transition into the main song; it's the singing and lyrics which fall flat. I find the chorus especially weak. The good stuff isn't all in the intro though, the music behind the lyrics is really good and I really like the "Air Raid" part lyrics and all. I think had more time been spent developing the singing portion of the song this would be a much better regarded track.

We move next on to June. Some might not like as they feel it's nothing but a token ballad. June is certainly not a throw away. It is probably the most commercial track they ever recorded. It's about the stresses of going on the road. The backing music is mostly sparse. Its strength comes from a great vocal effort, both from Neal and the band as a whole. Counter melodies, harmonics and plenty of emotion. You can get a sample of June here at PA. This also a track I really enjoy, much the same way I enjoyed There Was a Time on Octane. Eventually the bass, piano and drums chime in for a meatier finale. Lighters up! Great track, if not the most challenging one.

Following June is Strange Word. The content of this one focuses on some perceived injustices in the way we organize our modern society. It follows the trend of catchy intros which lead into more conventional tracks. I think this one is considerably better than bother Cakewalk and Madness. The writing is better than both and SB does a better job of working in their hard rock interludes in with the general work. Not a show stopper, but a good effort none the less.

Rounding our listening experience are two more ten minute plus tracks. These fall easily in with SB's other more progressive style, like the two monsters on V and pretty much all of the Light. The first of the two is Harm's Way. It has a hard intro with the band really going for broke. Every one sounds good, but the organs and other keys as well as the drums are the standouts. The song then makes a mood shift via a mellotron laden transition into a primarily rhythm and vocal segment. All of it sounds great. The lyrics are a bit esoteric, but that's never stopped me in the past (See Yes). SB then hits the gas pedal again for the most entertaining and rocking part of the song. This is another one of my top SB tracks. They are so tight; no part of this track is a waste.

There is no break, before we are immediately launched into the albums longest and most complex track Flow. As the name suggests it doesn't really stick to one sound. In breaking with the style of the review I don't think I'll say too much about it. It's an excellent prog epic. It is my favourite piece on the album.

Well, this has been easily the longest review ever written. I think I was probably just stalling my decision. The main reason I hadn't reviewed it sooner is that I've had real trouble deciding whether to give it a four or five. In spite of the generally weaker middle portion, I think this effort is worthy of a five out of five. There are two very strong 10+ pieces and one full blown epic all of which would likely have been able to carry an album alone. With it are some decent B side sort of efforts and a wonderful if a tad simplistic ballad. Very few albums are without their blemishes, even five out of fives, but when the high calibre work makes up so much more of the album I think it can be excused. If you don't, write your own dang review! :P

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

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