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Spock's Beard - The Light CD (album) cover


Spock's Beard


Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 666 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars How strange, to already feel a twinge of nostalgia for those heady days of the mid-1990s, when Progressive Rock enjoyed a resurgence of interest fueled by the rise of the world-wide web, and by the usual 20-year loop of cultural recycling.

The newly-formed Spock's Beard was one of the ensembles driving that bandwagon, and recycling was very much their MO: not creating a new musical vocabulary, but reviving an older language gone dormant. In other words, Prog but not Progressive, and I write that with all due respect and affection. There weren't many bands at the time so willing to embrace the musical and lyrical pretensions of the symphonic rock 1970s. And even fewer able to do so with such energy, ambition, and ostentatious old-school musical chops.

But here it was: a glutton's feast for starving Progheads, right down to the enigmatic, amateur cover art. This is a band that flaunted its role models (primarily YES, GENESIS and GENTLE GIANT) with outspoken immodesty, naming one chapter of the eight-part title track "The Return of the Horrible Catfish Man" (instead of "the Giant Hogweed"), and calling another song "On the Edge", in ironic contrast to the 1972 Yes epic, which only came close.

But they certainly weren't STARCASTLE copycats. And I don't fully understand the KANSAS comparisons either (if only because, unlike SB, the music of Kansas makes me retch). Neal Morse always had a knack for writing catchy, uncomplicated musical hooks, although the infamous "FU" section of "The Water" took me completely by surprise. Was this really the same, soon-to-be bible-toting ambassador of Bronze-Age superstition, dropping more F-bombs per minute than Johnny Rotten? It's all in the context of the song's larger narrative, of course, but hats off to you, Neal, for letting your doppelgänger off its leash, something Peter Gabriel and Jon Anderson never could do.

"The Water" is actually one of the lazier 23-minute multi-section suites in the Prog music library. Individually each part shows a lot of promise, but in total it follows a tendency that would dog Morse throughout his prolific career: stringing unconnected ideas together into a single Frankenstein opus. When the track finally segues into the afterthought of "On the Edge" (the only cut off the album shorter than twelve minutes, by the way) it's easy to mistake the new song for just another sub-section of the earlier saga.

Spock's Beard would almost immediately fall into a counter-clockwise rut. But their debut shouldn't be criticized just because subsequent albums didn't vary the formula much. At the time, they were a fresh, invigorating new voice in a not very crowded retro-prog choir, knocking the conventional wisdom of the early '90s on its myopic, grunge-based head.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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