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Spock's Beard

Symphonic Prog

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Spock's Beard The Kindness of Strangers album cover
3.75 | 540 ratings | 55 reviews | 24% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1998

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Good Don't Last (10:02) :
- a) Introduction
- b) The Good Don't Last
- c) The Radian Is
2. In the Mouth of Madness (4:44)
3. Cakewalk on Easy Street (5:01)
4. June (5:26)
5. Strange World (4:18)
6. Harm's Way (11:03)
7. Flow (15:48) :
- a) True Believer
- b) A Constant Flow of Sound
- c) Into the Source

Total Time 56:22

Bonus tracks on 2004 remaster:
8. The Good Don't Last (radio edit) (3:24)
9. In the Mouth of Madness (radio edit) (3:57)
10. Cakewalk on Easy Street (radio edit) (4:01)
11. June (home demo) (5:31)
12. Strange World (home demo) (4:35)

Line-up / Musicians

- Neal Morse / lead vocals, piano, synths, acoustic & electric guitars, co-producer
- Alan Morse / guitar, cello, Mellotron, vocals
- Ryo Okumoto / Hammond, Mellotron
- Dave Meros / bass, vocals
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums, percussion, vocals

- Eric Brenton / violin (1)
- Jackie Suzuki / violin (1)
- Melissa Hasin / cello (1)
- Tom Tally / viola (1)

Releases information

CD Metal Blade Records ‎- 3984-14165-2 (1998, US)
CD Giant Electric Pea ‎- GEPCD1022 (1998, Europe)
CD Radiant Records ‎- 3984-14492-2 (2004, US) Remastered with 5 bonus tracks

2LP Inside Out Music ‎- IOMLP 162 (2016, Europe)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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SPOCK'S BEARD The Kindness of Strangers ratings distribution

(540 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(24%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (26%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

SPOCK'S BEARD The Kindness of Strangers reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Greger
4 stars A little step forward compared to their previous album "Beware Of Darkness" (1996). SPOCK'S BEARD is one of the better new progressive bands, and they have never released a bad album so far. Their strength is there strong melodies combined with intelligent and complex arrangements. They're also excellent musicians and Neal MORSE is a master composer. I'm happy to hear that the Mellotron and Hammond organ is still present along with the Cello. Nice stuff! On this third studio release from the band, the GENTLE GIANT similarities aren't that obvious any longer. Those parts are practically all gone, apart from some moments on the tracks "In The Mouth Of Madness" and "Flow". They are taking a step towards a more personal style, even though they're still comparable to YES, GENESIS and PINK FLOYD. The highlights on this release is the opening 3 part track "The Good Don't Last" and "In The Mouth Of Madness" where Neal MORSE's singing is reminiscent to Roine STOLT of FLOWER KINGS. There's also a surprisingly good power ballad that is called "June". The track is working its way from a quiet opening to a mighty climax in the final. Maybe this track could be something for the more open-minded radio stations. The final highlight is the closing 3-part song "The Flow". If I have mentioned the highlights, I think it's fair to mention the tracks that made the rating go down a little bit. It's mainly because of two tracks: "Cakewalk On Easy Street" and "Strange World", two rather mainstream progressive rock pieces. This is one of the better CD's released in 1997, and I highly recommend it. You ought to check out their previous releases too, as they're all great pieces of work and should be an essential part in your collection.
Review by Sean Trane
1 stars Personally if this had been their debut I would not have looked at this band at all . Although SB maintains their sound, I find that by the time of its third release, the "formula" or the "SB recipe" has grown quite thin, and to make matters worse, the inspiration was completely gone. Certainly not my cup of tea, I never owned this album as well as the next one, but it was lent to me from a friend, so he would try to convert me to SB >> needless to say it did not work out.
Review by loserboy
4 stars I guess the fact that I must by now have every SPOCK'S BEARD Album reviewed on my site is a testimonial to my apparent love for this band. "The Kindness Of Strangers" contains all of the SPOCK'isms as you would imagine... wild frenzied musical moments, quiet acoustic interludes and wonderful vocals and harmonies all wrapped up in some highly memorable melodies. Musicianship is exceptional as always and I am still amazed at the level of energy these guys put into their music. This album is housed by loads of mellotron which gives an even warmer feel to their classic sound... even a string quartet on the opening number. This is essential progressive rock and as the saying goes "The Radiant Is Still Here"
Review by Menswear
4 stars Well, certainly not a masterpiece...but man what a record!

If you're a newcomer, this should be your starting line. Spock's Beard aims this time on a more FM style, but does not compromise on their high performance nor becoming sell-outs. The feel is positive, the songs are (really) catchy, so the digestion of the album is quicker than The Light or Beware of Darkness. A bit less prog than the Light for instance, but still entertaining and sympathical.

Better than the 2 first albums, but still the same old re-heated mashed potatoes.

Review by Zitro
3 stars This is a more accessible Spock's Beard album compared to the other albums they have written. It still contains bombastic and proggy moments, and 3 songs are epics. What makes this album easy to digest are the melodies. Also, this album is not derivative like the others.

The Good Don't Last is the best of the 3 epics, it is memorable, enjoyable, and does not sound forced like 'Flow'. "The Radiant Is" section of it is just too good to miss. It has a beautiful chord progression and hauunting vocals. The short tracks are very good. They sound a little more mainstream, but have progressive elements. June is the best song of the album. It has good lyrics, a mastery of vocal harmonies with phenomenal melodies that makes you sing-along, and of course, a Nice musical arrangement. The acoustic guitar is very pretty, and the jumpy bass line in the second half is brilliant. The other epics: Flow doesn't flow well, and the other epic is not very exciting all the way (but it has a great moment in the first half).

My Grade : C+

Review by chessman
3 stars I have never done a Spock's Beard review before, I had only ever heard two or three tracks by them, (June, from this album, being one of them,) before three days ago. I knew they were held in high regard by some, and slagged off by others. I, of course, waited to hear an album before I could give an opinion of my own. Then, a friend of mine lent me this three days ago, not passing any comment as he did so. My first impressions, after playing it six times so far, is that this band is neither brilliant, nor crap. To me, they are almost a straightforward rock band, but one with a penchant for lengthy improvisation at times. The singer, Neal Morse I believe, has a quite annoying voice at times, and lyrically they are not very strong, quite predictable in fact. I believe Morse has left the band now, and it would be interesting to hear them without him. The other thing that lets this album down, is the guitar playing. Too loud, too predictably heavy in parts, and too modern sounding. Nevertheless, at times, when it is quieter and more fluid, it can be effective; the fade out on the last track is very nice indeed. The bass player is adequate, sounding at times like another 'Squire wannabee', but not in the same class as, say, Reingold or Babb. Drums are decent, and keyboards are impressive at times. Going quickly through the tracks, the opener, in three parts, is one of the better tracks, with nice interludes and mood changes, almost sounding like The Flower Kings at times, (although this band is nowhere near their league!) 'In The Mouth Of Madness' isn't bad either, a more straightforward piece, with a quite aggressive verse, but nice melodic chorus. 'Cakewalk On Easy Street' is not as good, lacking somewhat in melody, and sounding like a track they used to fill out the album. Too rocky and predictable for me. The aforementioned 'June' is a strange one to have here. This doesn't sound like anything else on the album. It doesn't really fit in, although the song itself is pleasant enough, being a quieter, more acoustic effort, with decent harmonies and a strong melody. Could almost be an Eagles track. 'Strange World' is another of those too straightforward rocky pieces for me. Nothing actually wrong with it, but not very prog, and not to my taste. Average. However, the last two tracks on here are undoubtedly the best. 'Harm's Way' is excellent, with a good melody and catchy chorus, nicely balanced with subtle touches to counterbalance the more aggressive verse. And then we have the last track, the three parter, 'Flow', which is very good actually. Three distinct movements, with the first part being refrained at the end of the third. A nice piece this with a memorably melodic ending, and, if the rest of the album had matched this, it would have got four stars from me. As it is, it gets three. Not a weak album by any means, but not different enough for me.
Review by NJprogfan
4 stars Wow! Seems I'm jumping on the, "Let's review Spock's Beard today" bandwagon. I just so happened to be listening to this album and figured it needed to be review. Anyho, I haven't listened to this disc in a while and not being the biggest Beard fan, I was pleasantly surprised how many good songs are on it. The three tracks I really enjoy are, "In The Mouth Of Madness" which is a very rocking prog song by the Beards with your typical Gentle Giant keyboard noodling that permeates much of this album, in a good way mind you, although the one thing that bothers me about this band is how they'll use the Gentle Giant-like weirdness and use it sparingly, usually in the beginning then abandoning the beat for a more pedestrian groove. Irks me to no end. But this song is a strong one with nice guitar and keyboard work. My second favorite is "Harm's Way" which has the most proginess tendencies, also with the Gentle Giantish keyboards. But, for me, the best is the last track, "Flow" which is in three parts. What I like about this track is the theme in the beginning, a very sad guitar melody that shows up towards the end with Ryo's ever so awesome Mellotron backing it up but also keeping up with the beat. Extremely beautiful, maybe their most haunting track ever. As usual, their middle tracks are popish and don't do much for me, especially when I have to hear Neal's constent acscentuating of the last word of each line with that 'preacher's preaching' warble. Also irks me to no end. So to put it bluntly, the album is bookmarked with 5 star tracks, stuffed with two star duds. Rounding it off, I'd give this a solid 3.75 which pushes it up to 4 stars for the Beards this go around. Good place to start for the newbies.
Review by E-Dub
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I think this is Spock's Beard's first great release. Everything prior appears to be a band trying to find their 'sound'. Definitely hit the nail on the head with The Kindness Of Strangers. Very melodic, very prog, and no fillers.

It starts off with "The Good Don't Last" -- a 10 minute epic that has flashes of Kansas, with strings reminescent of ELO. Some nice acoustic interludes, mixed in with the crushing Hammond B-3 of Ryo. Quickly becoming a favorite.

"The Good Don't Last" gives way to the real foot stomper of the disc - "In The Mouth Madness". It's a bit manic in spots and not really a favorite of mine, as I tend to gravitate to the more melodic side of Spock's Beard. Still, a lack luster SB tune is pretty good. Excellent drumming by Nick D'Virgilio, however.

"A Cake Walk On Easy Street" is as upbeat as "Madness", but really some beautiful piano moments and excellent soaring vocals by Morse. After a couple of really heavy songs, Spock's Beard slows it down with "June", which is very acoustic in nature. It seems a bit autobiographical as they refer to the crowd asking for "Waste Away", which is off the previous album, "Beware Of Darkness". Still, a nice change of pace with some excellent harmonies from Nick and an ending a bit similar to "Carie", a ballad from Snow, which would come a few years later.

"Harm's Way" is the second of 3 epics from The Kindness Of Strangers. Time signatures that makes sharp turns and changes, with piano that almost reminds me of a classical piece. "Harm's Way" is among the best tunes on the disc. One of those early songs that would define the classic Spock's Beard sound. The most refreshing part is Alan Morse calming it down a bit with a nice solo. Out of all the members, Alan has never been member with whom I can listen and go, "Wow! What a strong musician". He seems more content with forcing his guitar to churn out little fart noises than showing any musicianship whatsoever. If the man would play, then I would consider it an upgrade. Nonetheless, excellent tune with a classic Neal Morse performance. Song just absolutely flies.

Bringing the disc to a close is "Flow", the final and longest epic. The song begins with the instruments alternating from left to right speakers. You're a bit off guard at first, but once it catches fire, Spock's Beard launch into an instrumental intro of a quickened pace, before yielding to the soft organ and piano of Ryo and Neal. What is really evident, however, is the ingredient that is missing from Spock's Beard today: the passion of Neal Morse. I read on PA recently about how sterile and 'gay' Morse's vocals are. A truly bogus statement, if ever there was one. Maybe not one of prog's strongest vocalists; but, Neal has an undeniable passion in his voice. And that passion is what's missing with Nick singing lead. It's so clear that I'm amazed that there are some who don't see it, as well.

Like I said, I think this was the first Spock's Beard disc to capture their soul throughout the Morse era. I was a bit surprised just how good it was because I bought it after Beware Of Darkness, which still hasn't latched on to me. I give this anywhere between 4 to 5 stars. It's that good.

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Neal Morse's style is recognizeable among 1000 progressive artists: here again, his typical lead vocals, a male version of Amy Grant's, collaborate with strings mellotron, with organ & Fender Rhodes parts and with elaborated drums & bass to produce dynamic and lively music reminding Gentle Giant circa 1975, Yes, Kansas for the numerous backing vocals, and obviously Transatlantic. The surprisingly omnipresent aggressive hard rock rhythmic guitar avoids the listener to conclude it is another prog album of the 70's. On the other hand, there are neither modern keyboards nor soaring electric guitars, so that the listeners who expect spacy, futuristic or atmospheric sounds will be truly disappointed: people often consider Spock's Beard as neo prog music: nothing is more false! There are many rhythmic piano parts, which give some color to the compositions. The overall music is very progressive. The music is antidepressive and just slightly introspective; it constantly & abruptly alternates between loaded & dynamic parts and mellow ones.
Review by The Pessimist
5 stars The best album Spock have come out with this decade. There is not a single bad song on this CD, and despite having a major struggle with Beware of Darkness and The Light, there is a reason why this became a hit in America. Sure, it has weaker songs, but that is completely irrelevant as the whole album clouds itself in glory. Long live Spock, and may they created many more albums like this one, and find it in their hearts to keep WELL AWAY from the style of Octane and Spock's Beard.
Review by Fight Club
4 stars Here we have yet another album by modern symphonic prog group, Spock's Beard. As always the band never fails to deliver anything but spectacular enjoyable music. They are very retro with lots of hints of the 70s classics, however there is something that separates them from other retro prog groups.

For one thing, there is a great deal of focus on the melody of their music. Instead of just trying to make the most complex music possible, they enjoy writing real songs. They don't often make things too tedious with meandering solos and loose song structure. Epics like "The Good Don't Last" and "Flow" have, well, very fluent structures. Neal Morse is a master song writer and knows how to connect one section to another. I must also stress what a good song "June" is! This is one their live anthems and is just a great feel good song to sing along to.

Now this album is less of a concept style than The Light was. The songs are shorter for the most part and don't have as much of a connection. This isn't a bad thing though, in fact it makes the album slightly more accessible without sacrificing musicianship. If you're familiar with the band then you know what they are capable of.

For those not familiar, Neal Morse is one of the most prestigious musicians around today. Virtually a musical prodigy since childhood, he had a gift for guitar and piano at a young age. He was the leading man in Spock's Beard, writing out pretty much all of the compositions, lyrics, and arrangements himself (until he left the band after 2002's Snow). The other band members are masterful musicians as well. Ryo's mellotron and hammond lines are like orgasms to the ear, and Nick's drumming is equally tasteful.

Only a couple things bother me. Now, the acoustic guitar playing being fantastic does not compare to the electric guitar playing. Technically, it is good yes, but just seems to lack something. In all honesty I don't think the guitar greatly contributes to the overall sound of their music. It often acts as more of a "filler" just to offer a rock sound, rather than being a prominent force.

Also, while all the songs are enjoyable, there is still something missing. In my opinion this album just isn't quite as coherent as it needs to be in order to be a masterpiece. For me an album has to move seamlessly as a movie would. Each song should represent a scene, a "picture of the whole" if you will, each piece contributing something to the final outcome. The Kindness of Strangers, while each song is strong on its own does not stand well as a single entity.

This matters more to me than it does to some though. If you just want to hear some good tunes with good songwriting and great musicianship, then this could be your favorite album. Of the Spock's Beard releases, this is an excellent, but nonessential compared to their better albums.

My rating: 8.5/10

Review by progaardvark
COLLABORATOR Crossover/Symphonic/RPI Teams
5 stars With Spock's Beard's third release in 1997, The Kindness of Strangers, they seemed to put together what could be argued as their best release ever. This album flows much better than their previous two masterpieces and includes probably two of the best compositions that band ever conceived, Harm's Way and Flow. The band still maintains that raw energy they've carried from their debut album, however the music on The Kindness of Strangers appears more tighter. Lyrically it appears Neal Morse has really improved upon his ideas for subject areas to sing and write about. The most notable improvement is in Alan Morse's guitar work. His performance on the previous two Spock's Beard albums was quite exceptional in my opinion, but on this album, he incorporates a lot of soaring and majestic tones to his solos. From this album forward I have considered him to be one of the best in the prog world, though he seems to be quite underrated.

Like their previous effort on Beware of Darkness, Morse composed a group of shorter songs and three longer pieces. Their longer pieces are considered their hallmark compositions, but on The Kindness of Strangers, even the shorter tracks are memorable. Again, the Beard made another attempt at some more radio-friendly pieces, notably June and Strange World. June is especially AOR-oriented, but Strange World fits firmly centered between AOR and prog rock. Both are exquisitely beautiful compositions.

The Kindness of Strangers is a remarkable performance and to my ears one of the best progressive rock albums released in the 1990s. I would go as far as saying that it easily ranks up with the best from the 1970s. A five-star masterpiece and very highly recommended.

Review by progrules
3 stars I have always wondered where Spocks Beard stands in my personal progworld. I'm sure I'm not the biggest fan of them but I don't dislike them either. My favorite album will probably always be V for me but this predecessor The Kindness of Strangers could well be good second I feel.

When I bought and got to know it back then I was pretty enthusiastic I remember. Especially the longer tracks as well as the great ballad June were very much my cup of tea in those days. I must admit I haven't heard it very often ever since so I thought it was high time to play it once more to see hoe it works out on me now. The opener The Good don't last was never huge to me simply because it lacked the typical impressive long instrumental contributions which makes a progsong worthwhile most of the times. And in fact this also goes for the next two songs. These three will not score over 3,25* for me. With fourth track June the album is truly lifting in quality in my opinion. I remember June was played live on a gig I visited and they did an impeccable job on this particular song. They span out the finale as a long party where the crowd was really going crazy and the vibrations were in the air you might say. But also the studio version is pretty good and that's what we're talking about in this case. So somewhere around 3,75 and 4 stars seems fair to me. Next up Strange World is just average to me (3*)

The two larger tracks made a pretty big impact on me in 1997 I can recall. But that's where a decline has taken place where my personal preference is concerned. Not that the epics leave me totally cold by now but neither do they blow my mind right now. Still both sound (very) good but no more than that. So this is decisive for my final conclusion on "Kindness"'. A good/very good album all in all but not good enough for the 4 stars ultimately. It's more like a small 3,5 rounded down to three. Good second still...

Review by Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After all, it's just a cake walk on easy street

That's how they make it seem, anyways. With the release of The Kindness Of Strangers Spock's Beard established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the progressive world. Often taking fire from some critics over sounding too poppy, this band has also received flak for trying too hard and coming off as a clone of the old 70s prog giants. While it may seem this way with their winding keyboard driving compositions, the band has enough of it's own style to seem unique against the symphonic crowd. Adding a bit of a modern touch to the older bands, this is a band whose upbeat songs can really keep the attention of most prog-heads.

This particular album capitalizes on what the Beard is very good at -- mid-long pseudo-epics mixed with a bundle of shorter prog-driven rock songs that break up what could become a wall of sound to make the album very accessible while still maintaining replay value that comes with more complex tracks. Opening with the key driven The Good Don't Last the Beard gets things off to a flying start. A semi-religious track thanks to its lyrical undertones the song manages to stay more on the poetic side of things than blatantly bashing the listener with ideals. Music wise this is a very strong track that doesn't ever let down and doesnt ever become boring thanks to it's speed changes and unique melodies.

Opening on a long track the band decides to let off for some breathing room. Let the short songs begin.

The shorter tracks on this album represent a group of songs very well constructed and intricately arranged as to make even a prog-head bob their head along with it. Starting with In The Mouth Of Madness the short songs get off to a quirky start as Morse's synths drive the song into a frenzy when the rest of the band picks up only letting down to allow Morse time to sing out some crazy lyrics. The chorus allows for a more organized chaos as the bass seems to bring everything together only to be blown apart again by the synths. Cakewalk On Easy Street follows this fairly closely if more melodic than it's predecessor. Then we make our way to the obligatory slow song.

Saying that I heartily enjoy a slow song on an otherwise upbeat album would be a terrible lie. Taking the pace of an album and slamming it headfirst into a wall with a slow track which takes away its momentum completely is a crime that has been committed far too many times. However, I would also be lying if I said that there aren't times when this is completely appropriate and actually contribute to the overall album. While Spock's Beard is usually a band who can't pull off the slow-song-stuck-in-the-middle, June is a surprising treat that makes an excellent addition to the overall mix. A beautiful ballad with some excellent acoustic parts and a very pleasant pace make this one a very big standout on the album.

But then we're back into the frantic pace.

With some well placed synths and guitars Strange World opens blissfully and continues in the same vein with some well done vocal and piano parts from Morse as the track progresses. Likely the most rockish track on the album, this is still an excellent listen. But now we're onto the longest tracks on the album. Will they be able to stand the test?

In short, yes. The next two tracks are what take an already great album and push it up that extra mile. Harm's Way opens with some malicious sounding bits and then picks up it's pace faster and faster until it gives way to some nice piano and guitar bits before letting off into some vocals. Continuing on this pace until just near the end when it starts to pick up like there's no tomorrow, Harm's Way is the definitive standout on the album.

The other long track on the album, Flow is another good one. Opening with the same fast pace as it's predecessor, this one gets some keyboarded feet under it and simply runs. A fast paced beauty who only slows down at the last part of the suite before picking up again for a cataclysmic finish, Flow takes the mark that makes this an excellent album and sets it in stone.

Though comparable to bands like Yes, Spock's Beard have acquired a unique sound that sets them apart from many others in the genre. This is an album that shows off very well what they're capable of. Not a masterpiece, but still an excellent addition to any progressive collection, this one gets 4 stars. Recommended to Beard fans, Symph-prog fans and anyone who likes a good fast paced, upbeat album with a pinch of quirk.

Review by The Crow
4 stars Even better than the previous Beware of Darkness, and along with V, the best Spock's Beard album in my opinión...

Spock's Beard perfectionated their style here, and toghether with a great production, they released another brilliant album, full with memorable songs, both the long and short ones (ok, the longer are better...) Neal Morse's singing improved here, offering us the first album with all his vocal power... His singing is just marvellous through the album... And luckily his lyrics were far of the religious themes!

Ryo Okumoto has also more protagonism with his keyboards... His playing is not always in the surface of the music, but his ambiences and constant background melodies are fundamental for the deepness this album has.

Musically is not really different of all the Spock's Beard's album with Neal Morse... Not so epic-oriented like The Light, and a little poppier than Beware of Darkness, but similar in style. The main difference is that the long tracks here are all incredible... The Good don't Last, Harm's Way and Flow are among the best long tracks Spock's Beard have ever made. The poppy and acoustic feeling of the first track is really pleasant, while the jazzy Harm's Way's keyboard backgroud is remarkable, like its epic last part... And Flow closes the album briliantly, with a brilliant funky middle part and beautiful guitar final melodies!

The short tracks are also remarkable... I specially like Cakewalk on Easy Street, a rythmic rock song with a nice piano work, and June, maybe the best acoustic Spock's Beard efforth, with marvellous vocal melodies.

Best tracks: the three longer ones, Cakewalk on Easy Street and June.

Conclusion: brilliant third Spock's Beard album, full with good songs, and a must for every fan of the band... Because toghether with V, this is the best this band has made in my humble opinión. Brilliant in composition, production, interpretation... And an excellent addition to every prog collection. And if you haven't an album of these people, The Kindness of Strangers is a perfect point of entry. So if you like commercial progressive rock, a bit pop oriented, with some complex passages with influences but always accesible... This album is made for you!

My rating: ****

Review by LinusW
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The Kindness of Strangers isn't very different from other Spock's Beard albums. They play the same successful blend of popped up progressive rock with a distinct 70's flavour uniting the different influences this band may or may not have. I've always liked the band, but the more I seem lo listen, the less exciting it gets just because of this constant flow of songs that sounds very much alike.

Passages heavy with Hammond, Mellotron and synth with dozens upon dozens of different sounds fight for the space together with a modern, heavy guitar and tight bass. Just as with the sub-genre brothers (modern symphonic rock that is.) in The Flower Kings you shouldn't be surprised if you find quite big portions of melodic metal in between the more traditional virtuosity, represented by the previously mentioned trusty old keys and traditional piano. Spock's Beard often plays a warmer kind of music which always reminds me of Kansas, and it wouldn't surprise me if they are on of the band's biggest heroes. This is both a good and a bad thing unfortunately. Because the more I listen to the band, the more irritated I get by the fact that they never stray far from this trusted method. Be it almost childish-sounding interludes, acoustic guitar by the AOR rulebook, the preachy, yearning, positive (but ultimately good) vocals of mr. Morse, slight overuse of the sweetest of melodies or the power ballad leanings found in so many of the songs, something is a bit askew here. To say the least.

I feel I've heard these songs before: Great instrumental part - acoustic guitar/piano - enter Neal Morse - tralalala alone - great instrumental part - harmonised tralalala with acoustic guitar/piano. And so forth. It never falls flat though, and Neal Morse is obviously a master in creating good songs by just that formula. But why not try something different for a change, and explore the whole range of emotions and styles as the band is most certainly capable of? Both the debut and Beware of Darkness were way more successful in that matter. The strange noises and effects coming out of the keys this time, however unique they may be, ultimately feels like some kind of faux-creativity just to cover up these problems.

No wonder then that my two favourites on the album are Harm's Way and Flow, as they are the most dynamic of the songs. Harm's Way even manages to build up some aggression (!) at times.

I almost wish I could give The Kindness of Stranger a lower rating, but even with these complaints the music is just too good when it's good and it's never bad when it's bad. It's just safe and nice, and even nicer and safer now and then. And while in the right mood, few things beat the music created for this album. But for now, I'll just return to the magnum opus that is The Light.

3 shaky stars.


Review by LiquidEternity
4 stars I wish this album was a bit better tied together, because some tracks are amazing. However, a poor layout and some weak pieces really weigh this album down. So, four stars, though a few of the tracks here have never been surpassed by the band.

This album is bookended by three longer pieces, The Good Don't Last, Harm's Way, and Flow. These three take some effort to enjoy. For a long time, I didn't really enjoy any of them. But over time, it began to become clear that these feature some brilliant music. Flow especially features some incredible vocals. I wasn't patient with them at first, which is very unprog of me. Apologies.

But that brings up the middle of the album. Four tracks: In the Mouth of Madness, Cakewalk on Easy Street, June, and Strange World. These songs are what define this album. From the explosive oddness of In the Mouth of Madness, complete with wacky sound effects, wackier lyrics, and a fantastic series of vocal lines, this track grabs your attention quite effectively after the mediocre opening track. Cakewalk on Easy Street is fairly straightforward as far as songs go, but the melodies really work, especially considering the bouncy abnormality of the preceding track. June is my absolute favorite from the album, despite there being basically nothing prog about the track at all. It's simply stunning, though. A must listen. Strange World is another unique one, not as odd as In the Mouth of Madness, but it's certainly a fun endcap to the shorter midsection pieces on this album.

If you really like the Beard, this is a quality album. However, as far as CDs go, I find this one to work better shuffled in with other tracks than standing on its own. Not essential, but fun, and with plenty of high moments.

Review by Chicapah
4 stars By 1997 progressive rock music was finally starting to rise up out of the grave that the "I want my MTV" generation had buried it in. But an all-USA symphonic prog band was (and is) still as hard to find as an honest politician and it's pretty much been that way since Kansas made their distinctive mark in the 1970s. The "where's the hit single?" mentality of the stodgy fat cats in the music industry has always discouraged any forays away from the accepted "conquer-the-Top 40" formula for success in this country. That's why most of us natives have had to look overseas (with the exception of jazz rock/fusion) to get our prog fix. It's also why I'm so pleased to have discovered the swim-against-the- current creations of Spock's Beard. These guys deserve a medal for courage and sheer intestinal fortitude in sticking by their progressive guns when I'm sure they were told over and over that no one was interested in such indulgent nonsense. As it is, "The Kindness of Strangers" is a fine album in spite of the oppressive odds stacked against it.

"The Good Don't Last" starts things off in fine prog fashion with a mysterious organ droning under an ominous cello before morphing into a jazzy swing feel. However, jazz this ain't and soon they're cruising to a strong rock beat with subtle classical influences. And this gumbo of genres is just the intro! The meat of the epic features a very catchy verse and hook line with an instrumental section that's chock full of interesting detours off the beaten trail. The lyrics paint a caustic but fair picture of American life in the narcissistic 90s as Neal Morse sings "we could've made anything we wanted/so we made "Wheel of Fortune"/and all the popular songs/we made a land where crap is king/and the good don't last too long." That statement hits the cultural nail squarely on the head as far as I'm concerned. A slower movement involving a string quartet ensues on the majestic "The Radiant Is," a dramatic tune with esoteric words and an edgy but soaring guitar solo from Alan Morse. The fade-out with the string quartet is a nice touch.

I think in the eyes of the "biz" the fact that the group had one foot firmly entrenched in hard rock & roll was most likely the reason they got to make records at all. The driving "In the Mouth of Madness," led by the boisterous bass of Dave Meros is a good example of their blend of rock and prog. There's nothing shy about their approach on this one. "Hey, there, would you like to ride/on the best event since suicide/Hey, people, come and board the train/come anaesthetize your frazzled brain" Neal beckons. His histrionics on the synthesizer are reminiscent of some of Keith Emerson's scathing rides in ELP's heyday and drummer Nick D'Virgilio throws in some blazing fills along the way. The opening riff of "Cakewalk on Easy Street" is intriguing due to Nick's odd take on the downbeat as he turns it into a mild mind-mucker, but once it straightens itself out it's a kick butt, in-your-face reminder to count your daily blessings as Neal describes the world as seen by an army vet who is less than whole. "I have nothing to say/'cept all my friends have gone away/half of me is plastic and wood/but at least I've got my arms/that's good." The lyrics may be thought-provoking but there's nothing soft or sentimental about the music. It's a heavy barnburner from top to bottom.

According to the liner notes Neal was hesitant to put "June" on the album because he figured it was too "normal" to include but I'm glad he did. A song doesn't have to be prog for me to like it when it's done as well as this one is. Basically an exercise in CS&N-styled harmonies sung over simple acoustic guitar, it is grandly gorgeous nonetheless with excellent counterpoint and a steady build-up to a super finale as the group joins in. It's about them looking back on a period in the band's career when everything was magically perfect and realizing that they may never experience anything as special as that ever again. It's a bittersweet tune that gets better with every listen. "Strange World" is a well- designed pop/rock ditty with progressive tendencies that works on many levels. It's a social commentary that could have come straight off the front page of the newspaper ("I didn't know life could get so cold/I didn't see/I thought they were all like me") and Alan's out-of-control guitar lead is enough to wake the dead.

The apex of the album comes on "Harm's Way," an 11-minute epic that leaves no doubt as to this group's symphonic prog prowess. After a sizzling hot intro, keyboard man Ryo Okumoto lays down a thick carpet of Mellotron strings under the verse where Neal exclaims that he can no longer stand idly by while the world goes to Hell in a hand basket. "I can't look the other way/just to stay out of harm's way," he sings. The mood changes dramatically when a jazzy Rhodes piano takes over, leading to Alan's best guitar solo where he is seemingly possessed by the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan's slinky mannerisms. A cool electric piano ride follows before they segue into the outstanding passage of the whole endeavor where Ryo sets the studio afire by double-timing on the mighty Hammond organ as the rest of the band falls in behind him. Hallelujah! Prog is alive in the United States of America and it's right here for everyone to witness! Glory be! It even has a big ol' pompous-as-all-get-out finale that appeals unashamedly to my bleeding prog heart. Hear, hear!

The longest cut, "Flow," also happens to be their most uneven. The roots of the track come from material written by Neal when he was just 16 and perhaps it should have stayed in his 70s file. Not that it's a total waste of time, mind you. "True Believer" sports a bang-up introduction and the grand piano adds a touch of grandeur to the melody line but overall it seems a bit overwrought (although I do like the central musical theme they establish). Lyrically it's kinda scattershot and too existential for its own good but at least the words don't get in the way of the performance. "A Constant Flow of Sound" is the pothole in the highway for me mainly because I don't care much for the quasi-funky feel and the cheesy guitar effect that Alan employs. At this point I'm thinking they felt if they tinkered with this thing long enough it would blossom into something great but it never makes it to the promise land. "Into the Source" slips you into a pool of serenity dominated by acoustic piano before they return to the central theme and predictably rotate it through several key changes before fading away. Not bad but not as good as the tunes that preceded it.

The bonus material doesn't really add much to the package. The first three songs are presented in their "radio edit" forms which means all the interesting prog elements have been purged, probably at the behest of the label executives and marketing pukes. While the home demo versions of "June" and "Strange World" offer glimpses into their creative process, they also show why groups still turn to professional studio engineers for the finished product.

I can understand why some don't cotton to the sharp, hard rock edges that Spock's Beard often displays but it more or less reflects what they were raised on and, therefore, it shows up in their music. Subtlety wasn't what was getting a band played on American radio in those days and these guys were fighting for their lives to get recognized. When I take all of that into consideration I applaud the group for standing proudly on its prog feet and producing an excellent album of songs that doesn't have a single "skipper" in the bunch. 4.2 stars.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars This was the first SPOCK'S BEARD record that I ever heard and so it does have some of that "first love" appeal to me. Of their first three albums though I would rate this number three, but let me just say that I would pick any of those three in a heart beat to listen to at any time as they are all amazing.

"The Good Don't Last" opens with synths as Alan comes in on the cello, yes the cello. Love the bass and drums that follow. Ryo is busy on piano and then organ as he offers up some powerful runs on the latter. Acoustic guitar and a calm as reserved vocals come in. The contrasts continues. Yes I know the words of "Seasons In The Sun" Neal. Cello is back before 5 1/2 minutes followed by mellotron. Nice. Cello is back after 7 minutes and I really like the uplifting section 8 1/2 minutes in with some beautiful guitar melodies. Cello 9 1/2 minutes in. "In The Mouth Of Madness" is one of my top three tracks on this record. I'm thinking YES with the intro. Heavy bass after the vocals come in. The vocals and mellotron a minute in make me melt, and also 1 1/2 minutes in. Man these guys can play ! Check it out before 3 minutes. "Cakewalk On Easy Street" opens with a GENTLE GIANT flavour with the intricate sounds. Lots of mellotron as it calms down. Morse has such a great voice. This song has a lot of power to it and the organ is great. Cello 3 1/2 minutes. Some nice guitar feedback to end it.

"June" is a feel good summer track that makes me smile. Strummed guitar to open as reserved vocals come in. Organ after 2 minutes and drums after 3 1/2 minutes. I love the synths in the intro of "Strange World". Piano and vocals before a minute. The contrast continues. "Harm's Way" is another top three for me along with "Flow". A nice heavy intro greets us in "Harm's Way" before organ and drums arrive. The guitar sounds amazing and Ryo shows off his piano playing. It's all so impressive. Vocals and mellotron before 2 minutes. A Jazz vibe after 3 minutes. Excellent guitar after 4 1/2 minutes. Great passage 7 minutes in. Uplifting section before 10 minutes with mellotron. "Flow" opens with these instrumental outbursts and mellotron. Very GENESIS sounding before a minute. Amazing ! A calm before 1 1/2 minutes with piano. Reserved vocals before 2 minutes. Some great guitar before 3 minutes. Passionate vocals and sound after 5 minutes. A catchy uptempo section 6 1/2 minutes in. The intro section is back 10 1/2 minutes in. Guitar comes in after 12 minutes and continues to the end of the song which is almost 16 minutes long. Fantastic ending.

Another triumph for the band and an easy 4 stars.

Review by stefro
5 stars Even the die-hard fans admit that Neal Morse's Christian defection was a huge loss for the US Prog- titans to take, and even though the bands's output since has still been good, it's just that it's not extra- special anymore, and even though I hate to say it, lacks the fire and the god-to-honest faux-emotional candour filled with insanely-catchy pop/rock hooks that so epitomised Morse's work. The first three SB albums are the jewels in the groups sparkling crown; 'The Light' proved to be the prog-debut of the 90's and the last truely great US prog epic. Sophomore record 'Beware Of Darkness' continued were it's predecessor left off, only shorter, sharper, more concise. And then there was 'The Kindness Of Strangers'. Many asked whether the prolific prog-rock hit-making machine could continue with such un-broken and ruthless efficiency. They'd beaten the 'difficult-second- album' thing, unlike a thousand different bands, and then they went and, gasp, gave their third album a very non-prog cover, a cover that resembles a strange european travel-brochure and was completely out-of-kilter with everything they had ever done. Gone too was the mystic cartoons and ambiguous omens of 'The Light' and 'Beware Of Darkness'. Were the tunes still there too? Or had they been jettisoned in this new-look fury? The answer is, emphatically, no. 'The Kindness Of Strangers' is up there as one of the most consistent, inventive and, even, dare I say it, definitive Spock's Beard studio albums to date. It stands proudly, shoulder-to-shoulder with Morse's personal-favourite 'V' and the groups most popular, their brilliant debut, the afore-mentioned 'The Light', and is a kind of sonic tour through their trademark best-of-beard moments, which range from the gutsy, odball pop-metal of 'In The Mouth Of Madness' to the sheer, delectable prog-brilliance of the slow-starting 'Harm's Way' and the steel-prog- funk inventiveness of 'Flow'. Shorter songs start to appear more frequentyly too, giving the album as-a-whole a great overall and individual feel, which the predecessor 'BOD' didn't really achieve(despite it's excellent tunes). Ultimately, it's an album which has, in time, become a testament to the brilliant musical skills and ideas of Neal Morse. His recent life-change has, in some opinions, taken away something truely unique, i.e. his collaborations with NDV, Alan Morse, Ryu and Dave Meros which have undoubtedly created some of the greatest modern progressive rock yet. That collaboration is no more now, and yes, it's sad. The beard are still great, it's that edge, that glint in the collective band's eye that has faded now. But the culmination of that fruitful period, spread across six superb albums, will live on for a long time and will influence many, many musicians, just like it's been doing for the last 10 years. 'The Kindness of Strangers' is peak of sorts for the band as whole, a band being lead by Morse. The soothing beauty of 'June' sparkles and shines from the albums middle, it's tearful, maudlin yet wonderfully up-lifting tones stretch out across the albums remaining 6 tunes, acting as a kind of reference point to the records themes. It's a joyous moment of thrilling beauty and it's legacy will live forever. As for the album? Yes, it is one of their greatest, and yes, it is a watermark reached that will never be reached again(unless we are REALLY lucky). But like all the best albums, we will rarely get bored of it, and it's timeless glory will relect throughout their music for years to come, and that, my friends, can only be a very, very, very good thing. A great record. STEFAN THOMAS TURNER, LONDON, 2008
Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Kindness of Strangers is the third album from american symphonic prog rock band Spock´s Beard. I´m very fond of their previous album called Beware of Darkness and The Kindness of Strangers is equally as good as that one and at times even better.

The music is unmistakebly Spock´s Beard as they sounded on their early albums. Very Gentle Giant influenced but bands like Genesis, Yes and Kansas didn´t live in vain either. Spock´s Beard is no clone band though and even though they clearly play seventies retro symphonic prog they definitely have their own sound. Neal Morse is a very skilled singer and songwriter who seems to know all the tricks in the book. We´re treated with great symphonic landscapes, technical playing and beautiful vocal performances from both Neal Morse and most of the rest of the band who sings backing vocals.

The songs are all very well composed and I enjoy every one of them except the pop tune June which I find useless. The rest are excellent examples of Spock´s Beard when they are best. There are three epic tracks on The Kindness of Strangers. The Good Don´t Last, Harm´s Way and Flow which are all over 10 minutes long and hosts many different sections, moods and playing styles. But the three shorter songs In the Mouth of Madness, Cakewalk on Easy Street and Strange World are all great songs too with lots of challenging and melodic parts. It´s only June which annoys me but it seems Neal Morse wanted a ballad type song on every album and here it is in all its horrible glory. It would have fit better on one of his weak solo albums from that time.

The musicianship is excellent. More than one time I´m wondering how they did that or that part. Great interplay.

The production is very good and really helps the music to shine.

Beware of Darkness and The Kindness of Strangers are my favorite Spock´s Beard albums. Very similar in style but still excellent both of them. From now on more and more pop influences would sneak their way into Spock´s Beard´s songs which is such a shame even though the next album are still great. With Neal Morse at the helmet they were without a doubt one of the best american progressive rock bands ever. The Kindness of Strangers deserves the big 4 stars just as much as Beware of Darkness.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars As in my case, and obviously the case of approximately 1.6 Billion Moslems all around the world, this is the time to start the fasting month in Ramadhan month .. the month which is very very "special" for Moslems to take themselves closer to the Creator, Allah - the Almighty , The Merciful - and all of us are very excited about having the month. I am so happy to day because in Indonesia the day one of the fasting is starting tomorrow! Hop that Allah still gives me life throughout this special month so that I will have a chance to bring myself closer to Allah. I took "The Kindness of Strangers" from my CD shelf because I just realized that I have not reviewed this album yet - despite I like it or not. I remember vividly when I purchased the CD I was interested with the lyrics of the song especially the first track.

Yes, the album kicks off nicely with "The Good Don't Last" (10:02) which comprises three parts : a) Introduction, b) The Good Don't last, and c) The Radian Is. Musically I can sense that the band has tried their full effort to make dynamic and progressive composition and especially during the intro part, it catches my attention. But when the vocal line enters, there is something missing - it sounds that the grove do not sound unite with the overall music. But the lyrics intrigue me really . The Good Don't Last .. which in my religion means that actually the term "last" only apply to living in planet Earth but actually those who do good deeds will continue their life eternally in much better life after death. That's why people are urged to do good things to save their lives after death. So, I interpret these lyrics on "don't last" only apply to Planet Earth living, not afterwards. Why? Because God will reward good thing they have done on earth.

The next track is another good composition in energetic style "In the Mouth Of Madness" followed by "Cakewalk On Easy Street" (5:01) in the same vein with great piano work. In every track, I can see the tight basslines played by Dave Meros. "June" (5:26) is a ballad with acoustic guitar. When we had a classic rock station radio in Jakarta, we sometime played this tune on air because it's radio-friendly, I would say. "Strange World" (4:18) starts with a high drive music with sort of mellotron sounds backed with great drumming and powerful bass guitar. The guitar solo at the ending part of the song is quite interesting.

"Harm's Way" (11:03) is probably a song that represents the sounds of the Beard especially the opening part with its soaring organ work and short piano shot which sounds really great. It reminds me to Rick Wakeman piano playing. The song has a great interlude part in the middle of the track in bluesy touch featuring stunning guitar solo followed with organ solo and vocal line. I do enjoy the interlude part. The concluding track is another epic "Flow" (15:48) which comprises three parts : a) True Believer, b) A Constant Flow Of Sound, c) Into The source. The mellotron-drenched opening makes most of you who knew prog since 70s would like it much this opening part. The dynamic structure of the music makes it elegant in composition especially just before the vocal line enters, there is short piano work which sounds great.

Overall, I consider the composition of music in this album is good. There seem still influences from previous bands but the band has tried to create their own sound which basically centers around Neal Morse's vocal and keyboard. But the good parts are that the guitar solo and bass guitar work are all good, backed with Nick's dynamic drumming. Keep on proggin' ..!

Happy Ramadhan! for all Moslems around the globe!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW (i-Rock! Music Community)

Review by ZowieZiggy
2 stars Nothing really new under the Spock's sun, I'm afraid.

Maybe a harder YesAttack at times, but as soon as the vocals enter the scene, some dull feeling is invading me like during "The Good Don't Last Too Long" (which lasts for about ten minutes but fortunately it features some fine instrumental parts). It sounds as if the band wanted to throw every bits and bites in here to be compared to the great "Yes". Cliché, my prog friends. But enjoyable music (but those vocals.).

Since both bands started the same year, it is difficult to tell who of TFK or Spock's Beard copied one another; but their music is quite similar ("In The Mouth of Madness").

Spock's are passing from the mellowish to death and dull "June" to a heavy and energetic "Strange World". Different but not great. Again, the shouting vocals aren't the best one can experience.

At this stage, there are only two more long songs which could save the album. The funky / jazzy "Harm's Way" is not one of them even if the second half is more of the symphonic and enjoyable vein but fully YesAlike (nothing new, I told you.).

The closing "Flow" is completely derivative: same strong bass, same guitar sounds, same type of vocal harmonies. For about sixteen minutes.It is true to say that there are some fine moments included in here (mainly guitar breaks) but this song is overlong and lacks of flow.

Unlike most reviewers, this is my least preferred Beard's album so far. Two stars for some nice instrumental parts. But these vocals are not on par.

Review by Sinusoid
3 stars If I look at Spock's Beard as a pop-rock band with major prog influence, then they're actually not too shabby of what they do. From the prog perspective, they sound a little too awkward and light sounding. They can make a decent Kansas inspired pop epic in ''The Good Don't Last''; if it wasn't so long, the track might have been a minor radio hit. ''June'' could have easily been a minor soft rock radio hit had the band pushed harder for it because ''June'' is nothing more than a pleasantly acoustic ballad.

There seems to be an alternative rock kind of sound to this album, especially ''In the Mouth of Madness'' and ''Strange World'', but let's not compare Spock's Beard to say Alice in Chains. ''Cakewalk on Easy Street'' is the best of the shorter tunes Spock's Beard offers here, and their prog kudos is somewhat justified on ''Harm's Way'' albeit a bit too many ''I expected this'' moments. On the downside, ''Flow'' seems to merely repeat the first two epics in an attempt to create a masterwork, yet ends up being corny.

Neal Morse's voice and lyrics are a bit too overdramatic and are grating as time wears on. The epics really don't sound much different from other prog acts, but THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS is a nice novelty album worth a spin every so often.

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is an excellent Spock's Beard album that shows a deepening level of maturity, both in songwriting and performance. There are a few uninteresting or goofy places from time to time, but these are offset by a variety of exceptional work with soulful singing and powerful instrumental segments. The three longest tracks are the highlights.

"The Good don't Last" After some long organ chords, the main riff kicks in. Following the introductory music, an acoustic guitar suddenly breaks in with the vocals (in the same manner as "Go the Way the Go"), and the piano after the first verse repeats the introduction. The chorus is awfully catchy. The track flows pleasingly, with excellent vocal melodies over likewise excellent riffs. After a screaming guitar solo, an orchestral segment abruptly finishes out the piece. Lyrically, the song bemoans the popularity of "crap," a common lament of progressive rock lovers.

"In the Mouth Of Madness" Video game noises and organ kick off this strange track. But not only does this odd song feature some killer synthesizer and guitar (which will admittedly annoy me sometimes), it has a solid composition that works well for a shorter progressive rock song. The softer choruses are a brilliant contrast, also.

"Cakewalk On Easy Street" The opening piano riff and accompanying guitar are quirky to be sure, but that doesn't ruin an otherwise decent track. It's not the best Spock's Beard track at all, but it's okay- gentle in some places, eccentric in others.

"June" One of the best acoustic tracks from the band, there's some great vocal harmonies here, with lovely organ hanging around in the background.

"Strange World" A heavy yet somewhat corny riff cuts off to bring in piano and singing. I really like this song, though I don't see it as Spock's Beard's best. The vocal melodies are the most appealing part of the track, as the instrumentation tends toward needlessly noisy.

"Harm's Way" A heavy riff jumps in, with sinister organ in the backdrop and thundering drums over it all. The band hops in and out, with quick piano runs bridging their appearances. Gorgeous Mellotron supports the vocals. This, however, is a real treat.

"Flow" The third truly exceptional song has a heavy riff that jumps around the speakers, but is solidly put together, especially with the other instruments and the way it moves through each subsequent part. Gorgeous piano and organ follow, with a great melody and guitar-led theme. I absolutely love the vocal melody and the passion with which it is carried. Overall, the music has just the right measure of quirkiness blended with a generous portion of majesty. It is one of Spock's Beard's grandest pieces.

Review by Flucktrot
3 stars With this album, the Beard are rounding into the version that I like best: fun, playful (but not tooooo playful!), consistent, and well-produced. There's nothing revolutionary here, but good prog is good prog, and there's plenty to be found on Kindness of Strangers.

Highlights: The Good Don't Last, June, Flow. The album gets off to a great start, as Good Don't Last fades in with a bright organ tone leading to a catchy, bouncy melody. The finale is particularly good, with Neal really selling the emotion vocally, and Alan right there on cue with some big, wailing guitar. Regarding June, almost all previous reviewers love the track, and I'm no different. A non-traditional power ballad that features beautiful harmonies, June makes the long wait for the cathartic climax well worth the effort.

For me, Flow represents a prequel for my favorite Beard tune: The Great Nothing. We have the teaser opening, introduction of the main theme, a series of playful (and, for me at least, enjoyable) sections, and then an emotional reprise. The formula may be simple, but the Beard have a wonderful sound when it involves Neal delivering passionate vocals, segueing to some heavy synths, thundering bass, and a big solo from Alan. They've got this down, and I can't get enough of it!

Overall, plenty of good material, but nothing particularly original. Regardless, I'm glad to have it.

Indeed, I will always think of "Kindness" with kindness!

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars The third studio album from Spock's Beard is a scattershot affair. The two ten minute tracks, The Good Don't Last and Harm's Way are both very good, but not the best epics from the band. And In The Mouth Of Madness is just wonderful.

On the other side, the middle of the album, from Cakewalk On Easy Street through Strange World, the music gets almost tedious. And the longest piece on the album, Flow, just doesn't. It highlight's Neal Morse's habit of mixing grandiose passages with some truly mundane musical sections. And if you didn't know about his ardent Christianity by this time, the lyrics of this one should make it obvious.

It's not a bad album, and I pull it out and listen to it once in a while, but it isn't a favorite.

Review by Neu!mann
3 stars Spock's Beard has regressed in my own music library from Prog Rock standard bearers to guilty pleasure, but the band's third studio album is still a sentimental favorite: the first one I bought after hearing their performance on the "Progfest '95" twin CD set. This 1997 effort was a more or less characteristic blend of shorter, catchy Prog-Pop tunes bracketed by longer, multi-section suites, with a token acoustic ballad (the lovely "June") positioned as a sort of fulcrum.

It's an arrangement that would become all-too formulaic on later Neal Morse projects, although here the songwriting was more relaxed and natural than on either of the band's two previous albums. But it's true that the music improves if you ignore the singing, and sometimes even the singer himself: Morse was always a gifted composer but a ham-fisted vocalist.

Titles like "Into the Source" and "The Radiant Is" hint at a growing spiritual awareness, but don't worry: Morse's songwriting was at the time still untainted by any born-again tunnel vision. In classic Prog fashion (and unlike his later solo output) the gist was more high- than narrow-minded, and no more explicit (if a lot less poetic) than Jon Anderson crooning about the Heart of the Sunrise.

But as usual with Spock's Beard I wish someone in the band would have insisted they just relax and play, preferably after tying a polite gag around their lyric writer. There are moments throughout the album (for example the 'pretty maids' section of "Harm's Way") when the music arises organically from the performances instead of being forced to accommodate the words, and these are the moments when The Beard is at its best.

The extroverted sound of the band, in songs like "Cakewalk on Easy Street" and "In the Mouth of Madness", will certainly command the attention of ardent old-school Progheads. The style may not wear too well after repeated exposure, but the album nevertheless makes a good starting point for curious newcomers, and provides a more than welcome pit stop for established fans.

Review by Wicket
3 stars Considering "The Kindness of Strangers" and "Day for Night" are not exactly the most popular Spock albums, both precede the highly touted and highly praised "V" and Snow" (the latter being Neal's last album with the group), so identifying the evolving sound of Spock must continue with this album.

"Beware of Darkness" took the monolithic epics from "The Light", condensed them and tried to put more of a songwriting approach to the lyrics as opposed to just the crazy instrumentation, with mixed results. "From pressing play on this album's opener, "The Good Don't Last", I'm proud to say the quality issues seem to be completely absent once and for all this time. Which is excellent. What I find about this track that's so interesting, though, is that while the lyrics and melodies sung by Neal are very catchy, the whole 10 minute song doesn't seem to lose its proggy origins (despite Neal's 'Ode to Nirvana 4 minutes in). It's a very good song, but I feel it's a major foreshadow to "Day for Nights" more conventional, radio-aspiring approach. Hmm...

"In The Mouth Of Madness" doesn't begin that way at all, though. The whole song is laced with abrupt synths and crashing waves of guitar licks and heavy chords that have a slight whiff of Dream Theater about them, without entirely going off the deep end, and thus the verses sound very Spock-like, very similar to those off "The Light".

"Cakewalk on Easy Street" sounds like the title of a New York-based sitcom series, and even the intro sounds a bit like a hipster's theme song (in 1998, which in reality is impossible since hipsters are more of a 21st century thing, but I'm getting off topic). This definitely sounds like a radio song (again, in 1998, and even then it'd probably be rare to hear it), which doesn't surprise me because of Neal Morse's affection with short, catchy songs (which is one reason why some of his first solo outings were all radio-friendly alt rock songs, before his conversion to Christianity, obviously). "June" is constructed in a similar, radio-friendly way, a nice, lovely guitar-ballad with Morse overlapping his voice, creating wonderful chords and choruses in a very light track. Brilliant songs. Except, they're not really what you'd call "prog rock". "Strange World" is probably the most proggy of them all, but it just doesn't echo the Spock's Beard from the previous two albums. And since this IS a progressive rock focused website...

Oh dear...

Still, we have two long songs to go, so maybe things will shape up, starting with "Harm's Way". Perhaps not my most favorite intro of Spock's epics, but Ryu Okumoto does show off some flying fingers with chromatic down-sweeping licks. Neal's voice, once again, steals the show, but the slow jam, the first half is entertaining. Overall, it's a very laid-back tune. Basically, about 7 minutes in is where the tempo picks back up again and then a minute or so later a quick little tribal drum ditty from Nick D'Virgilio. It's a very happy song, and I like a lot, while I definitely consider it prog, it still feels more accessible and less spastic than "The Light", "The Water" or anything of "Beware of Darkness", in fact.

"Flow" sounds constructed along the same philosophy. It's a bit more of a mature prog epic. It's not just about spastically changing meters, changing mood, adding and subtracting different instruments, speeding up, slowing down, etc. It has catchy verses and choruses, mature sounding guitar solos, groovy jams, the lot. And that's fine. Apart from one, small thing.

Is this the reason why this album isn't getting enough praise or respect?

VERDICT: One of my prog friends (well, actually, my ONLY prog friend) is always skeptical whenever he finds a new band that claims to play progressive rock. To him, the lines seem so blurred, so irregular, he doesn't know what to think half the time, and this album is down that similar way of thinking. Yes, to me, it sounds like prog, but opinions may vary. Do you want the crazy, constantly changing goliaths of tracks like on "The Light"? Look elsewhere. Want a bit of catchiness and normality to your prog? This is your album. In fact, this could probably be one of the first prog albums in which every song could sound great while driving or on a road trip.

Hell, that actually sounds like a good idea right now. Be right back...

Favorites: The Good Don't Last, June, Flow

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars During the second half of the 90's the popularity of Progressive Rock had started to increase in favor for all old fans of the movement and Spock's Beard was definitely one of the major reasons.This was prooved by the fact that the band was invited for the second time to the mega festival Progfest in 1997 (the first one taking place in 1995), but it was during the same year that the prolific Americans found time to record a third studio album.''The kindness of strangers'' was eventually released in May 98', again Neal Morse's Radiant, IQ's Giant Electric Pea and Metal Blade were among the publishers to release a Spock's Beard album.

''The kindness of strangers'' shows a slightly different side of the group, speaking of the composing way.The long opener ''The good don't last'' and the following ''In the mouth of madness'' are set in a familar style established by the band with strong YES, KING CRIMSON and GENESIS influences, turning from dramatic and bombastic instrumental Progressive Rock to ethereal textures with sensitive vocals and plenty of synths, organ and Mellotron.The use of strings recall classic-period RENAISSANCE and the overall style is complex, Symphonic Prog with some inredible breaks and twists.The next few short pieces suggest a poppier attitude with the vocals offered through plenty of disturbing distortions and the song structures being more accesible.Hints from THE BEATLES are combined with a prog color, featuring again Mellotron and synths, while the guitar parts become quite heavy, even with an Alternative Rock vibe a moments, as Spock's Beard were off to add some more contemporary stylings in their music.Things will get back in the correct place with two long epics at the end of the album, especially ''Harm's way'' belongs among the best pieces recorded by the band, intense, intricate and dramatic Symphonic Rock with superb work by Neal Morse on Hammond organ much in a GENESIS style and a beautiful balance between powerful, rich instrumental parts and lyrical soundscapes.''Flow'', clocking at 16 minutes, contains partly some poetry written by Tony Ray, a school friend of Neal Morse, and comes as a decent example of dense and intelligent Progressive Rock with strong Classical inspirations (again RENAISSANCE come to mind during the lovely piano interludes) and grandiose musicianship.

Not as good as the impressive ''Beware of darkness'' due to the questionable style of the mid-placed tracks, but the long ones are offering again some of the very best modern Symphonic Rock of the time.Strongly recommended...3.5 stars.

Review by Prog Leviathan
3 stars The Kindness of Strangers always seemed like the forgotten Spock's Beard album for me. It doesn't have the novelty of The Light, the scope of Snow, or the ups and downs of their contemporary releases; however, Kindness of Strangers is noteworthy simply for being a rock-solid release that features the band's terrific early symphonic, enthusiastic, and poignant sound.

For fans exploring Spock's Beard's back catalog, this album is similar to the (slightly better) Day for Night. The band plays very well, with a lot of gusto and thoughtfulness. In a way, this early SB sound sort of created a template for Prog bands of this '90's era, so while the songwriting is sort of by the numbers as far as this genre goes, it's hard to find any faults in it beyond the occasional missed opportunity. Basically, this is artistic hard rock, with mellotrons and odd time signatures. Meros' bass is strong and energetic; Ryu and Morse's keyboards are rich and varied; D'Virgilio's drums are highly proficient; and Morse's guitar has a lot of personality. However, there aren't any real stand-up and shout instrumental moments, with the grand finale guitar solos striking me as not being quite as good as we've heard from Morse in other works. In the end, the sum here is definitely more than any one player's part.

The famous (or infamous?) Neal Morse sings his heart out as always, with lyrics that are slightly more trite than usual. Sometimes tongue in cheek, sometimes memorable, and sometimes groan-inducing, lyrics may be a turn-off for some, as he belts out alongside bouncy rhythms and jaunty songs that give Kindness of Strangers a very approachable feel.

Still, every song on this release is enjoyable for one reason or another, with only a few missteps in the extended pieces to find fault with. A great purchase for fans of the classic Spock's Beard.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 3 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

Review by Warthur
3 stars The Kindness of Strangers is the album where Spock's Beard don't quite go pop, but don't put such an emphasis on keeping the prog dial turned to 11 all the time. It had been apparent at least since Beware of Darkness that Neal Morse and company had a healthy respect for the 1960s psych-pop forefathers of prog, and for its middle run of shorter songs the band seem to dip into the sunny world of that pop era and save the prog workouts for the longer pieces which bookend the album.

Part of this may well be motivated by the desire to make the band a viable commercial unit going forwards - the plethora of radio edits available as bonus tracks on some editions of the album attest to that. Then again, Kansas - whose influence had always been part of the early Spock's Beard sound - also navigated a territory between full-on prog and prog-tinged pop, so whilst this gear shift might not be to the taste of listeners who'd prefer Spock's Beard to more consistently lean into their prog side, it's not a totally out of left field direction for the band to take.

As it stands, they aren't bad at it - though equally, they aren't great. Of the first three Spock's Beard studio albums, this is probably my least favourite. That doesn't mean it's bad - it's usually entertaining, June is genuinely beautiful, and you do get a sense of the band continuing to evolve their sound, which is welcome and necessary. At the same time, I wouldn't prioritise it above The Light or Beware of Darkness.

Latest members reviews

4 stars To say that I've been a Spocks Beard and Neal Morse Superfan for years is an understatement. If I remember right I stumbled on them around 2002 when Neal was leaving the band. I was lead to them via Dream theater and Transatla ntic. I think V was the first I listened to or bought. Obviously with ... (read more)

Report this review (#2458122) | Posted by yeshead 777 | Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Review Permanlink

3 stars This album sees SB continue the process, began with "Beware of Darkness" in making their albums more radio-friendly with more shorter and punchier tunes. I actually like this album better than "Beware of Darkness", but I admit they are really very similar in form and style. This begins with one of t ... (read more)

Report this review (#1743972) | Posted by Walkscore | Sunday, July 16, 2017 | Review Permanlink

4 stars For me, a much more coherent album when compared to their first release. The band is maturing and it shows. The musical playground is still there but this time the ideas that make up the music are allowed to breathe and are given room to claim their own space. The sound quality here is a great de ... (read more)

Report this review (#1579583) | Posted by sukmytoe | Friday, June 17, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars If I were to recommend someone an album which best represented Spock's Beard as a whole I would probably give The Kindness of Strangers. The quirky Gentle Giant sounds still linger on this album but there is also a lot of pop in songs like Cakewalk On Easy Street and June. I'm not surprised a lot of ... (read more)

Report this review (#771405) | Posted by Mr. Mustard | Friday, June 15, 2012 | Review Permanlink

3 stars I originally gave this 2 stars, back when I was not a member of the site, and I've wanted to revise that for a while now. This is still not one of my favorites from the Beard, but I can understand a little more why people seem to like it so much. The first and last tracks are quite good, and h ... (read more)

Report this review (#609144) | Posted by infandous | Friday, January 13, 2012 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is quite different to their earlier releases, in that it was a lot more happier. Yes, their earlier material was a wee bit darker (it was still happy), but these songs are mega happy and always put me in a good mood. I again think this album is a masterpiece of modern prog, making older ... (read more)

Report this review (#285769) | Posted by arcane-beautiful | Wednesday, June 9, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#283616) | Posted by R-A-N-M-A | Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I'm torn when it comes to this album. There's so much potential it seems in the writing of many of the songs but in the end it really seems to fall flat in some places. Take the first track "The Good Don't Last". This is probably my least favorite song on the album, and yet I liked it so much the ... (read more)

Report this review (#211739) | Posted by AmericanKhatru | Sunday, April 19, 2009 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I have to start with mentioning that I've got of Neal Morse (He is an excellent musician but I just can't stand him anymore). He was one of my favourites but I listen to his works very rarely these days. I hope that won't affect my objective rate (maby I'm more objective now than back then...) ... (read more)

Report this review (#187277) | Posted by Arnold | Tuesday, October 28, 2008 | Review Permanlink

3 stars When I first heard SB's music about six or eight years ago the first thing that surprised me were the vocals. And they still do! I couldn't believe that someone was actually singing that way on top of such progressive music. The music on The Kindness Of Strangers is certainly progressive, wi ... (read more)

Report this review (#166010) | Posted by wbiphoto | Monday, April 7, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Personally, I've always found Spock's Beard to be the one band in my collection that always seems to flirt with perfection with every release while never quite getting there. THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS is perhaps the best example of this. In fact, I'd argue that this album is the band's best work, ... (read more)

Report this review (#146314) | Posted by The Progmatist | Sunday, October 21, 2007 | Review Permanlink

2 stars My least favorite Spock's Beard album. I realize I'm somewhat in a minority here (except of the innimitable Hugues Chantraine, who I agree with on nearly everything it seems), as well as amoung SB fans in general. Admittedly, I'm not a huge SB fan, but I do find at least two of their albums to ... (read more)

Report this review (#88189) | Posted by | Friday, August 25, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Another great album by SB, with even more use of Hammond organ and Mellotron than the previous releases. This time the band's bet consists in several mini-epics around 10-15 minutes, plus some short songs with slightly more pop feeling than usual, but still proggish. The epics are all good, c ... (read more)

Report this review (#77154) | Posted by eddietrooper | Thursday, May 4, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars My second purchase of Spock's Beard and this would probably be my third favorite album (V is second and of course snow is first lol) This album is just absolutely amazing and it makes me wonder why most people don't like i love this album. It has the same potential as most Spock's Beard album ... (read more)

Report this review (#70269) | Posted by Progdrummer05 | Wednesday, February 22, 2006 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Well, this is Spock's Beard's third studioalbum but it isn't so mindblowing as Light or beware of Darkness. The band's playing is damn good as always and Neal Morse is a very innoative songwriter but something makes this album less enoyable as previous two. Maybe the main reason is Morse's new ... (read more)

Report this review (#61968) | Posted by | Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars In my humble opinion, Neal Morse is a genious of progressive music, like Mr. Fish, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Gildenlow, Mr. Akerfeld and Mr. Stolt, et. al. Ths first group created by Mr. Morse became one of the finest and complex bands of the nineties.This record is the evidence of this, like The Light a ... (read more)

Report this review (#58868) | Posted by | Friday, December 2, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is their first album I got, and still is my favourite from the band. Here the band is at their peak, delivering seven songs that rock all over the time, blending in the same song prog moments (sometimes with a commercial direction) with others that remind me of the grunge scene from the e ... (read more)

Report this review (#48323) | Posted by | Sunday, September 25, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I like of Spock Beard. I like all this generation of symphonic progressive as Porcupine Tree or The Flower Kings. A lot of energy, solid melodies. This album is far from being a masterpiece. We smell although the group found its inspiration in the old groups of the progressive. It is good to ... (read more)

Report this review (#44743) | Posted by miedj | Monday, August 29, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This was the first Spock's Beard album I bought. Unlike some other reviewers It took one or two plays before I started to get into it. The musicianship is outstanding and each track is tight in its delivery. 'The Good Don't Last', Strange World' and 'Flow', are perhaps the most immediate and m ... (read more)

Report this review (#6960) | Posted by valravennz | Sunday, April 10, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars On this, their third album, Spock's Beard dropped all of the experimental pretense from their previous album ('Beware Of Darkness') and put out an album straight from the heart. Musically, this album doesn't differ too much from the band's previous work, although the pop element is much more ... (read more)

Report this review (#6956) | Posted by rangerm13 | Monday, January 31, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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