|Progressive Rock CD Reviews|
Review by Julie Knispel
Spock’s Beard needs no introduction, as they are one of the highest profile American prog bands of the past 15 years. Most everyone out there reading knows their story, and how eerily it mirrored that of Genesis; following an acclaimed double length concept album, vocalist Neal Morse leaves the band, and drummer Nick D’Virgilio takes his place at the microphone. The band’s first two post-Morse albums (Feel Euphoria and Octane) showcased a band in search of a new sound and identity. Despite some very strong material, the albums felt uneven and searching. Spock’s Beard, their ninth album, can be taken one of two ways. The cynic might say that it is final proof that the band has lost all creativity post-Neal, and by self-titling this release, the band has figuratively thrown in the towel. Conversely, it could be seen as a statement of purpose; by titling this album with their band name, the release could be seen as the band’s statement that this is Spock’s Beard today, having finally found themselves. As the track-by-track analysis will hopefully show, Spock’s Beard is the strongest post-Morse album the band has created, showing more consistency and a stronger sense of continuity than either Feel Euphoria or Octane. Fans who “gave up” on the band following their two previous efforts would do well to give this album a serious listen, as it shows a band stronger than they have been in 5+ years.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
|Track by Track Review
|On A Perfect Day|
On A Perfect Day” is an excellent lead track, with some of Nick D’Virgilio’s strongest singing and a decidedly classic Spock’s sound. The song moves through a variety of moods and tones, with some nice acoustic guitar playing and loads of vintage keyboard tones. Spock’s Beard albums are known for their solid opening tracks, and “On A Perfect Day” is no exception to this.
|Skeletons At The Feast|
Song two is an absolute stormer of an instrumental track. Instrumentals have been a welcome feature on the past few Neal-less Spock’s Beard albums, and it’s nice to see the band stretching out on these tracks. Even though the longer SB cuts from older albums offered just as much opportunity for instrumental fireworks, it’s nice to see a dedicated instrumental track.
|Is This Love|
This is not a cover of the Whitesnake song, despite having the same title. Instead, this is a compact little stomper, rocking on all cylinders. It stands out from the tracks that surround it in this respect, and seems to be SB showing that they are a rock band as much as a progressive band. It succeeds in this respect, yet doesn’t truly fit into the rest of the album.
|All That's Left|
This is a pretty mid-tempo piece, giving Ryo Okumoto ample opportunity to show off multiple keyboard parts, with D’Virgilio’s plaintive tenor vocals adding a fragility that fits the track comfortably. It flows into the following tune, “With Your Kiss,” creating a sort of un-credited suite.
|With Your Kiss|
As mentioned above, this track develops and flows from the preceding composition. “With This Kiss” is a nearly 12-minute epic with genuinely emotional D’Virgilio vocals and an awesome guitar solo courtesy of Alan Morse. Combined, “All That’s Left” and “With This Kiss” create a mini-epic every bit the equal of anything the Neal Morse-led iteration of Spock’s Beard ever committed to disc.
|Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go|
This is a somewhat blues-based track, again showing some different musical styles from what the band has offered before. Sadly, being placed after the impressive 1-2 punch of “All That’s Left” and “With This Kiss” is a bit of a handicap. While this is a decent enough number, it suffers in comparison to what it follows.
|The Slow Crash Landing Man|
Keyboards and processed vocals are this song’s calling cards. Ryo Okumoto, freed from being (in many people’s minds) the second keyboardist in Spock’s Beard), has spent the preceding albums building and developing new synth textures for the band, and here they reach their pinnacle, with ornate organ tones, crystalline piano and analogue synth leads layered wonderfully. Dave Meros’ bass playing, while not showy, adds a pulsing beat on this elegiac, beautiful composition. Overall, the song sounds incredibly Beatles-like without actually aping their style; in some ways, had the Beatles remained together, I could see this being something like what they might have developed.
|Wherever You Stand|
Much heavier than the songs it follows, this is a somewhat more standard rocker with a touch of Spock’s Beard quirkiness tossed in for good measure.
“Hereafter” opens with some subdued Okumoto piano playing, while Nick D’Virgilio offers up a relaxed, understated vocal delivery. Emotional without being overwrought, this is perhaps the most atypical Spock’s Beard piece, quite unlike anything the band has ever released. Subtle string arrangements add to the song’s classic singer-songwriter feel.
|As Far As The Mind Can See|
Every Spock’s Beard album needs an epic. On this, the band’s ninth album, the epic takes the form of “As Far As The Mind Can See,” a four part, 17-minute song suite.
|Dreaming In The Age of Answers|
“Dreaming in the Age of Answers” is the opening section of this piece, and it starts deceptively with building synth lines that explode into a short up-tempo instrumental before downshifting to the slower vocal sections.
|Here's A Man|
This is the second movement of the “As Far As The Mind Can See” epic, and it sees the band breaking some new ground, with a deep bass groove, Latin percussion, and cool Fender Rhodes-like electric piano and effected synths. The combined results of these funk/Latin elements adds some interesting changes in tone and feel to the “traditional” SB sound.
|They Know We Know|
Part 3 of this album’s epic should be a great audience participation piece, with some meant-to-be-sung-along-to choruses and a simple beat that shows no contrivance or pandering.
|Stream of Unconsciousness|
The final movement of the epic “As Far As The Mind Can See,” “Stream Of Unconsciousness” wraps things up nicely, reasserting some of the motifs previously explored musically and lyrically.
The concluding song on the album, “Rearranged” has the unenviable duty of following a huge, proggy epic. While the track has some very memorable hooks, and Okumoto again shines on multiple keyboard parts, it simply cannot match up to the music that it follows. Had this track been placed anywhere else on Spock’s Beard, it might fare better than it does here.
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