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Spock's Beard - V
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Inside Out
Catalogue #:IOMCD0063
Year of Release:2000
Time:62:56
Info:Gibberish
Tracklist: At The End of The Day (16.28), Revelation (6.05), Thoughts (Part II) (4.39), All On A Sunday (4.04), Goodbye to Yesterday (4.39), The Great Nothing (I: From Nowhere, II: One Note, III: Come Up Breathing, IV: Submerged, V: Missed Your Calling, VI: The Great Nothing) (27.01)

Since their first album The Light from 1995, Spock's Beard from the US have managed to release roughly one studio album per year. On top of that we've seen three live albums and a rarities CD, not too mention the Neal Morse solo album and the Transatlantic project of which half sounds remarkably much like Spock's Beard as well.

Now a new studio album hits the shops again. Initially the band planned to release it under the name 'Spock's Beard', seemingly because they thought that this was 'the ultimate' Beard record. Later they decided to give it a title nevertheless and the 'V' album was born.

The big question is probably 'is this really the best Spock's Beard album ?' the band claims it to be ? Is it any different from their previous releases ? And last but not least, has the recent outburst of Neal Morse compositions turned into an overkill ?

The DPRP Team gives you their thoughts ....

At The End of the Day

Remco: A long varied track, typical of Spock's Beard. At the intro, I constantly have the urge to sing "Day For Night" somehow, due to the uptempo melody and rhythm perhaps? Or is it the Rickenbacker bass? The track in general is a mix between Day for Night and tracks like The Light the Spanish/South American melody in the middle section, which returns progressively more aggressive is a nice feature of this track, it even includes a short brass section. Oh, and there they are: Mellotrons! Good ol' Genesis in other words. Too bad this only last for a second, its a superb hammond solo that presents the keyboard highlight in this track. The chorus melody is as always with the Beard, a strong one, sticking to mind. The end section is quite nice, a bit Genesis like.

Ed: I agree with Remco that it sounds a lot like Day for Night. Nevertheless I think this is the best track on the album and probably the only song that has some new things to offer to Spock's Beard fans; a nice different use of backing vocals, brass sections (wow !) and some other bits and pieces. Besides that it's one of those Beard songs that's at times energetic and uptempo and at other moments gentle and quiet while the rhythms and melodies change. I do however think that 16 minutes might be a bit too long to display all of the ideas in this song. Ten to twelve minutes might have been enough; the reprise of the opening melody at the end wasn't really necessary as far as I'm concerned. And yes indeed, it does have that Latin bit we have heard before, but I'm just a sucker for Latin influences. ;-)
As far as I'm concerned this this one is among the best of Beard compositions.

Derk: The opening of this track is pretty dark, even dramatic, and the tone this sets is somewhat reminiscent of the Procol Harum cover included on the Transatlantic album. Probably no coincidence then.
We are then treated with keyboard work in the vein of latter Seventies Genesis before the band harks back to The Light with some Spanish guitar (Senor Valasco). Around the 5th minute another track seems to start which is very jazzy, complete with (sampled) trumpets. A ballad is next, with high backing vocals like you hear on those Love Ballad compilations they advertise on TV at 3 o'clock in the morning. The band then returns to form with heavy moog and hammond soloing before the theme from the opening of the song brings the track to an end.
A very fragmented track which I think should have been chopped up in two songs, leaving out those ballad parts.

Hester: The sad sounding horns, which start the first track, At The End Of The Day, put me off a bit (I actually checked if I had put the right CD in the player). After half a minute the mood changes and the more familiar "uppish" Beard sound fills the air. Immediately the similarity with their preceding album becomes obvious. And it is actually not just the melodies that sound familiar; they even use the same sounds most of the time. The eclecticism, another trademark of this band, was very refreshing to hear on their first few albums, but by now it is starting to become a trick. The bit of Latin music, the Beatles-esque harmonies, the whiffs of early 70s Genesis; they are all well-executed, but pretty much déjà vu. The 16:28 minutes contain many nice moments, but nothing is impressive enough to keep me focused until the end of the song. The only surprising bit is the really heavily distorted guitar at about 11 minutes into the track. However, it is taken over by an equally aggressive Hammond organ and since that instrument has been a bit overused by this band, in my opinion, the awakening effect does not last very long.

Revelation

Remco: Revelation starts out nice and calm, with a bit of a jazzy atmosphere, even Beatles like. But the track itself has a powerful pumping chorus, that will do great live. I recently saw them on a Dutch festival (Bospop) where they had to perform for a rainsoked audience. Tracks like June don't do well then, so I was disappointed that they didn't play any more powerful stuff. But the chorus of this piece ("but the rain keeps coming down") can do just fine in these circumstances.

Ed: Revelations starts in the same style as Band on the Run by the Wings does. Gradually it evolves into a slow, but heavy sounding track, not unlike The Gypsy. Singing almost turns into unpleasant screaming in this one. Now, I rather prefer the more energetic Beard material and the aforementioned track certainly wasn't one of my favourites on the Day for Night album.
This is probably the track that Morse referred to as 'a Soundgarden-like track' and indeed it sounds a bit like Black Hole Sun. Still, not one of my favourites of this album.

Derk: The intro to this track is formed by some weird sound effects and at first I honestly thought that this was some lost Tangerine Dream track from their space years!
This song best shows the new heavier, darker side of Spock's Beard, and is at times even melancholy. Latter Seventies Genesis again permeates the quieter parts and in the second half of the song we are treated to one of those typical soaring Alan Morse guitar solos. Great track!

Hester: Revelation begins with some mysterious, even spooky keyboard sounds. Light vocals over not very loud drums, guitar, bass and keyboards take over. Then a lovely flanged keyboard sweeps the tune into the heavy chorus with nice aggressive vocals. The phrase "It's the rain of revelation just keeps coming down" is on 'high rotation' in my head when I am not listening to any music. After the chorus the volume goes down again and a quiet keyboard solo sounds. Apart from that, there is a mean guitar solo later on in the song, which perfectly fits the atmosphere. Really great dynamics throughout! In other words, I like this song a lot. In fact, it is my favourite on this album.

Thoughts (Part II)

Remco: A bit of a Yes-like track due to the complex bass melody and the guitar which follows, the vocal harmonies. The acoustic sections are quite delicate, but are suddenly interrupted by the heavy parts. The dissonant strings in the middle are a bit redundant in my opinion. Apparently this is Gentle Giants like. Wouldn't know, since I don't know any work of them :-O.

Ed: Besides the fact that it's a Gentle Giant type of song, Thoughts (Part II) doesn't have anything to do with Thoughts from the 'Beware of Darkness' album. Having done this trick before with Thoughts and Gibberish, this turns out to be another predictable track. The only really interesting thing about this one is the contrast between the acoustic sections and the full-band segments. Unfortunately the track also features a noisy string section that starts to play out of tune for no good reason whatsoever and the vocals get rather chaotic and unpleasant towards the end as well as they fight to rise above the loud music.

Derk: Although lyrically and musically this track hasn't got too much to do with the original Thoughts, it is aptly named because it does feature those counterphase multiple vocals (for want of a better term) that characterized its predecessor. Anyway, the first part of the song sounds a bit like Walking on the Wind, after which the vocals come in. UK-like interplay between keys and guitar then flow into a section where voluminous drums and snoring bass alternate with sampled violins. Very weird.

Hester: The third track, Thoughts (Part II), has a rather quiet beginning. Acoustic guitars with a "Spanish" flavour trickle softly from the speakers. Then Neal Morse says "Maybe not!" and we are back at the familiar Beard sound. Same kind of build-up, same keyboard sounds, same bass sound... there is actually even a part which very much resembles Gibberish from Day For Night. Following a similar exclamation of "What's the point" there is a heavy bass solo and we even hear some violins. The problem is that I have heard it all before...

All on a Sunday

Remco: A Genesis like opening melody, but followed by typical Beard melody (edging towards Beatles), happy and uptempo. Nothing special, even *yawn*.

Ed: Yes ! I like this one. It's something that sounds like it was meant for the Neal Morse Solo Album, took a wrong turn and ended up on the new Spock's Beard album. Now, I personally like Neal Morse's album very much. Like Remco said, it's uptempo and happy, and that's when Spock's Beard are at their best (in my opinion). It does feel a bit out of place on this CD though.

Derk: This is a more single oriented track in the same league as Skin, continuing the Duke era Genesis influence in the opening of the song. The main part of the track can be described as Britpop meets Camel, the latter being represented by the Pete Bardensian keyboard parts. Nice!

Hester: The organ sound on All On A Sunday reminds me pretty strong of (again) early 70s Genesis. The Beatles seem to be back as well in the beginning. Some wobbly effect over Neal's voice makes it sound quite a bit like Lennon's. Even Bon Jovi springs to mind in this track when hearing the chorus. Not that memorable.

Goodbye to Yesterday

Remco: An acoustic ballad, nice track, but hardly any special. The vocals remind me a bit of Peter Gabriel, as does the music of the middle section. For the rest this is quite redundant as well.

Ed: Whazdiz ? A Lay it Down remake ? No, not quite. Although the bridge section on acoustic guitar sounds very similar, the vocal melody is different. It is a nice gentle ballad with good close harmony vocals and percussion. Nevertheless, not very exciting and innovating. The sampled horns sound very out of place on this track.

Derk: This is a gentle ballad, a bit reminsicent of the quiet middle part of Day for Night (the song). A bit too gentle for my taste.

Hester: The beginning of Goodbye To Yesterday (both guitar and vocal melody) seems to be copied exactly from Lay It Down from Day For Night. The resemblance is really remarkable! Later on the track gets a jazzy sound (largely caused by the use of a contrabass or a fretless bass) mixed with some African drum rhythms. As so often, the really quiet mood is not maintained throughout this song: at some point the drums come in, inevitably it seems, with the other (more or less) amplified instruments in its wake. The sound of the sea closes this - again, not very revolutionary - track.

The Great Nothing

Remco: Well, it's not nothing, this monument of Spock's Beard. Musically, it is the highlight of the album. It has the length and a bit of the feel of the Topographic Oceans pieces (remember, if we would still use vinyl records, this piece would be a whole record side). The organ in the opening reminds me of Yes' Parallels. The acoustic piano and guitar parts that follow, add an almost folky feel to this part of the track. The middle section is more Genesis-like again, with quotes and references to most of their albums (quite an achievement in itself by the way). It results in a fabulous track, which takes a while to get to know but "has potential " (unlike what the lyrics state). For me, this is the highlight of the album.

Ed: It's one of those. The structure is the same as with the other long ones like The Healing Colours of Sound, A Whole 'Nother Trip (Morse solo), The Light, The Water and All of the Above (Transatlantic, but basically a Morse track as well). Powerful and energetic instrumental opening featuring a 'summary' of some of the themes of the epic (From Nowhere), first vocal part and a melody that returns several times in the epic (One Note), various other musical themes ranging from heavy to gentle (the Crosby Still Young & Nash-like Come Up Breathing, the powerful Submerged and the catchy Missed Your Calling), a return to the opening vocal part at the end and a 'grand finale' with an Al Morse guitar solo (both in part 6: The Great Nothing). And if that wasn't enough the track also has the same ridiculously long fade as the Transatlantic track. It is sooooo predictable.
The again, I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it.

Derk: Look no further: this is it! I know it's a cliche, but this monumental track (a whopping 27 minutes) really is the best piece of music on this album and one of the best the Beard has ever done. The accompanying press release dubs it the band's Supper's Ready, and it might very well turn out to be Spock Beard's signature track. It's certainly got everything that these five gentlemen have stood for for the last eight years. It's got a great melody which is woven though the whole of the track, thereby keeping it together: not a mean feat for a song of this length. I would need pages to describe this track in all its facets, so I'll suffice to say that this track alone almost warrants the purchase of this album.

Hester: The fact that the length of The Great Nothing is 27:02 minutes will probably make the hearts of quite some people go faster. Maybe this would be the new Supper's Ready, Close To The Edge, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Grendel or ... (fill in another famous long prog track). Long does not necessarily mean good, though, and to be honest, this song only underlines my feeling of "I've heard it all before!" It is one, seemingly infinitely long, string of little bits that sound familiar. Frankly, I think this track is quite boring. Sure, it has its moments, but they are too scarce for its length. The Great Nothing, indeed...

Conclusions

Remco: A typical Spocks Beard album, drawing I think a bit more from their older albums than from Day for Night. All in all a good album, but not much new under the sun. Spock's Beard has evolved to an even more Genesis prog-rock sound on this album, I think would summarize it. Morse himself seems really happy about it though, calling it the best he has done so far. Well, maybe, but I don't think they made such a leap forward, just a little step. The interaction with the other members of SMPTe has done him good, though, in inspiring him to write these long tracks.

Ed: In the roundtable review of Day for Night I already complained that the band started to repeat itself too much. When Neal Morse claimed that this was their best album so far I was hoping for something new. I shouldn't have bothered. V is nothing more than a summary of what has already been. I've heard it all before. The Beard has become too predictable, they no longer innovate. As Neal Morse himself sings in Revelations, 'there's nothing new under the sun'. Or, in other words 'Mor(s)e of the same'.
Parts of the albums could have come straight from Neal Morse's solo album, like the lighthearted and straightforward All on a Sunday or the Missed Your Calling part of The Great Nothing.
Of course all of the playing and singing is still amazing, but we already knew that they could play well, didn't we ?
Nevertheless I have to admit that even a self-plagiarism Spock's Beard album is still a good album and still much better than the average prog album we receive at DPRP. Best tracks: At The End of the Day, All on a Sunday (although it would have been more in place on a Morse solo album) and The Great Nothing (too predictable, but still quite nice).

Derk: The styles used on this album are in essentials the same as portrayed on its predecessors: the differences are in the details. It sounds more mature, less frivolous, less quirky than previous albums. There's nothing really new about the sound, except its a bit heavier in places, and shows the band from a darker side. The tracks that for me stand out most on "V" are Revelation, Thoughts 2 and The Great Nothing, and it's those tracks that carry "V" to a higher level.

Hester: Even though they had been around for quite some time, I had not really listened to Spock's Beard until last year. Then, at the end of September, I suddenly received an email from a friend asking whether I was interested to join her and some other friends to go to the Spock's Beard gig in 013 in Tilburg that evening. I was curious as to how that band, about which I had heard so many very positive remarks, would sound. So I agreed to come along and was completely blown away by the band's enormous energy and pleasure in playing. I bought some CDs after the concert, one of them being Day For Night, which I liked a lot. However, upon getting to know their older material, I found that much of that CD bore great similarity to what they had done before. Thinking that this new CD, V, would be different, I had high hopes when it arrived.
The members of Spock's Beard are all really good musicians. Sadly though, they seem to keep rehashing their own songs again and again. Their use of different styles of music within one track can be seen as no more than a gimmick by now and this is also one of the reasons why so many songs tend to sound the same, in my opinion. This is by all means not a bad CD, but the Beards have done it all before and that is why it was a big disappointment to me. Good musicianship is just not the same as good song writing.

Ratings:

Remco: 8 out of 10.
Ed: 7.5 out of 10.
Derk: 8 out of 10.
Hester: 6.5 out of 10.