Spock's Beard - The Kindness of Strangers


Year of Release: 1997
Label: Metal Blade
Catalog Number: 3984-14165-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:32:00

Experience has taught me that one shouldn't always talk about influences if something reminds you of some other band's music. It would be better to talk about "similarities." This implies that something sounds a lot like something else without hinting at plagiarism. For instance, bands like IQ have been accused of copying Genesis while some key composers of the bands hadn't even heard that band's music before they wrote the so-called "influenced songs." So let's do this one in a very diplomatic way. All references to other bands and other albums are meant as ways to express similarity, not influence.

If you would take two ounces of Yes, one ounce of old Genesis, would add a pinch of jazz fushion, a spoon of blues, cook it and serve it with a lot of Hammond, Mellotron and prepare a cello for desert, what would you get (besides a very messy kitchen?) ... the new Spock's Beard album The Kindness of Stangers .

The album's first track, "The Good Don't Last" (10:04), consists of 3 parts. The first part - you guessed it: "Introduction" - opens with a cello solo which merges into the main melody of the track. After a couple of solos the second part starts; a joyfull "The Good Don't Last," with acoustic guitar and vocals. After the first verse the rest of the instruments come in, including a powerful bass guitar and some great piano and hammond. The final part is a quite piece called "The Radiant Is" which has more cello and a string quartet.This first track is immediately one of the highlights of the album.

The second song is "In The Mouth Oof Madness" (4:45), which might be inspired by John Carpenter's horror movie (which in its turn was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories). It's a great rock song where heavy passages switch into gentle ones, not unlike IQ's "Breathtaker."

The third song "Cakewalk On Easy Street" (5:02) is a short, straightforward rock song which doesn't do much for me. It has a recurring switch to some twiddling piano play which I think is a bit annoying. It's my least favorite song on the album, along with another song, "Strange World" (4:20), which is enjoyable but not very special.

The balled "June" (5:28), the next track on the album might also be very poppy but in a very nice way. It sounds like a cross between "The Eagles gone prog" and Extreme tunes like "Holehearted." It opens with vocals and acoustic guitar before merging into close harmony. One by one the other instruments come in; bass, drums, etc. The lyrics seem to be about the band: "And the crowd kept on singing Waste Away, but it just didn't feel right, And the prince and the drummer and the fire girls, couldn't get our guitars in tune, and I knew it was over when the sound man said, I wish we were still in June." Fantastic tune! This could be a killer if it would be released on single and played on the radio.

"Harm's Way" (11:05) is another long one, and a very nice one indeed. After a threatening opening lots of tempo changes follow, with quiet vocal parts and heavy and uptempo instrumental sections in between, reminding me a bit of "Yours Is No Disgrace." The keyboard part seems to be lifted straight from "Supper's Ready"'s "Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men" [section]. There's also a laid back bluesy middle piece. Great stuff!

Another hightlight is the closing track, "Flow" (15:48), which also consists of three parts. "True Believer" starts with a Yes-like opening with strong bass before heading into a beautiful ballad. "A Constant Flow Of Sound," the second part, is a splendid piece with lots of joyfull keyboards before returning to the "True Believer" theme. "Into The Source" is the obligatory beautiful album closer with long guitar solo.

Overall, I think this album is better than their previous one Beware Of Darkness, which is currently doing very well in the 1997 DPRPoll. The similarities with Yes and Genesis are less obvious on this new album, so it seems like the band is developing an own sound. Kindness Of Strangers isn't as heavy on the traditional prog side as their 1997 album, and I personally welcome this more accessible sound. The mass of weird and seemingly pointless jumpy intros of songs on Beware Of Darkness (like the intro to "Thoughts") have been tuned down, which isn't a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned.

Finally, the album cover is very disappointing. It isn't what you would expect (which in itself is not a bad thing) but it's also very ugly. The logo has been scribbled in a Geoff Mann-ish kind of way and an orange bar in the middle is surrounded by a collage of cheesy pictures. Yuch ! Looks like something from the sixties. It's a good thing the band already build a steady following because I certainly wouldn't feel the urge to pick up something like this if I came across it in a record store. Fortunately, the CD packaging can be slipped under a paper or magazine when you enjoy the great music it comes with.

This review courtesy Ed Sander of Dutch Progressive Rock Page (DPRP), where it was originally published; aquired from AudioVision when PW absorbed that site in 1999 -ed.


Tracklisting:
The Good Don't Last (10:04) / In The Mouth Of Madness (4:45) / Cakewalk On Easy Street (5:01) / June (5:29) / Strange World (4:20) / Harm's Way (11:05) / Flow (15:48)

Musicians:
Neal Morse - lead vocals, piano, synths, and guitars
Alan Morse - guitar, cello, mellotron, and vocals
Dave Meros - bass and vocals
Ryo Okumoto - Hammond organ and mellotron
Nick D'Virgilio - drums, percussion, and vocals

Discography:
The Light (1991)
Beware of Darkness (1995)
The Beard Is Out There Live (1995)
Official Live Bootleg (1996)
The Kindness of Strangers (1997)
From The Vault - 1995-1998 (1998)
Day For Night (1999)
Live At The Whiskey and NEARfest (1999)
Don't Try This At Home (2000)
V (2000)
Snow (2002)
Feel Euphoria (2003)
The Light - The Artwork Collector's Series (2004)
Octane (2005)
Gluttons For Punishment (2005)
Spock's Beard (2006)
Live (2008)
X (2010)
Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep (2013)
The Oblivion Particle (2015)

The Beard Is Out There Live (VID) (1995)
Spock's Beard's Home Movie (VID) (1998)
Live At The Whisky (VID) (1999)
Making Of V (VID) (2001)
Don't Try This At Home & The Making Of V (DVD) (2002)
The Making Of Snow (DVD) (2004)
Live (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Ed Sanders

Artist website: www.spocksbeard.com
Hits: 838
Language: english

  

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