Spock's Beard - Feel Euphoria

Year of Release: 2003
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD126
Format: CD
Total Time: 63:58:00

Aside from the fact that there has already been several reviews of this album published on this site alone, Spock's Beard's recently released album Feel Euphoria has received a higher level of scrutiny - at least among those that care that the band has released anything at all. The scrutiny came about because the band's lead songwriter and vocalist, Neal Morse, left the band suddenly in the fall of 2002 (suddenly at least to "outsiders") right on the heels Snow. That left Spock's Beard with three options: continue, change, or cease. Instead of choosing one, they chose two of them. Of course, Spock's Beard aren't unique in this, the departure of a lead vocalist/songwriter ... I'm sure you can name a dozen bands where the frontman left and the rest of the band continued on successfully.

The fundamental questions are: Is it as good as Spock's Beard with Neal Morse? Better? Worse? The key to the answer is in the choice that Spock's Beard have taken: to continue and change at the same time. And it's telling just how the band presented this statement of intent. They could have gone the safe route and opened with "A Guy Named Sid" ? a multipart suite that harks back to the Spock's Beard of old, especially in "Part 3: You Don't Know" (think "Flow" from Kindness Of Strangers), but also brings in these "new" elements. And in doing so, wouldn't critics jump on that in some fashion, maybe suggesting the band were trying to hold onto their fan base by rehashing old ideas? (For the record, they don't.) It also might seem as if Feel Euphoria were the band's swan song, bringing out that which has helped define the band's sound one last time before they all moved on to different projects.

So, very wise of them to open the album with a track ("Onomatopoeia") that is unlike anything they've done before and yet clearly Spock's Beard. It says "we are continuing on and not resting on 'past glories,' thank you very much." Brave, too, because now you open yourself up to comparisons, critics picking apart the new sound and comparing it to the old. Of course, it's hard to avoid doing that if you are going to review the album. But if you try to compare it, you overlook what the album is in focusing on what it isn't. Or who it isn't.

The tracks (or parts thereof) that I like best begin with "The Bottom Line," which, like SB material of the past, is epic in scope with pianos and swelling keys and languidly delivered choruses, but here the arrangements aren't quite as expansive. Whether it is a stronger presence of bass in the mix or simply that the quartet of Dave Meros (bass), Nick D'Virgilio (vocals/drums/some guitar/percussion), Ryo Okumoto (keyboards) and Alan Morse (guitars/vocals) write tighter arrangements is hard to say ? I think it's both. "The Bottom Line" contrasts all this "epicness" with moments of understatement, where the arrangement is sparse, featuring acoustic guitar and vocals only. "Shining Star" is a laidback and liquid mellow track with a modern country prog rock feel by way of Pink Floyd (in the step-down transition to the chorus ? think, I think, "Hey You" just before a "monster" guitar solo from Gilmour? not emulated here by Morse, however)) and the Eagles (harmonies, D'Virgilio's vocals). The band's most sublime moment, at least in terms of guitar and piano is in the mellow, mid-tempo "Ghosts Of Autumn." I just can't get enough of Morse's solo here. And Okumoto treats listeners to some lovely and warm piano playing ? though the song itself otherwise is lacking something.

The Beatles have been a component of Spock's Beard's music to some degree or another since the beginning (though not, by all means, the only influence component). That aspect hasn't changed ? perhaps intensified, though ? and with the uptight organ passage about thirds into "East Of Eden, West of Memphis" we get something that recalls the famous "I buried Paul/cranberry sauce" transition on Magical Mystery Tour. It's subtle and not really the focus of the piece, but leapt out at me. The strobed/skipping outro to this same piece seems Beatles-like, too, circa The White Album maybe. Hmm? and maybe a little Hendrix-like, too, the more I think about it. The first part "East Of Eden, West Of Memphis," however, is a catchy, funky rock piece with 60s like harmonies ? shades of early Tom Petty at times, shades of the Beach Boys (say around Pet Sounds).

The title track "Feeling Euphoria" is something else again, bringing in a colder electronic feel. And at times, sounding more like a cross between 80s Genesis, and Soundgarden and, well, frankly, a whole lot more metallic than before. Witness first Morse's acidic guitar solo followed by Okumoto's fiery attack of his Hammond and this comes across as quite harsh.

Now that we have the key to this album, does it open a good album or bad album or something in between? The answer is the latter. It makes the statement it needed to make ? Spock's Beard is still here and planning to move forward. It is the right kind of album the band needed to make at this stage. Especially as it comes on the heels of Snow, the band need to make something more low-key in terms of scope. That the concept "A Guy Named Sid" fits in about 20 minutes might suggest that two discs worth was a little extravagant (I've got the 2-disc set of Snow, but haven't moved on past the more concise promo edition? I digress). For Spock's Beard 2003, too strong a change and one alienates the fans; too little change and? it doesn't hold it's own against the other albums. It's not a bad album -- there are some terrific moments throughout. It's not a great album ? there are some week moments. With time it will surely come into it's own.

Released also by the now defunct InsideOut Music America (IOMA 2059)

Onomatopoeia (5:16) / The Bottom Line (7:33) / Feel Euphoria (7:20) / Shining Star (4:06) / East Of Eden, West Of Memphis (7:05) / Ghosts Of Autumn (6:53) / A Guy Named Sid: Intro (3:02) - Same Old Story (4:25) - You Don't Know (3:11) - Judge (3:20) - Sid's Boy Choir (1:09) - Change (5:16) / Carry On (5:20)

Nick d'Virgilio - vocals, drums, percussion, loops, acoustic and electric guitars
Ryo Okumoto - keyboards
Alan Morse - electric and acoustic guitars, vocals
Dave Meros ? bass

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)
Noise Floor (2018)

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: December 14th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.spocksbeard.com
Hits: 900
Language: english


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