Spock's Beard - V

Year of Release: 2000
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 063
Format: CD
Total Time: 62:19:00

When I talked to Neal Morse a while ago, he had just finished mixing the new Spock's Beard album, about which he was able to reveal just a little bit. He told me he listened a lot to the Genesis live album Three Sides Live, which inspired him to write more towards a complex direction. This is what he had to say about the new songs:

"At The End Of The Day" is a 15 minute epic that you could see as "Crack The Big Sky" meets "June." "Revelation" can be said to be in a Soundgarden vein. "Thoughts Part 2" is sort of a sequel to "Thoughts" from our Beware Of Darkness album with a lot of Gentle Giant influences. "All On A Sunday" is a bit of prog-pop. "Goodbye To Yesterday" is one of my older songs, which the rest of the guys wanted to release for some time now. You can compare it with a mellow Peter Gabriel from the So period. "The Great Nothing" is, with its 25 minute [length], sort of Spock's Beard's very own "Supper's Ready"

Now that the album's mixed and pressed, this is what Nick d'Virgilio had to say: "Compared to our previous studio album it's much more progressive in the true sense of the word. It's more vintage prog and I'd like to call it our very own Wind And Wuthering because I can sense a lot of Genesis influences from that era in our music. I think it's a fabulous album!"

To know whether at all these descriptions really fit the bill of course we'll all have to wait until the release of the appropriately called V (didn't Symphony X toy around with the same title for their next album?). But of course this site managed to get hold of a copy long before the proposed release date of August 28th. So try to imagine the music just following the descriptions!

The big surprise on this album is that a couple of extra guests have been added who introduce a nice selection of acoustic classical instruments, which of course extra enhance the unique sound spectrum of our dearly beloved Spock's Beard. It's with a medieval sounding solitary English horn that the album kicks off, before Ryo adds some splendid classical string sections. Then Dave Meros and Nick D'Virgilio really steer the song in the right, powerful direction, before Neal's distinctive voice enters the arena. Nick's drumming is fairly impressive and mingles perfectly with Ryo's organ sounds. So far the guitar is sparsely used in the background because once again the horn section is placed in the spotlight, and what a strong melody it plays on top of that superb mellotron! Then by means of Neal's flamenco approach and abundant percussive scope, the atmosphere changes (could this be the section which was omitted from the Transatlantic album?), a bit like the bossa nova part in "The Light." I simply adore the fact that Ryo has re-discovered the Fender Rhodes electric piano, as I have always liked that sound so much. Then out of the mist comes a great horn section, which kind of reminds me of Rick Wakeman's English Rock Ensemble (for those historians amongst you: think of the No Earthly Connection album). The rhythm stops and the ultimate Spock's trademark is back in action by means of some wonderful vocal harmonies and a lovely melodic guitar solo, again backed by sparse organ. The song kind of evolves into sort of a gospel-like direction and I can imagine how this section would have sounded if our American friends would have asked the help of their nearby church choir! Suddenly it's all systems go for Ryo who attacks his Hammond as if it was the last surviving man-eating beast on earth. His fireworks continue with great Moog before the acoustic guitar and piano once again break from the rhythm and underline the harmonies. Towards the end I clearly hear Dave Meros' pumpin' bass and Alan Morse's rippin' guitar, even incorporating some wah-wah! What a song! Although it becomes more and more difficult because of the huge output of Spock's Beard material I dare to say "At The End Of The Day" is their best song to date, and I'm convinced loads of people will think alike once they've heard this masterpiece!

If Neal compares "Revelation" to Soundgarden then it mainly has to be because of the build-up of the song rather than the hard rock contents. The hard edge is there but again it's the mellow parts with great Fender Rhodes by Ryo which are a treat to me. The chorus has loud mellotron, hard sounding guitars, loud bass, swirling organ, powerful drums and an almost shouting Neal Morse. But the same song suddenly changes 180? towards a subtle jazzy drumming with great electric piano before Neal Morse attacks his guitar like an axe hitting a tree. In a way you could say it sounds as "mean" as "Skin" on the Day For Night album.

A simple acoustic guitar and voice opens "Thoughts (Part II)." yet not even thirty seconds later you already find yourself in a swinging unity of drums and piano before voices fly all around the room in total chaos. Dave Meros certainly tries to outdo Chris Squire for a job here. The song really could also be called "The Battle of Atmospheres' because pure rock switches with pure classical passages on and off.

Two seconds into "All On A Sunday" and I'm sold simply because the sound of that Hammond is really outstanding. In fact, the organ together with the Moog and mellotron are sort of a counter balance for the voice as the rest of the backing is rather predictable here.

Why "Goodbye To Yesterday" wasn't confined to Neal's solo album last year will probably always remain a mystery. This has Neal's mark all over it, even including some Beatles references. French horn is used instead of the more obvious Bach trumpet, which would undoubtedly have given away Neal's biggest influence! If my headphones are still working alright I even detect some sitar right at the very end.

But without any doubt the real prog lover has been waiting until the very end, until "The Great Nothing," which if we really have to believe Neal, should be the band's very own "Supper's Ready." The song is divided into six fragments, a bit similar to "A Whole Nother Trip" (which had four parts) on Neal's solo album. The opening section sounds a bit ominous and repetitive until Nick finds the right groove, backed by outstanding bass. All instruments get the silent treatment except for grand piano that has to back Neal's singing. Bit by bit the arrangement grows, giving enough room for experimentation. And that experimentation lies largely in the lap of Ryo Okumoto, whether it's on grand piano or Hammond, as he displays here. Pfew, with Nick and Dave going crazy, it's almost like listening to Niacin here! In fact, listening to Ryo's superb playing on Hammond, piano, Moog, mellotron makes me wonder when he'll put out his own "The Six Wives of Ryo Okumoto." It's also "refreshing" the way the sound of pouring liquid suddenly moves from one channel to the other right in the middle of the song. Alan Morse tries to impress by adding some Alan Holdsworth licks in his solo. In the end this song to me sounds much more like "Close To The Edge" than "Supper's Ready," but trading in one classic for another isn't such a bad thing I guess.

Apart from the lousy title, V (sounds more like a title for a boysband ? Five ? geddit?), this new Spock's Beard studio effort certainly has to be their absolute best. Especially if you like the real progressive stuff with more complex parts as opposed to the shorter, more song oriented material. Because I was around during the seventies, of course I luuuuuuuv this album because you hear bits and pieces of all the great names ranging from Genesis to Yes, from Gentle Giant to, dare we say it?, The Beatles! A stunning selection of incredible material with an emphasis on Ryo Okumoto, which will certainly stand the test of time in years to come. Imagine V being released only a breath away from Flower Kings' Space Revolver album. What a great year 2000 proves to be!

At The End Of The Day (16:28) / Revelation (6:05) / Thoughts (Part II) (4:39) / All On A Sunday (4:05) / Goodbye To Yesterday (4:40) / The Great Nothing (27:02) From Nowhere - One Note - Come Up Breathing - Submerged - Missed Your Calling - The Great Nothing

Neal Morse - vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar
Alan Morse - guitars
Dave Meros - bass
Ryo Okumoto - keyboards
Nick D'Virgilio - drums

Special guests :
Katie Hagen - French horn
Chris Carmichael - violin, viola, cello
Kathy Ann Lord - English horn
Joey Pippin - trumpet

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: July 1st 2000
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Artist website: www.spocksbeard.com
Hits: 1118
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]