ARTIST: Spocks Beard
ALBUM: The Kindness Of Strangers
SERIAL: RA 003
CD REISSUE: 2004, Metal Blade, 3984-14492-2 (with bonus tracks)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
LINEUP: Neal Morse - lead vocals, piano, synthesizer, acoustic & electric guitar * Alan Morse - electric guitar, cello, mellotron, background vocals * Dave Meros - bass, vocals * Ryo Okumoto - hammond organ, mellotron * Nick D'Virgilio - drums, percussion, background vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 The Good Don't Last * 02 a) Introduction * 03 b) The Good Don't Last * 04 c) The Radiant Is * 05 In The Mouth Of Madness * 06 Cakewalk On Easy Street * 07 June * 08 Strange World * 09 Harm's Way * 10 Flow * 11 a) True Believer * 12 b) A Constant Flow Of Sound * 13 c) Into The Source
While the 1990's were hardly a watershed decade for progressive rock it wasn't a total wash and America in particular showed great promise. Indie releases were on the rise and Shrapnel mogul Mike Varney formed the Magna Carta label which was instrumental in pushing the burgeoning progressive metal scene into public view and 'big box' stores nationwide. Dream Theater
struck gold with the 'Images And Words' album, bench-marked by the resplendent single 'Pull Me Under' and setting the stage for global domination. Following a couple well-received self-released discs, Pennsylvania hopefuls Echolyn
signed to corporate giant Sony with predictably mixed results although the era's biggest surprise was the rise of Los Angeles based outfit Spock's Beard who made a major splash with a series of releases that wowed proggies far and wide.
Unfortunately I was never one of 'em. You read right, Spock's Beard's take on prog never appealed to me which I'll get to in a moment but on paper this reviewer couldn't have designed a better formula. Mildly complex music with a melodic Yes
, Gentle Giant
approach mixed with a few sneaky Beatles
references here and there, you would think I'd be all over this band like white on rice right? Not so fast. 'The Kindness Of Strangers' was the third Spock's Beard studio album and after the three-part opening salvo 'The Good Don't Last' it's easy to understand their allure. Brimming with tricky tempo changes, Gentle Giant
-esque instrumental runs, pastoral cello interludes and grungy styled vocal sections from Neal Morse; Spock's Beard covered all the bases from the get-go, but it's the alternative influences that kill my enthusiasm. This is especially true on 'Cakewalk on Easy Street' that crunches like Pearl Jam
gone prog and although contemporary for the time, now it sounds unbearably dated, too Seattle and far too much 90s modern rock to hold up these days. Much better is the acoustic based 'June' which goes The Beatles
direction as a gradually building ballad while 'Strange World' has a swirling psychedelic feel not too far removed from pop superstars Jellyfish
and it should surprise no one I'm OK with both although the epic fifteen minute closer 'Flow' feels suspiciously like an excuse to give obviously gifted players an opportunity to display their considerable chops and I'm still woefully unimpressed.
With a huge fan base nothing I'm going to say will change opinions on this band and you know what they say about opinions and assholes.. To each his own but by 2002 the controversial Neal Morse left the Beard for religious reasons and has since gone on to a varied solo career and the overrated super group Transatlantic
among other ho-hum projects. With his departure went some of the band's fortunes although the remaining members have soldiered and on occasion I've found myself warming to the post-Morse releases, in particular 2010's 'X'. At the time of this review they have a new studio disc 'Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep' waiting in the wings which I'm actually looking forward to hearing, shocking as that might sound.
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