14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2000
Spock's Beard frontman Neal Morse has been a busy man lately. So far this year, he's released a solo album, collaborated on discs by Ayreon and prog supergroup Transatlantic. On top of all that, there's been a live Spock's Beard album. As if that wasn't enough, the band has just released its fifth studio album, cleverly entitled V. There's nothing here that Beard fans haven't heard before, but the songwriting has improved over the years and they seem to have truly found their musical niche. They move seamlessly between `pop' songs like "All on a Sunday" with its sweet harmonies to 27-minute epics like this CD's centerpiece, "The Great Nothing." You won't find many groups who can do that.
The album kicks off with "At the End of the Day." The song is 16 minutes of sheer brilliance and one of the best things the band has ever done. It's got great melodies, and the musicianship is outstanding--particularly in the last section. Dave Meros' bass lines are enough to make Geddy Lee stand up and take notice. "Revelation" is another great song with a killer melody. It starts off quiet and unassuming, then rocks out on the choruses. Alan Morse's solos after the bridge are the epitome of power guitar leads. For me, the low point on the CD is "Thoughts (Part II)." Vocally, it's the most complex thing on the disc, but unless you're a Gentle Giant fan, you probably won't truly appreciate it. But you don't have to be a Gentle Giant fan to get into Meros' manic bass solo on the cut.
Inspired by the late Kevin Gilbert, "The Great Nothing" covers an enormous amount of musical ground. From the beautiful acoustic guitar and piano passages to textbook prog-rock chord progressions, and the techno/electronic samples to the classically oriented crescendos scattered throughout, this one's got all the bases covered. One thing you'll notice as you listen to this CD is that there are several instances where you'll swear you've heard parts of these songs before--yet they never sound derivative. The fact that they sound as familiar as they do is a perfect indication of Neal Morse's songwriting skills. And like any great album, you gain a better appreciation of the tracks with each listen as you discover all the nuances --especially on "The Great Nothing."
Spock's Beard has really come into their own with their latest album. Each member of the group gets the chance to shine, but you never get the feeling that any one of them is 'stealing the show.' The band considers this to be the definitive Spock's Beard album. Although I'm not sure that I agree with that (my personal favorite is the group's second album, Beware of Darkness), it's right up there and keeps getting better with every listen.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2000
Combine several 70s prog influences (Genesis, Yes, etc.), a bit of pop, and Neal Morse's own markedly delineated style and you get Spock's Beard, one of the best progressive rock bands since the glory days of the aforementioned bands. The Beard sound very fresh and original with each and every release. With V, their novel sound has worn off (at least for me), but this is compensated for by the bands remarkable musicianship. To me, their best album up until this point has been Beware Of Darkness, and I can safely say that V gives that superlative record a run for its money.
V includes 2 prog epics (16 and 27 minutes) which are the highlights of the album. Each song is brilliant, and the different tones and tempos flow together more nicely than those in, say, The Light (where some of the song structures struck me as slightly disjointed). The Great Nothing, the album's grand finale, is one of their most interesting compositions, weaving a gamut of intricate sonic textures beautifully. I would say that this is one of my favorite of the band's many excellent songs. While The Great Nothing's length means it takes a while to sink in, the other epic, At The End Of The Day, is the most accessible prog epic I've ever heard. And while both songs are long, they never break down into monotonous plodding. The lengthy and complex instrumental passages are wonderful, and the lyrical portions - which are strange at times - are concurrently catchy and thought-provoking.
Balancing out the epics are four shorter songs for 'normal' people, although I think the prog-meisters and SB fans can still appreciate them. Thoughts Part II is probably the best of these, as it stands as the most 'proggy' of the shorter tunes. All On A Sunday is a great pop song, while Revelations - with its heavy moments - is an engaging listen. Goodbye To Yesterday kind of reminds me of The Distance To The Sun from SB's Day For Night, and while I like DttS more, the music in GtY strikes me as more engaging.
Musically, I'd say the band is at its peak. They are all underrated, of course, but they are indisputably gods. I especially love the additional instruments they occasionally use (like french horn and cello). These add reams of value to the music when they are used, and they never seem like needless enhancements.
This album is absolutely excellent. I would give it 48 stars if Amazon would allow for me to do so.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2004
OK, as a first time SB listener, and based on all the reviews, good and bad, I bought "V" and "The Light." I hear bits of Genesis, Styx, Kansas, Yes, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, among others, and some original SB sounds all layered and melded together in there, but there is something missing that bands in the golden days of the progressive music movement expressed. I wish I could say what that is, some kind of energy or mood, but I can't put my finger on it. V is good for what it is, and the band is skilled but it certainly is NOT the kind of music that Genesis or Yes used to put out. Maybe I'm looking for something that is no longer possible to create. Progressive music was a phenomenon of the times, so maybe I wanted Spock's Beard to "be" something they can never be because the age we live in is not conducive to that same mood. The 70s was indeed a very different time and we all had different mindsets then. Perhaps Spock's Beard is a prog band for the new Millennium. For me, there was too much pop, too sweet, too much of a contrived feel at times, too much of some things, yet I can't shake the feeling that something is missing something a bit strange. Also, and I apologize for this if I'm way off, but can someone clarify this for me? At times I get this weird feeling I'm listening to some form of "christian" rock. The themes, the lyrics, the song titles sometimes feel kind of like an "up with people...for christ" disk. Does anyone else get this vibe? Maybe I'm reaching on that one, but it nags at me in a way that makes me slightly uncomfortable when I listen. Despite my reservations, there is some good stuff layered in there, and I did enjoy some of the songs, riffs and melodies. The band has a sense of humor, and there are some very interesting musical ideas laid out. Finally, as a 60's child, I was really hoping to feel that old Genesis, Yes progressive rock energy but I just can't say they hooked me on this one.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There has been a dearth of good progressive rock until relatively recently. I think that many of us have been looking for the inheritors of the mellower rock groups, such as the Moody Blues, Yes, and early Genesis. Spock's Beard fits nicely as a modern incarnation of those groups, with generally mellow music. The lyrics are often weak, but with music this catchy I can forgive a bit of weakness in the lyrics.
This CD begins with "At the End of the Day," a sixteen and a half minute progressive pop song that incorporates flavors of the best of progressive. Most particularly noticeable are the keyboards. While the guitars express themselves at various moments, the keyboards maintain control of the music throughout. The lyrics have their moments, but in general the lyrics are there just for contrast. If you read the lyrics you will discover that there are a lot of concepts that have been done better elsewhere. No matter. I only focus on portions of the vocals because I am mostly here for the music.
I enjoy the lyrics of "Revelation" much better than those of the first song. The lyrics are more evocative and poetic, with a touch of surrealism thrown in for good measure. This song features much stronger guitars than the first song as well, keeping the synthesizers more in the background. This song seems to foster two extreme viewpoints; people either hate it or they love it. I like this particular song for its dynamic pace interposed with delicate Hammond and mellotron flavors. The guitars in this song, which someone has described as "plodding," are heavy and recall the era when bass guitars were played as an instrument instead of the current era where a bass is typically relegated to the background.
"Thoughts (Part II)" is an interesting song with contemplative vocals and introspective lyrics punctuated by punchy rock, followed by a capella vocals, and yet more bouncy rock. This song is very fast and focused and lends balance to the lengthy opening and closing tracks.
Another short song is "All on a Sunday." This song does have a number of pop elements. The song also reminds me somewhat of the Moody Blues in their early years, for reasons that I am unable to explain. This song has a fast pace, but seems less layered than many of the surrounding songs. The chords seem simpler and there are places in the middle third that have a strong Yes flavor. There are a couple of places in this song where I think the vocals are a bit weak, but overall this song is a good listen.
The third and final "short" song is "Goodbye to Yesterday." This mellow song has compact and catchy lyrics and mellow music to help make the point that we should cease focusing on the past and look to the present and future. I enjoy this song and particularly find the contrast with the opening of the last song enjoyable.
The final song is the monster "The Great Nothing." This 27 minute epic is portioned in six parts, and reminds me of some of Transatlantic's noodlings, though the musical theme is more coherent and melodic than Transatlantic's music.
Part I of this song is an instrumental titled "From Nowhere." This song plays with heavy musical themes that could remind you of Kansas.
Part II slows down. "One Note" provides an introduction to the concept of being without apparent meaning or need to have meaning. There are excellent guitar riffs in this part that may have been inspired by Pink Floyd. This part is one of the most progressive and poetic on this CD. This part also ends with a boy sinking into the great nothing.
Part III is melodic and initially acoustic. "Come Up Breathing" remains quiet until about halfway through the part, when the song speeds up and enters a really progressive portion with numerous sound and musical effects that require substantial focus to integrate. After lengthy and bouncy organ chords this part enters the closing lyrics that help transition this part to the next part.
Part IV is title "Submerged." This portion of "The Great Nothing" is about conformity and commercialism and corporate relevance. There are some heavy guitar riffs to help move into the lyrics of this portion of the song. Each time I hear these particular lyrics I am immediately reminded of the Beard's next album, "Snow." You will have to listen to that album to see what I mean.
Part V is "Missed Your Calling." I enjoy the opening of this part, which is very different from the previous portions of this song. There are periodic harmonies in this part that I find quite enjoyable, and I wish Spock's Beard had done more harmonies. This part of this song is my favorite part.
There is a lengthy bridge that provides a transition from Part V to Part VI, "The Great Nothing." The bridge sets up extremely bombastic music that tends to be characteristic of progressive rock. Fortunately, I love this kind of music and the drama, which keeps the intensity on this song up until the very end. There is a brief portion where there are some very Yes-like guitars in the last three minutes of this song. My only complaint is that this song peters out and seems to drag its ending on for too long.
Progressive rock fans are a fickle group. We love certain characteristics in one group that we will not tolerate in another group. We dislike repetitiveness. We love to be surprised. I will not promise you that this album will be the greatest progressive rock album you have ever heard. I will promise you that if you like melodic progressive rock that you will probably find something on this CD that you will like. Who knows? Perhaps this CD will become one of your favorite progressive rock CDs.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2006
V is, you guessed it, Spock's Beard's FIFTH album. And it is simply staggering. I've recently been relistening to their albums in chronological order, and while each of the first four are nearly flawless, I think this one really is. It's simply amazing from beginning to end and is probably their unequivocal masterpiece.
It all starts off with At the End of the Day, 16 minutes of pure prog bliss. This song is seamless and the 16 minutes go by so quickly you can't believe it was that long. The song goes from mood to mood, section to section, and with its Beatle-esque chorus, is just stunning. It's followed by four power prog-pop songs ranging in length from 4-6 minutes: Revelation, which is heavy and excellent, with some really nasty-fuzzed-out guitars, Thoughts (Part II), a sequel to Thoughts on their second album (Beware of Darkness) alternates some quiet acoustic passages with Neal's singing and loud crashing rock interludes. Effective, and at only 4 minutes or so, really cool. All On a Sunday is pure prog-pop and shows why Neal Morse is such a genius...he weaves a song that's a combination of the Beatles and Rush (most of the Beard is like that) that's just awesome. Goodbye to Yesterday is a ballad-type song and is pretty good, although I feel it's the weakest on the disc. That sets up the mammoth finale, The Great Nothing...27 minutes of heaven. Man, this song is just EPIC in every sense of the word and is jaw-dropping. Again, the song is so awesome it doesn't feel like it's half an hour long. From the beginning instrumental section through every section, including amazing bass playing throughout from Dave Meros, ridiculous keyboards from Morse and Roy Okumoto, Nick D'Virgilio's fabulous drumming, and the guitar wizardry of Alan Morse (truly one of the most original and talented guitarists around today...and he plays without a pick!), this song has it all. A masterpiece and up there with the best Rush and Dream Theater have to offer in the long-prog-song department.
All in all, probably one of the top three best prog albums I've ever heard in my life. Would be an EXCELLENT choice to start off with if you're getting into the Beard (any of the first five would be, but this one might be the best). I just can't say enough about this album.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2000
Neal Morse has been on a roll lately - the Transatlantic CD is one of the best albums of the year 2000 so far, he wrote and recorded the strongest track on Ayreon's recent Dream Sequencer album (a song entitled "The First Man on Earth"), and now Spock's Beard puts out easily their best album in about 5 years. V is similar in format to The Kindness of Strangers - two or three epic tracks with a handful of more traditional-length tracks. What makes V a better album than Kindness of Strangers is that the shorter tracks are stronger; there is nothing on V as weak as "Cakewalk on Easy Street" (what I consider the band's weakest song to date). "Thoughts Part 2" is a fun, clever song reminiscent of Gentle Giant. The epic "At the End of The Day" is a beautiful song. The highlight of the album is the 27 minute masterpiece "The Great Nothing", which is a story about a musician dealing with the harshness and greed of the music industry. I had the pleasure of seeing Spock's Beard in concert recently, and Neal Morse did a great job of getting the crowd into the music. Neal is a brilliant entertainer, and Spock's Beard truly is a great band, one of the best bands of the last several years. It's a shame they don't have more of a following. If you value instrumental virtuosity and creativity then you should definitely pick up a Spock's Beard CD. I'd say Beware of Darkness, V, and The Kindness of Strangers are worth getting in that order.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2002
I have been a hardcore fan of bands like Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd all my life. As such, it's been hard seeing how these super groups have dissolved one after the other leaving only their old albums as a consolation. In the last few years I have struggled to find new music that would compare to epics like Yes' Close to the Edge. Unfortunately it took me quite a long time to fully discover the amazing world of modern progressive music. Now that I have, new bands such as Dream Theater, Enchant and Spock's Beard fill most of my evenings. Among these bands, Spock's Beard is definitely my favorite.
The Beard might be the best thing to happen to music in recent years. For one thing, it contains all the elements that made 70's super groups shine: rich and mature songwriting that completely deviates from commercial trends, complex and elegant instrumentation, frequent use of keyboards and epic compositions sometimes over 20 min long. In my own personal opinion, they are what the super groups of the 70's would be today if they had not dissolved. They combine classic progressive influences with a hint of pop, jazz and world music, which makes them sound very contemporary. The fact that Neal Morse is an exceptional singer contributes a lot to the beauty of their music as well. He is not highly skilled or trained, he simply has one of the most mature and warmth voices I have listened to.
Among their many fabulous albums, V is their absolute best. The lengthier songs, At the End of the Day and The Great Nothing, are progressive multi-section and multi-rhythm masterpieces that truly compare to the best epics of the genre. The shorter songs, while not entirely progressive, are very enjoyable as well. Thoughts part 2 is one of the most original songs of the band, featuring some really crazy rhythm changes. All on a Sunday is probably their most pop-influenced song; it's really catchy and just plain fun to listen to. Goodbye to Yesterday is a beautiful ballad that truly suits Neal's incredible voice.
Spock's Beard is such an exceptional band that is hard to believe they are so underrated and hard to come across. I hope you don't take as long to discover them as I have.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2001
As a devoted fan of prog rock gods King Crimson, ELP, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, etc., you might be surprised to hear me say that I find this to be one of the best prog albums of all time. Why? Because this album not only represents the very spirit of progressive rock, but because of the brilliant composition and performance, as well as the delicious production values.
Track 1: At the End of the Day
Probably the best, most powerful song on the album, this songs opens with a mysterious organ-type instrument, which gives way to a power-packed 16 minute epic. Punchy, growling bass shows a bit of John Wetton and Chris Squire influence. The smashing, crashing barrage of relentless drumming (which also is delicate and dynamic at the appropriate moments) shows traces of Carl Palmer. Not to mention the superb, fluid guitar work that is a mutant child of Steve Hackett, Steve Howe and the skull-jarring world of heavy metal. Keyboard passages clearly reflect hints of Tony Banks and Keith Emerson. This songs shows a brilliant sense of mature song writing, crystalline production and ear-catching inventiveness, ranging from soft acoustic strumming to balls-to-the-wall hard rock chugging, and everything in between.
2. Revelation: Starts off with a rhodes progression, reminescent of some slower Steely Dan work. This jazzy piano playing shifts in and out of hard-edged, tense modern rock passages with stunning fluency and cohesiveness. Mixes subdued, drifting moods with pounding, intense energy done well in this memorable tune.
3. Thought Pt. 2: When this song starts, it sounds like a sort of soft acoustic ballad. "...Maybe not" and this it kicks into a scorching texture of bass, drum, guitar, organ and piano patterns, comprable in complexity to Gentle Giant, as are the brilliantly done accapella (!) sections and string arrangement sections. Packs more into under 5 minutes than many of these tepid neo-prog bands fit into 20.
4. All On a Sunday: Some people are calling this the "pop" song. Yeah, if you consider rolling Hammond organ, Genesis-like synth lines and oddly filtered vocals something that fits into the close-minded confines of modern pop music. No, this is song is catchy, accessible and upbeat, but it is still prog for sure.
5. Goodbye to Yesterday: The only weak point of this otherwise-brilliant disc. Starts off good enough, but more could have been done with it. To be perfectly honest, the chorus sounds a bit too soft and easy-listening for my taste, but the acoustic guitar playing is certainly commendable considering the complex fingerpicking involved.
6. The Great Nothing: 27 minutes of pure prog power. What more can I say than that this puts the Beard on level with the likes of Genesis on "Supper's Ready" and ELP in "Tarkus." Delicious themes restated in various forms, highly complex composition, virtuostic but not overly-pretentious playing make this song great. What a way to end an album that couldn't get much better.
At this point, it's not hard to see what makes this album so stunning. It's everything you loved about classic prog, minus the laboriously long soloing and unneccasary pretension, while adding the shimmering modern production value and a vocalist who defies expections of a prog band (but that's what prog is supposed to be all about right?)
This band is one of the only neo-prog bands which lies heavily in prog-rock tradition without sounding unoriginal, flat or repetive. If your looking for a gateway into the new world of prog, this is the one and only place you should start.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2002
A compadre kept telling me to check out Spock's Beard for a long time. I finally got a copy of V, and I'm very impressed with this collection. ...--this album is jam-packed with melodies throughout it's 63-minute playing time, so much that you may feel overwhelmed by it's moving and poignant power. At The End Of The Day is a 16-minute epic that starts off with soothing and atmospheric cello and mellotron, then kicks into an up-tempo rocker, featuring ethereally melodic vocals and soundscapes. Afterwards, you hear some tasteful acoustic guitar and percussion. There's also a vocal section which reminds me of--dare I say it--christian or gospel music. It's very uplifting and positive. Revelation starts off psychedelic, then kick's into a hard rocker. Thoughts, Pt. 2 is a frenzied and dramatic rocker. The complex a cappela section is compared to Gentle Giant. There are some similarities to the track Knots off of Octopus. All On A Sunday is definitely the _poppiest_ on here. Love the organ opening. Goodbye To Yesterday is probably the most mellow on here, but features an outstanding vocal performance from Neal Morse. The Great Nothing is _nothing_ short of _greatness_. At 27 minutes, this epic holds some incredibly melodic and atmospheric acoustic guitar, precious vocal harmonies and technical instrumentation that makes this an easy half-hour of musical digestion.
This is a wonderful album, soaked in melody, luscious vocal harmonies, great musicianship and accessiblity that all equals to the taste of the sweetest candy in your mouth.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2006
It is amazing the talent that is out there yet you will probably never hear of. I am not a big prog fan but, when I was researching prog bands of yesteryear Yes, ELP, Genesis (Gabriel era), Gentle Giant, I was steered towards this by fans of the genre but in it's more modern form.
This was a real good band that made compositions as opposed to just songs. I find that the longer the songs are in length, the better they are. Ironically, these lengthy tunes do not lumber but rather go by quicker then you may think.
The opener "At the end of the day" is, I think,the best. It has a bit of everything yet is nonetheless a cohesive and consistent song. Likewise, the 30 minute "The Great Nothing" is another epic song that is of high quality. I think that these songs have drama that needs time to build and that is why the length of the tune is of paramount importance. "All on a Sunday" is a good and poppy song but is kind of out of place with the more lengthy ones.
The odd thing about this cd is that the songs are more important then the instrumentation. Unlike the old school prog bands, there is very little noodling of instruments.
Neal Morse was the primary creative force who has since left the band. This may have been their last cd with him. The band has moved on without him but I am not familiar with that material.
30 years ago, it would have cost a lot of money to produce such an elaborate work. Since this band is hardly big, it was probably recorded in someone's house. You would never be able to distinguish this from any big budgeted, corporate financed work.
This is a good cd if you want something of substance that you want to listen to for an hour.