1999 Spock's Beard Special
Spock's Beard have just released their new album called Day for Night. This seemed like a good opportunity to do another Roundtable review, like we previously did with Fish's Raingods with Zippo's.
Below you will not only find an extensive track-by-track review with judgings by four DPRP team members, but also a competition where you can win one of the Beardy items which have been made available to us by Inside Out music (thanks Matt !).
For more information about Spock's Beard, check out their homepage (see table below) or visit DPRP's Spock's Beard Page, which contains more reviews, a full discography and more.
Spock's Beard - Day for Night
Day for Night (7:34)
JJ: The title track starts off in a great way. It has a very recognisable theme that returns throughout the song. At some point it can be compared to The Good Don't Last. The powerful sound and the raw singing resemble the Kindness of Strangers-album. The sound of this CD is more in the direction of Kindness than of Beware of Darkness, which still is my favourite.
Ed: A good begin which sets the mood for the rest of the album with a nice melody, good vocals and a chunky bass. The intermezzo with acoustic guitar sounds a lot like the one in The Doorway. The song has all of the familiar Beardy elements; chuncky bass, sudden changing rhythms and melody patterns, some experimenting with vocal harmonies, nice keyboard solo's. Neal Morse compared it to Walking on the Wind and to a certain extent he's right, although Day for Night is a bit more catchy and uptempo.
Derk: The title track opens with a vengeance that we've come to know and love from Spock's Beard. You feel immediately at home almost from the start of the song when you hear Dave Meros' bass (Rickenbacker if I'm not mistaken) snoring away. Being a fan of both Geddy Lee and Chris Squire I can appreciate his style of playing a lot!
The calm intermezzo which follows the opening part of the track features delicate Mellotron and Hammond before reiterating that opening part.
Interplay between guitar and Hammond follows. Next is a Thoughts-like vocal interplay and a last Hammond solo concludes this very promising opener! At some places this song reminds me of The Doorway. Comparison to this Beard track will crop up several times more in this review as it is in my opinion the definitive Spock's Beard track.
Some of the keyboard parts in this song reminded me of ELP's Fanfare for the Common Man.
Remco: The opening track Day for Night is a powerful rock track. Strange sounds open the album, then a 'one-two-three-four' and we're on our way! In the middle of the song some subtle acoustic guitar and then back to power. Like it!
JJ: Gibberish starts with a great organ-part, almost in the vein of Ray Charles, accompanied by strings. But after a few bars heavy guitars come in. As soon as you get grip of the theme, there's another break and an acapella part starts. We knew Spock's Beard had great voices, but we find the affirmation again here. In the second verse guitars come in again. It is followed by a very jazzy interlude, with strange guitar-sounds moving from left to right. At the end Nick beats the hell out of his drums. And all that in less than 5 minutes. A great track!
Ed: The vocal extravaganza of Thoughts meets the guitar frenzy of Mouth of Madness. It doens't have much lyrics, it's basically the same text repeated after several instrumental passages. The heavy guitar JJ spoke about reminds me of The Mouth of Madness. Good track.
Derk: We already knew beforehand that this one would have some resemblances to Thoughts and was, just like that song, heavily influenced by Gentle Giant.
I don't know anything by Gentle Giant so I can't comment on that. However, I thought that the multi-layered vocal parts in this song were a bit overdone.
The song starts with a Squire like bass followed by aforementioned vocal part after which the song continues in a more 'normal' way. I rather like the second half of the song, especially the end where the Mellotron beautifully supports the vocals.
Remco: The second track Gibberish has a bass and guitar opening like Whitefish by Yes, with a multi-vocal interlude like South Side of the Sky. Complex and haunting.
JJ:The next sung start with a funky guitar-riff accompanied by an almost 'brit-pop'-sounding string-keyboard-section. Skin, as it is called, is a simple and straighforward song. I don't find it very special, but it proves Neal's remarks that he is "only a songwriter" are right. Longer tracks develop by incident, it seems.
Ed: This might be short and straightforward, but I really like this track, especially the chorus. It's one of those tunes you just want to sing along to very loudly. A good track which is a nice diversion from the 'regular Spock's Beard', even though it will probably never become a 'classic'.
Derk: Released in the early eighties as a single this would have been a hit for sure! This is in my opinion the most AOR-like track Spock's Beard has ever written.
It's pretty straightforward, which means no significant tempo changes or any strange quirks from keyboard or guitar. Nevertheless I really like this song very much!
Remco: Skin is more mainstream, with a nice beat and a song-along chorus. Using different distortion effects and weird sounds, this song has been elevated to something special too.
The Distance To The Sun (5:11)
JJ:: This is a beautiful ballad. It starts with a lovely acoustic guitar intro which is followed by great harmony vocals. After the first chorus a piano also comes in. There is indeed a resemblance to June. It even reminds me at some points of Simon and Garfunkel. I like it a lot.
Ed: A vocal harmony resembling Simon and Garfunkel or Crosby, Still, Young & Nash. Distance ... builds up with acoustic guitar, close harmony, paino and strings. Drums, bass and electric guitar come in during the last minute of the song. Nice tune but as far as I'm concerned it does not even come near the splendour of June.
Derk: The acoustic opening of this track has a definite Spanish feel to it, very reminiscent of Rush' La Villa Strangiato. The Distance To The Sun is unavoidably going to be compared to June on Spock's Beard's previous album 'The Kindness of Strangers'. It has the same structure as that song: starts gently before drums and bass come in at the end of the song for the climax.
I don't think it's as good as June, but then I absolutely adored June (especially live it's a killer) and I think Spock's Beard would be hard pressed to come up with something even better! The end of the song, where the rhythm section has come in, is delightful though.
Remco: Distance to the Sun , opening with a Spanish guitar is one of the most beautiful ballads I have heard for ages. It is an emotional song, but still it maintains the complexity of the rest of the album, a quiet note after the first three uptempo songs. I played it very loud this morning, while having breakfast and it gave me goosepocks. The song slowly builds up to a climax, slowly again the multi-vocal lines set in, and finally the drums enter. I think this song is so beautiful because it is so well balanced: all instruments are in place and at the right volume.
Crack in the Sky (9:59)
JJ: Nick D'Virgilio starts off Crack The Big Sky with a great drum-pattern, and Dave Meros comes in soon with his recognisable deep Rickenbacker bass-sound. The track changes from very jazzy (fusion) into a very Beardy Hammond-part, which is followed by an up-tempo handclapping part. After this the song develops very recognisable. No doubt this is Spock's Beard. It's almost like a view into several older songs by the Beards. Very different from other songs is the part where the brass section comes in. A raw saxaphone (a bit Floyd-like) takes over the main theme of the song. After a quieter part, the funky guitar part that accompanied the hand-clapping is reintroduced, but this soon develops into a heavier riff with a great Hammond-solo. Needless to say this longer track takes a bit more time to grow on you, with it's many twists and turns.
Ed: An excellent song with good melody and vocals. The only thing I don't like about this song is the sax solo. Don't get me wrong, I adore sax in prog music, but this sounds too much like a poor attempt to re-create a Dick Parry solo, like in Shine of You Crazy Diamond. What's more, the way the solo has been recorded and added to the rest of the music makes the whole thing sound like a cheap demo; it lies on top of the song instead of being integrated with it. The brass and strings (synths ?) which are used elsewhere in the song are used in a much better way. This is still one of the highlights of the album though.
Derk: At first glance, the longest track on the album (more on that later), clocking in at almost ten minutes. It's vintage Beard. Powerfull opening in a time signature which I'm not going to try to decipher. It reminded me in a lot of ways of previous Beard tracks like Go The Way You Go and The Doorway.
The second half has a (sampled) saxophone bit which reminds me of Red era King Crimson, especially since this track also boasts ample use of the Mellotron.
The last part of the song is reserved for the guitar and the Hammond to showcase themselves again after which a repetition of the chorus ends the track.
Remco:Crack the Big Sky is the longest song on the album, with a jazzy guitar bass drum opening. Then tempo goes up and some weird clapping sets in, with a Rickenbecker bass and mellotron. This song reminds me again of a mixture between 70's Yes and Trevor Rabin. Get the picture? The middle section is daring: staccato saxophones in a groovy rhythm, followed by the sax picking up on the same melody the electric guitar previously had. Lovely! A great organ solo tops it off. Then back to the chorus to end the song. Happy.
The Gypsy (7:28)
JJ: This song starts with a drum-loop and very typical singing. Even reminds me of Elvis Costello. When the drums come in I can't help thinking of I'm the Walrus. After the verse the song nevertheless sounds very 'seventies' again, particularly because of the many mellotron-chords. After 4 minutes the song speeds up and escpecially the bass-lines attract my attention. With the fast drums and the wonderful combination of mellotron and guitar, this is the best part, before the song slows down to repeat the chorus one more time. The acoustic guitar ends The Gypsy as it started.
Ed: Muscially, this song is very good and I really like some of the instrumental passages. I don't like the vocals that much though, and especially the couplets are not really my cup of tea. Neal Morse sings as if he's taking a dump! The song also contains several bits which could have come straight from a Seventies Genesis album.
Derk: Opens with almost blues like laid back drums, bass and acoustic guitar. Before long it's business as usual though: the Mellotron tapestries supported by fabulous drumming by Nick D'Virgilio and Meros' distinctive bass playing.
This song also has a more important role for Alan Morse's guitar.
Remco:The Gipsy contains no ordinary chord at all, I think, as you can hear in the acoustic guitar opening. The song continues more uptempo, with a chorus that must be stolen from some Bon Jovi tape.
Even the vocals are Bon Jovi-like. But the rest has a early Genesis feel to it, due to the weird chords and changing rhythms (the same chords get played in four or five different tempi throughout the song. Brilliant!). It is a bit in the style of Ritual, the Swedish band.
Can't Get it Wrong (4:13)
JJ: The second ballad of the album is Can't Get it Wrong. Unlike The Distance.. this isn't a multi-vocal song, but a very classical ballad with a piano and a string-section. A nice song, a bit more polished than the first ballad.
Ed: Piano and Cello start a rather Beatlesque song that develops into a whining tune that drags on and reminds me of some cheesy Top 40 ballad (I think the name was I Can't Get You Out of My Mind). Next song please.
Derk: The only track not written by Neal Morse exclusively (cowriters Alan Morse and Nick D'Virgilio). This ballad opens with the piano. The orchestral feel to this song reminds me a bit of Electric Light Orchestra (especially the ELO track Can't Get It Out Of My Head). This feeling is stengthened not in the least by the fact that Neal Morse's voice does have some resemblances to Jeff Lynne's.
Remco: Can't Get it Wrong . Indeed, reminiscent of ELO's Can't get it out of my head. Violin and piano ballad. Not as strong as Distance to the Sun, but nice.
The Healing Colours of Sound (22.47)
JJ:The Healing Colours Of Sound (part 1) (2:22), the instrumental opener, starts in a great way, including a church-organ, playing Bach (or something like that). After that, there's an up-tempo part with a great, jazzy bass-line. I love the way the band plays here, they're not sounding too rough and all the instruments have their own part.
This short instrumental leads into My Shoes (4:16) which is a lovely, slow part with vocals sung through very old Hammond-speakers. A very nice, quiet piano-part leads us to the next track, which is Mommy Comes Back (4:50). Because of these fluid connections, The Healing Colours.. is more one composition, than I though at first sight.
This particular part of the composition features Alan Morse's very recognisable 'screetchy' guitar-sound. With all it's strange sounds this track even reminds me of Thoughts. I think the musical part of Mommy Comes Back is much stronger than the vocal part of the chorus. The latter doesn't really do much to me.
Lay It Down (3:18) is a slower part. It has a beautiful melody-line with an almost Carribean-rhythm in the vein of Human Nature, written by Toto (and performed by Michael Jackson and Miles Davis). The rhythm played on the hi-hat, combined with the fretless (?) bass is very nice.
With The Healing Colours Of Sound (3:17), which is (in my opinion) a parody to The Revealing Science of God by Yes, the song returns to the start. This version of the melody is a bit faster and, as result, more joyful. Regrettably it doesn't really add something new to the track, until the part where the horns come in. It even reminds me of Tommy. Shortly after, there's a break again with a short vocal-interlude.
Not only The Healing.. is revisited, but also My Shoes (3:54). I haven't made up my mind if I like both of these parts (together over 7 minutes) being revisited. Especially since I like these redentions less than the first, which are great! At least it gives Al Morse the chance to play a very long solo. This solo ends in a very sudden way.... After this the organ/guitar introduction is repeated.
Ed: The six pieces that form The Healing Colours of Sound take you through a wonderful and cheerful Flow-like instrumental (The Healing Colours of Sound (part 1)) and something which sounds a lot like a mixture between The Time Has Come and Waste Away (My Shoes) to the squeakyness of Thoughts and bluesyness of The Water (Mommy Comes Back). After this follows a laid back Go the Way You Go-like piece (Lay it Down) before the song evolves in a very happy The Good Don't Last clone (The Healing Colours of Sound, which is not as JJ indicated a reprise of the opening instrumental). In the last track, My Shoes (revisited), both the instrumental opening and My Shoes are revisited, although the later in a slightly lower tempo. A nice detail is the simultaneous singing of the lyrics of My Shoes and Healing Colours of Sound.
It's a great track, although you've probably noticed my main criticism.
Derk: The Healing Colors of Sound part 1 opens in a deliciously Beardy way: energetic drumming and bass play interluded by delicate Mellotron, followed by in my opinion the best piece of music on the album. This is an intrumental that specialists (70's) Genesis and Alan Parsons Project would be proud of!
My Shoes: Beautiful vocal melodies on this more quiet track. Lots of great Alan Morse guitar especially in the middle part of the song. Delicate piano, supported by great cymbal playing by Nick, ends this part of The Healing Colors of Sound.
Mommy Comes Back starts out a bit like Thoughts. The rest of this track reminds me a lot of The Water, both musically and lyrically. The second half of the song contains a guitar solo distorted in much the same way that Gilmour must have distorted his guitar for parts in Pink Floyd's Dogs.
Lay it Down is a beautiful quiet intermezzo with piano and acoustic guitar duelling to get to the foreground.
The Healing Colors of Sound: Electric guitar and piano in completely harmony now. Features chorus in canon. This is typically an end to a long track but in fact there's still one part after this one!
My Shoes (revisited): The start of the song is the same as The Healing Colors of Sound Part 1 but then revisits the theme first heard in My Shoes (hence the title). Was The Healing Colors of Sound the start of the end, this *is* the end! I like long climaxes to long tracks and this one's no exception. I can't wait to hear it live!
This track also features one of the (too) few Alan Morse guitar solo's on the album. The ending is a bit abrupt, though (it halts in midnote it seems). It doesn't fade out, contrary to what I would have expected.
Remco: The Healing Colours of Sound (part 1) (what a Yes-like title: remember The Revealing Science of God?) is more experimental, different very distorted sounds fly around, violins out of nowhere and a bouncing bass.
My Shoes has a bit the feel of the "Hippie" songs on the Ayreon album Into the Electric Castle. It ends really quiet, to go into Mommy Comes Back. Apparently Mommy took some dope, since the song features a collection of weird sounds in a more funky setting. Even the pig-guitar that David Gilmore uses on Keep Talking is present.
Lay it Down can be regarded as the intermezzo of the "epic" part of the album. Don't ask me why, but to me this song has a bit of a Seasons End feeling to it. Maybe because the vocals are a bit Hogarth-esque.
The Healing Colours of Sound features the chorus of part 1, without the weird stuff. A happy song now, featuring French horn! Cool.
My Shoes (revisited) is more powerful than the first part, and even the Healing Colors come back, the climax of the album is formed by a brilliant guitar solo.
JJ: As a bonus on the European release Hurt is added. This is just a straight rock-song. Heavy guitars, simple vocal melody. It could be a B-side on Brian May's latest single. I wouldn't miss it if it wasn't on the album. But then again, it's a bonus.
Ed: Nice heavy guitar riff and a threathening stomping sound. Quite nice, although it's a bit to repetitive to be a real good song. Still, much better than the Into Fire attempt on the rarities album.
Derk: I have mixed feelings about bonus tracks: on one hand it's always nice to have more music on the album but they nearly always disrupt the flow of the album.
This is a very heavy track, what we would call heavy metal fifteen years ago. Today it's only rock of course but I won't get into a battle of the generations here!
It's nice but it's no Beard. A bit like Into Fire, if you want a comparison.
Remco: In the USA it all ends here, but Europe is treated on Hurt. This is a powerful rock track that AC/DC could be jealous of.
JJ: Now, I come to my conclusion: As I stated, this album is more in the line of Kindness.. than of Beware.... Personally, I liked the latter more than the former.
The sound on this album is again very tough (I could even say 'massive'), which is sometimes right, but not always. I think the album has really great parts (like Gibberish, Distance To The Sun and The Healing Colours (part 1)), but also has parts that don't do much to me. Regrettably some of those are part of the longer songs, so you can't take them out. Fortunately Spock's Beard's music changes almost every minute so it keeps a very interesting album.
Spock's Beard have established a big name in prog music and they maintain on a high level with this album. I am sure they add a couple of 'classics' from this album as favourites to their setlist, but they haven't really explored new boundaries. I sometimes miss the more melodic parts and think some keyboard and guitar-parts are very much like I've heard before. On the other hand I think both Dave Meros and Nick D'Virgilio have grown over the last albums and form a great rhythm section. Day For Night has become a very Beardy album, with provocative music that we've learned to love over the last years.
I do hope this album brings the band to Europe again.
Ed: This is very good album with good melodies and songs and it is typical Spock's Beard album. That's also my main concern. When I first heard
the album I was very disappointed. I thought - and I still think - that this is a typical example of the 'never-change-a-winning-concept' strategy. To the
listener it therefore sounds like 'more of the same' or 'same stuff, different album'. Most of the things the band does on Day for Night have already been done on The Light, Beware of Darkness and Kindness of Strangers. Some songs even sound like they deliberately
tried to re-create some of the more popular songs from these albums.
Having said that, after listening to the album several times I really enjoyed it. That's not a big surprise of course, since I also liked the previous albums. The whole CD demonstrates what amazing musicians Spock's Beard are. Still the self-plagiarism leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. Let's hope they will try something new on the next one.
Oh, one more positive thing: they finally have some good artwork on the cover and CD itself.
Derk: The Beard continue on the road they followed with 'The Kindness of Strangers'. This album has more accessible tracks than its predecessors but there's still room enough for the more special Beard sound. Highlights
include the title track, Gypsy and The Healing Colors of Sound.
The only (small) complaint I can think of is that I would have liked to
hear more Alan Morse. His guitar seemed to have been banned to a less
important role than on the previous albums.
Conclusion: if you liked the Beard's two previous albums then this one's a sure bet. If you're new to Spock's Beard then Day For Night is an excellent starting point to get to know them.
Remco: Powerful Prog in all its aspects: that's the new Spock's Beard to me. I must admit that this is the first album I hear of them. But I am very much impressed by their work. I really like the vocals on this album, which automatically means it has passed my most important test. It takes a couple of listenings to get the groove of the album, and I start to get it under my skin now (I have the album 2 days now). The amazing thing is: there is no mediocre song on the album at all! Spock's Beard combine the complexity of Yes (especially the bass is very Yes-like) with the power of more mainstream rock bands. Meanwhile, you pick up some Genesis, ELO, some ELP and some other acronyms. O, and washing Mellotrons too ;-). I think that my overall impression is: Yes with balls. And a decent vocalist.
JJ: 7.5 out of 10.
Ed: 8 out of 10.
Derk: 8.5 out of 10.
Remco: 9 out of 10.