The new self-titled release from Spock's Beard is their ninth studio album overall, and third since Neal Morse left the band a few years back. Fans who thought that Octane and Feel Euphoria were moving farther and farther away from the trademark prog rock sound that Spock's Beard were known for should be pretty happy to hear a welcome return to proggier territory here.
The first two tracks are two of the best songs the band have created in a while. "On a Perfect Day" is littered with Ryo Okumoto's searing Hammond, Mellotron, and synth layers, the sinewy bass work of Dave Meros, and the always virtuoso guitar work of Alan Morse. Frontman/drummer Nick D'Virgilio as usual hits the skins with plenty of finesse, and his vocals keep improving, proving that the band's decision to have him become the new voice of the group was a good one. "Skeletons at the Feast" is another strong symphonic prog-rocker, complete with stabbing synth blasts, Mellotron, acrobatic bass lines, crunchy guitar riffs, and blazing guitar solos from Morse. As far as prog instrumentals go, this ones a scorcher!
A return to the more hard rock & pop sounds of the last two albums can be heard on "Is This Love", and "All That's Left" is a nice little pop ballad with strong vocals from D'Virgilio and Okumoto's dreamy electric piano. The near 12 minute epic "With Your Kiss" mixes some Phil Collins era Genesis styles with modern rock, and it really works even though it's not so much a bombastic prog piece but just a great lengthy rock song with many layers. Allan and Ryo pull off some muscular solos on this one, and Nick also really hits the mark vocally on this tune as well. "Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go" is a bluesy, gritty hard rock piece, and "The Slow Crash Landing Man" is a moody, emotional number that serves as a great vehicle for Okumoto's soaring Moog and Hammond tones, as well as Nick's passionate vocals.
The band really kicks some butt on the almost Styx-meets-Deep Purple styled rocker "Wherever You Stand", fueled by tasty Hammond, crunchy guitar, funky drum beats, and rich & layered vocals. I'd love to hear more in this style from the band in the future. The jazzy piano ballad "Hereafter" shows the tender side of Nick's vocals, and the four-part epic "As Far As the Mind Can See" is less bombastic than previous suites that the band has recorded, and in fact this one contains quite a lot of jazz-fusion and jam styles that actually work out pretty well, including some neat horn sounds from Ryo that add a nice touch to "They Know We Know" and "Stream of Unconsciousness". In the end the entire piece is really majestic stuff. The album ends on a high note with the almost Todd Rundgren sounding pop-prog number "Rearranged", featuring bubbling synths, powerful drum work, and catchy vocal hooks.
It sounds like Spock's Beard have refocused here a little bit, and while their last two albums were very strong, this latest is really something special. Capturing many of the elements that fans loved so much about their earlier material, plus adding in some new sounds, Spock's Beard is a triumph for a band that really needed something to reinvent, or reinvigorate, themselves to their fans. Recommended.
1. On A Perfect Day
2. Skeletons at the Feast
3. Is This Love
4. All That's Left
5. With Your Kiss
6. Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go
7. The Slow Crash Landing Man
8. Wherever You Stand
As Far As The Mind Can See
10. Dreaming in the Age of Answers
11. Here's A Man
12. They Know We Know
13. Stream of Unconsciousness