Well scoop me off the floor and call me Nancy! The first time I heard Spock's Beard was their last album, Day For Night. While the songs eventually grew on me, I still find the album to be a bit melodramatic. This time around, though, I was hooked from the very first note.
The album opens with a mournful grouping of cello and oboe in a chamber music-like theme. This soon explodes into the sixteen minute "At The End of the Day" which is filled with some great melodies and guitar rhythms, not to mention some badbutt bass playing. Following this huge, incredible song are four more, each one clocking in at around four to six minutes. In particular, I enjoyed the schizophrenic "Thoughts (Part II)" which begins with a soft melody and the lyrics "I thought it might be really great / To show you how I feel inside / Then I think... maybe not". The song kicks in with a wicked bass and drum riff that is interrupted briefly by a cappella fugues and string quartets before building to a heated rock frenzy. All this in under five minutes! The album caps off with its greatest achievement, a twenty-seven minute six-part opus entitled "The Great Nothing." While most bands flounder in anything longer than four minutes, the long form is the natural habitat of Spock's Beard. There is a common lyrical theme that permeates this song as well as melodies that resurface periodically and tie the entire song together. At the risk of turning off would-be listeners, this song is quite symphonic in its approach to melody and form, and yet it still rocks and rocks hard. Amazingly, none of the songs on the album are bloated: every note is there for a reason. As an added bonus, the singer does not have the standard prog-rock operatic voice that unfortunately sends my teeth a'grinding.
Normally prog-rock doesn't flip me wig. I try to listen to prog-bands and can appreciate their stunning musicianship but soon grow tired of the poorly written songs, lack of attractive melody, and pretentious "intellectual for the sake of being intellectual" lyrics. With this latest album, Spock's Beard blows all that away. Like Kansas, they are able to create music that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying, writing melodic songs that are more than just exercises in endurance. These are simply great rock songs with enough of a progressive edge to grab your ear and make you cry like a schoolgirl!
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 2000.