Monday, March 25, 2013

Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep

Spock’s Beard
Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Few would deny that between the years of 1995 and 2002, Los Angeles (California, U.S.) progressive rock outfit Spock’s Beard were at their best creatively with vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and group founder Neal Morse at the helm.
But after six critically acclaimed albums, Morse decided to focus on his solo career, which left many fans questioning whether the band could survive his loss.
With the announcement of drummer Nick D’Virgilio taking on the lead vocals, Spock’s Beard made a quick return to the scene. But despite D’Virgilio skills as a vocalist, the absence of Morse on the song writing front was a definite blow to the band, and as a consequence, the first few post-Morse releases were at best hit and miss.
Despite a somewhat patchy period with D’Virgilio, Spock’s Beard finally managed to break free of the past and produced an absolute masterpiece in 2010 with ‘X’. It took the band four releases, but they eventually found their own sound.
Unfortunately, the success of ‘X’ was short lived, with D’Virgilio announcing his departure in order to focus on family, and take on the role as the official touring drummer for Cirque Du Soleil. Having faced the same situation in the past, Spock’s Beard (Who comprise of guitarist/vocalist Alan Morse, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Dave Meros, keyboardist/vocalist Ryo Okumoto and drummer/vocalist Jimmy Keegan) wasted no time in recruiting Enchant vocalist Ted Leonard into the fold to help out with live commitments. It came as no surprise that after several gigs, Leonard was officially announced as D’Virgilio’s permanent replacement.
Three years after the release of ‘X’, Spock’s Beard are back with album number eleven in ‘Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep’. And as expected, the band’s new release sees them playing things safe.
‘Hiding Out’ is a surprising opener for the album, with the song solely written by Leonard. But while the move might be an ambitious one, the song is a strong one, and Leonard more than proves his ability to fill the void left behind by D’Virgilio. The use of keyboards, sparse electric guitars and acoustic guitars gives the song a lighter feel than what you would normally expect from the band, but is overall a sound that best matches Leonard’s melodic vocals. Of course, there’s plenty of progressive improvisation within the song, but it’s the choruses that really give the song its character. In other words, there’s no denying that ‘Hiding Out’ is a Spock’s Beard song, but it’s hard to miss an undeniable Enchant influence there as well with Leonard on board.
‘I Know Your Secret’ follows up next, and one of my personal favourites. The song is not only one of the heavier sounding efforts on the album, but also one of the more experimental as well, with the union of Spock’s Beard and Leonard attempting to create something a little different and unique, rather than opting for the familiar. Of course, the song does have its moments of familiarity, but the extra injection of guitar, the faster pace and the mellow breakdown around the three quarter mark (Which allows Leonard to really show off his emotive vocals) add some much needed fresh ideas to Spock’s Beard’s song writing framework.
‘A Treasure Abandoned’ is typically what you would expect from Spock’s Beard. The song starts out with a huge sweeping progressive introduction which is concluded with a breakdown, after which the song officially gets underway in a fairly soothing manner. It’s in this centre that the pop/rock side of the band’s sound comes to the fore, and just how Leonard’s vocals and melodies fit perfectly in that mould. Don’t get me wrong, ‘A Treasure Abandoned’ is a great song, but a fairly predictable one in terms of what Spock’s Beard has delivered time and time again.
There’s a lot of Enchant heard within ‘Submerged’, which is not surprising given that it’s a Leonard composition. The slower tempo and relaxed atmosphere that runs throughout the track may have some Spock’s Beard fans thinking the song is a little on the long side of things, but if you’re a fan of Enchant, you’ll know what’s in store here.
‘Afterthoughts’ is the third part of the ongoing ‘Thoughts’ series, and as you would expect, very much a traditional Spock’s Beard number with Neal Morse helping out on the song writing. The vocal chaos of criss-crossing vocal lines is once again reprised, and while it’s done well, I can’t help but feel that it’s all been heard before. Much like ‘A Treasure Abandoned’, ‘Afterthoughts’ is good, but hardly groundbreaking for the band.
After a couple of less than stellar efforts, the band manages to finally impress with ‘Something Very Strange’. Although not too far removed from Spock’s Beard’s trademark sound, the darker tones, the greater progressive instrumentation and Leonard’s powerful vocal and melodies really make song stand out.
Finishing up the album is ‘Waiting For Me’, which is the other track on the album Alan Morse co-write with Neal. And predictably enough, it’s another one of the album’s stronger efforts. Sure, it’s not a real departure of style from what you would otherwise expect from the Morse brothers (Heavily harmonised vocals, pockets of solos from all involved and a brief interlude in the middle to break up the twelve minute epic into two distinct halves), but a good song is a good song.
Overall, ‘Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep’ is a solid album, but a definite step down to the brilliant ‘X’.
I can’t help but feel that with ‘Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep’, Spock’s Beard are playing it safe, especially given that it marks Leonard’s first recording with the band. Time will tell of course whether this is true or not, but unless the band attempt to create something for themselves, they’ll always live in the shadow of their Neal Morse led era, and their sole D’Virgilio era masterpiece ‘X’.

For more information on Spock’s Beard, check out - http://www.spocksbeard.com/

© Justin Donnelly