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Spock's Beard - 'X' http://rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/8c/22/98/543_spocksbeardx_1284411045.jpg Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     September 13, 2010    
 
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Tenth studio album by Spock's Beard.

The title says it all; this being the Beard’s tenth studio album and the fourth since the departure of Neal Morse. I don’t mind admitting (again) that the band proved me wrong when they decided to continue without Morse as I felt that he was so synonymous with everything about them that they couldn’t possibly overcome his loss. After the promising but rather inconsistent ‘Feel Euphoria’ heralded the new dawn they positively blossomed and won me over without reservation with the subsequent ‘Octane’ and ‘Spock’s Beard’ albums which saw, in particular, Dave Meros (bass) flourish as a songwriter and Nick D’Virgilio confirm his credentials as their new front man. Both of these releases fall into the ‘must have’ category for any self-respecting Prog fan and ‘X’ is about to join them.

With this album the band have taken a different path and used the Marillion model of asking their fans to fund the album by paying for their copy in advance with the promise of an exclusive special package, more of which later. The snippets of songs they have been posting on their MySpace page over recent months have had me licking my lips in anticipation and given me the impression that this album was going to be every bit as good as its immediate predecessors, so now that the real thing is here, what’s the verdict?
In short it’s another triumph and a further validation of their post-Morse configuration. This album has been on permanent rotation on my I-pod since I loaded it and in truth I have had to force myself away from it to listen to other albums that I am due to review.
What makes it so compulsive? All the usual ingredients really, such as immensely memorable songs, superb and towering melodies, wonderful themes that ebb and flow, terrific playing, from all concerned, and hooks so large you could land a whale. If I have one criticism, and it’s a small one, it would be that some of Alan Morse’s guitar solos are a bit weird and rely on strange noises rather than proper melody. That said, at other times he produces solos of considerable beauty.

As to the songs themselves, you know you’re in for something special from the moment that the first chord of opening track, ‘Edge Of The In-Between’ bursts out of the speakers with fabulous gusto. The keyboard refrains are a delight, as are D’Virglio’s drum patterns. To me, SB has an uncanny knack of producing melodies that are instantly pleasing and almost familiar even when you are hearing them for the first time. The ten minutes duration of this track is a sublime journey (aside from the first guitar solo) as we pass through the smooth vocal passages and into a breakdown section that includes that solo, before the theme changes again and then in due course the original melody returns. The second vocal section is immense and instantly memorable, whilst the guitar solo that follows is spot on. This track alone encapsulates everything I love about the Prog genre.

‘The Emperor’s Clothes’ carries on the great work, starting with acoustic guitars and strings it builds to a big theme, lead on this occasion by horns. The style is that more straight Rock vibe that the band have brought to the table of late, although the chorus is very SB. Just to show they’ve not lost their chops there’s even an a capella interlude, the theme from which is picked up later in the piece by both keyboards and guitar. Ryo Okumoto gets to show his piano skills to wonderful effect. The instrumental that follows (‘Kamikaze’) just has to be a composition from the Japanese keyboard wizard as he gets to thrash the Hammond organ in Keith Emerson style and inject some classic synth. Morse also gets the opportunity to dish up a heavy riff.
From The Darkness’ is the albums longest track at a fraction under 17 minutes. It opens with a titanic section before the tempo slows for a delightful passage that screams genius. The pace then picks up again as the band demonstrate their prowess for arranging these lengthy numbers. They throw in a few new subtle flavours along the way just to show us that there’s no formula. The piano refrain that appears from time to time has an almost ‘Tubular Bells’ feel. But it’s another piano lead theme that introduces the song’s closing section with the vocal arrangement bringing to mind a cross between Venice and The Beatles.

‘The Quiet House’ arrives anything but quietly as the bass of Meros forms the intro in splendid fashion. The vocal melodies on this one are very special indeed with a hint of Level 42 in there. I defy anyone not have this lodged in their head after just one play. The vibe changes at about the half way point and just when you think they are losing the plot they switch to a sublime piano and guitar ballad passage where the vocal arrangement is awesome. ‘Their Names Escape Me’ has a Steve Hackett feel to the opening stanza and once more I have to praise the melody. I mentioned earlier those fans that financed the album; well on this track they get a name check as D’Virglio sings all their names. Initially I thought this was very cheesy, but the way they build the tension in the music as he goes through the list is so well done that it actually works. It must have taken ages to get the scanning right.
‘The Man Behind The Curtain’ has another of those stirring refrains that the band does so well and yet another strong chorus. There’s a modern edge to the early part but this is truncated by an acoustic interlude that changes the feel markedly. Naturally they explore various moods before returning to the original theme to close.

The final track is another epic with ‘Jaws Of Heaven’ clocking in at fifteen minutes, and like any true Prog masterpiece it explores myriad themes. It is truly captivating with glorious melodies and themes, huge Mellotron washes and synths redolent of another era all appearing in the first few minutes. Morse lays down some adept solos before the song enters a different phase with yet another vocal refrain that will stick in your head. It’s a joyous ride throughout with interest never having the opportunity to lapse.

I can only conclude by saying that they’ve done it again and produced an album that will have their existing fans purring with pleasure and one that in all justice should entice a new army of listeners. I have reviewed the Limited Edition, at the time of writing I have no idea what the difference will be in the standard version, so my tip is get this one ordered while stocks last.

Gary Marshall

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Latest Message: 1 week, 2 days ago
  • Berny : @zom414: Fireworks Magazine #89 will be available at selected UK based newsagents on December 16th. The digital version can already be purchased in our Download Store.
  • zom414 : When's the next mag due for release?
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  • el nowy : Hi, how long does it take for my download license to be available? I purchased it 3 days ago. Thanks!
  • Rocktopia Te : @l.thijs: Apologies for the delay, your digital copy can now be downloaded from your "My Downloads" section.
  • l.thijs : Hi Fireworks Magazine. I made a purchase on 10 nov and I paid by Paypall. I bought the #85 fireworks mag download for GBP3,50. But I didn,t receive anything. Please can you find out what's going on?
  • kazooba : I have digital versions of every issue from 27 thru 88, any way I can get issues 1 - 26 with cd's digitally?
  • Berny : @SeaDog57: The links are in the Fireworks menu. Have you tried scrolling down? Maybe your screen size is too small...
  • SeaDog57 : Berny; there are only links up to Fireworks 86. Which is kinda strange because i already downloaded CD 87 but i'm looking for the link to CD 88...Chris
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  • Berny : @bpomper: A reply was sent yesterday, We recommend checking your spam/junk mail to see if our message was filtered there. The magazine was already sent to your shipping address. Please let me know if you do not receive it within the next couple of days. Thanks for your patience!
  • bpomper : Thanks didnt of that. I still have not heard about fireworks 88 was it sent out. Thankyou
  • Rocktopia Te : @bpomper: For security reasons, we removed your previous message. Please do not post your private e - mail address. Many thanks for your understanding.
  • bpomper : Thanks for the reply. I see download but can you confirm that hardcopy was or is sent ou .thanks.the email i used is inder the contact me info of the website
  • Berny : @bpomper: Apologies for your troubles. Where did you send the email to? We haven't received anything. I will send you a longer reply via mail. Also, you can download the free CD from the "Fireworks" menu on top, but the CD links are only shown if you are logged in.
  • bpomper : 3rd email inquiring about my purchase of fireworks #88. i purchased on the 2oth of sept and today is the 24 with no response...paypal has taken the payment. should i have a down load of the cd for mu usa magazine. Looking forward to an answer
  • bpomper : hello i purchased fireworks #88 through paypal on9/23 and have not recieved an email from rocktopia. purchase is for a hard copy of the mag. should i have cd download instructions.when should i expect it
  • Berny : @Johns Band: I've just sent you an e - mail. Best regards, B.
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  • Berny : @kevinw01: Have you received the mail containing the donwload instructions? It seems as if you are downloading the bonus CDs from the "Fireworks" menu, those are meant for our readers in the USA and Canada whose copies do not come with the CD. I will send you a mail now. Thanks, B.
  • kevinw01 : I have ordered several issues of Fireworks but when I press the download button I only get a copy of the MP3 but not the PDF files. I have an iPad. Am I doing something wrong? Kevin
  • Berny : @ARONITY: Thanks for your order. As stated in the item's description, it can take up to three hours for your purchase to be processed. You should have received a mail containing the download instructions by now. Thanks for your patience!
  • ARONTY : Hi, Just ordered #88 pdf, Paypal show the payment, but no d/l link, please help..
  • Berny : @John: Pls. check your mail, this should have been sorted by now. Apologies for the delay!
  • johnmason : Hi. I paid for #88 and it doesn't show up in the licenses/Downloads and I never received any email telling me how to download it.
  • Rocktopia Te : Fireworks Magazine #88 is out now!
  • SeaDog57 : Thanks Berny got it

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