Amer­i­can prog stal­warts in bold, de­fi­ant form.

Prog - - The Musical Box - JohNNy Sharp

We may call our mu­sic pro­gres­sive, but we don’t half hate it pro­gress­ing some­times. And some Spock’s Beard fans have un­fairly blamed new vo­cal­ist Ted Leonard for the rather smoother mu­si­cal path the band have taken in the last five years or so. But as if to show once more that it was no ac­ci­dent, Alan Morse and co – with Nick D’Vir­gilio back in the stu­dio drum seat, if not the live band – have made one of the most de­fi­antly im­me­di­ate, hook-laden


and upbeat records of their ca­reer. It’s by no means bereft of knotty, ad­ven­tur­ous, struc­turally labyrinthine de­tours, but the pre­dom­i­nant mood is loud and proud.

The 52-minute al­bum proper (we’ll come to the bonus EP later) opens with the ur­gent AOR of To Breathe Another Day, full of blus­tery, life-af­firm­ing, ki­netic gui­tar licks, beefy riff­ing and fu­ri­ous key­boards, sand­wich­ing the kind of are­nastrad­dling cho­rus that would have done Kansas or Toto proud. Bet­ter still for any­one with a soft spot for hook-laden melodic rock is Some­body’s Home, which builds from a lilt­ing acous­tic in­tro into a rhyth­mi­cally stut­ter­ing verse be­fore ex­plod­ing into a re­demp­tive arms-to-the-heav­ens cho­rus.

There’s a touch of polem­i­cal bite on Have We All Gone

Crazy Yet, as it sark­ily ob­serves, ‘Ev­ery­thing’s on fire but they say it’s for the best,’ but for the most part it’s an in­stantly ar­rest­ing piece of prog pop… and then a gear change. Half­way through, it spins off into a dizzy­ing whirl­wind of hy­per­ac­tive key­boards and in­stru­men­tal jazz rock (go­ing, if you will, Crazy), and it turns out that this is a sign of what’s to come on the sec­ond half of the al­bum.

One So Wise matches the up­tempo feel of the open­ing track, but this time the chord struc­tures are full of ob­tuse an­gles and wrong-foot­ing jazz im­pro­vi­sa­tion, as Yes-ish har­monic shape-shift­ing and gui­tar spi­rals tie your ears in knots. Box Of Spi­ders then raises the stakes fur­ther, as dis­cor­dant synth jags bar­rel into fu­ri­ous jazz pi­ano and squeal­ing gui­tar histri­on­ics. You’d be for­given for won­der­ing if this is SB’s way of say­ing, ‘Not proggy enough for ya? Well, have some of this!’

A sim­i­lar jux­ta­po­si­tion of broad strokes and bol­shy com­plex­ity can be found on the bonus EP Cut­ting Room

Floor, lulling new­com­ers with three highly agree­able slices of string-laden soft rock be­fore the an­gu­lar shred­ding that closes Vault leads into the squawk­ing techno and dis­cor­dant avant-abra­sive­ness of Ar­maged­don Ner­vous.

So if you still han­ker af­ter the Spock’s Beard of 20 years ago, maybe try this al­bum be­fore you buy. But if you’re some­one that has as much of a taste for sugar as you have for spice, then come on, feel the Noise.

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