American prog stalwarts in bold, defiant form.
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
ONE OF THE MOST DEFIANTLY IMMEDIATE RECORDS OF THEIR CAREER.
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.