REVIEW: SPOCK’S BEARD – “Noise Floor”
In the annals of modern prog rock, there are few bands who have lasted longer, or been more important than the legendary Spock’s Beard. In the 23 years since they released their debut they have remained consistent in putting out high quality prog, ever growing, but still remaining themselves. The lineup has been remarkably consistent over the years, with only a few major changes in membership. The core of the current lineup has been together since 2011, and they are joined again by original drummer Nick D’Virgilio for the upcoming two disk ‘Noise Floor’ which is due in late May. It will be their 13th release, and it is sure to please their long time fans.
The album begins with “To Breathe Another Day,” and the strong classic sounding keys of Ryo Okumoto making their presence felt immediately, before the crunchy guitar of founding member Alan Morse kicks in. As vocalist Ted Leonard said in the press releases, the focus on this album is on strong melodies that catch the ear from the very beginning, and this track certainly does that. Leonard’s strong vocals soon take center stage, and I was immediately transported back to when I heard his other band Enchant for the first time, as he has a vocal quality that very much stands out. I haven’t followed Spock’s as closely in recent years as I have in the past, so this is really my first hard listen of one of their albums with Ted on vocals, and he does a fine job indeed. “To Breathe Another Day” is a fairly short 5 minute rocker and sets the tone for much of the album. Despite being a prog album, the longest song is a mere 8 minutes in length, so anyone looking for an epic will be in for disappointment.
The song writing on display however is exemplarity so such complaints are really quite invalid, as the second rather low key and highly melodic “What Becomes of Me” quickly demonstrates. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is a pop song, but it is certainly lighter in tone than the first track, though no less well performed. But Spock’s has always been able to incorporate strong melodies, and poppy sounds with very tight, often tricky playing, and this skill clearly hasn’t diminished over the years.
Still my heart belongs to the crazy prog that this band is known for, and the best example of that on the first disk, and my favorite from it, is also the longest, the 8 minute “Have We All Gone Crazy.” Lyrically it is a critique of much of the modern world; without being political, it is more an observation of mankind and society in general. Musically, it is classic Beard, with flashy, and lengthy instrumental sections, and incredibly tight playing. The fat bass lines of Dave Meros really stand out here, and are matched well with Nick’s light, almost jazzy drumming. And of course Ryo’s keys are at their flamboyant best as well.
This is followed by the softest song on the album, the almost Beatles like “So This is Life.” It is pleasant enough, but not one of my favorites on the album, and at times gets a bit sappy, which is a bit much for me. Considerably more to my liking are the closing two songs of the first disk; “Box of Spiders,” and “Beginnings.” I mention them together because one flows naturally and directly into the other and so it feels like a continuous 13 minute piece of prog music. “Box of Spiders” is entirely instrumental, and will get the heart racing as it is a driving, often dark ride that is borderline metal at times, and certain to thrill the prog fiends out there. As mentioned it blends directly into “Beginnings” and for the first four of five times I listened to the albums I didn’t even notice that the track number changed and thought it was the same song. The vocals start almost immediately, and they are probably my favorite vocal performance on the entire album. At times strong, and powerful, and other times contemplative Leonard shows off all his strengths here, and the rest of the band joins in with some vocal parts of their own as well, which is a long standing Spock’s staple. The majority of the second half of the song is instrumental and ends the disk on a high note.
As has been previously mentioned, this is a double album. The second disk is titled “Cutting Room Floor” so presumably it is meant as a bonus disk with tracks that didn’t make the final cut. It consists of 4 songs, and runs just over 17 minutes in length. The first track “Days We’ll Remember” and is on the poppier side of things, with a bit of an ELO influence, and a rather infectious chorus. This is followed by “Bulletproof” and “Vault” which are similarly of a pop nature, but don’t really go anywhere terribly interesting. “Vault” does have a catchy chorus, and builds a bit towards the end, but I can see why they cut it. The disk closes with “Armageddon Nervous” which is a fun and short instrumental that calls to mind the Genesis closing classic “Los Endos” in terms of melody and flow. Although relegated to a bonus track, it is none the less a nice way to round off a listening session.
Spock’s Beard have aptly demonstrated that after nearly a quarter century of releasing albums they are in no rush to slow down, or start releasing albums beneath their high standards. ‘Noise Floor’ is a highly melodic prog album, that while flush with technical prowess, has plenty of strong songwriting to tie it together. It has flashes of classic Spock’s to make old fans happy, but enough new elements to keep things interesting, and to bring in new listeners. Fans of modern, and classic prog should find a lot to enjoy here. Recommended.