The album may offer little variation on previous outings by Spock’s Beard, but fans of the band are going to absolutely love ‘Snow’.
Written by: King Of Sunset Town
ARTIST: Spock’s Beard
LABEL: Inside Out
SERIAL: IOMCD 100
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Neal Morse – vocals, keyboards, acousic guitars * Alan Morse – electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, mellotron * Dave Meros – bass, vocals, french horn * Ryo Okumoto – organ, mellotron * Nick D’Virgilio – drums, vocals
TRACK LISTING: DISC 1: 01 Made Alive/Overture * 02 Stranger In A Strange Land * 03 Long Time Suffering * 04 Welcome To NYC * 05 Love Beyond Words * 06 The 39th Street Blues (I’m Sick) * 07 Devil’s Got My Throat * 08 Open Wide The Floodgates * 09 Open The Gates (Part 2) * 10 Solitary Soul * 11 Wind At My Back
DISC 2: 01 Second Overture * 02 4th Of July * 03 I’m The Guy * 04 Reflection * 05 Carie * 06 Looking For Answers * 07 Freak Boy * 08 All Is Vanity * 09 I’m Dying * 10 Freak Boy Part 2 * 11 Devil’s Got My Throat Reprise * 12 Snow’s Night Out * 13 Ladies and Gentlemen, Mister Ryo Okumoto On The Keyboards * 14 I Will Go – mp3 * 15 Made Alive / Wind At My Back
WEBLINKS: Site Link
It’s no big secret how much I’ve always liked Spock’s Beard. The fact is, of all the progressive rock bands which began their careers in the 80s, they are the best. They’ve released a string of top-notch albums since their debut ‘The Light’ and their following has steadily grown with the release of each album.
It was rumoured for a while that ‘Snow’ was going to be a bit special. Neal’s Transatlantic bandmate and Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy, had said in an interview that the album would eventually be regarded as a classic amongst concept albums alongside The Who‘s ‘Tommy’ and the Genesis classic ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’.
That’s high praise. Yes, ‘Snow’ is a concept album – and like those aforementioned classics, it’s a double album. It tells the story of a man who’s believed to be a freak because he is blessed with healing hands. Like most other concept albums, the storytelling element can be a little hit and miss, as it isn’t always totally coherent, but luckily the musical element is fantastic and the songs – taken on individual merits – have the makings of classic Spock’s Beard.
Our journey begins with ‘Made Alive’ which begins gently with Neal singing against an acoustic accompaniment, which echoes earlier SB acoustic work like ‘June’. When the rest of band join the arrangement for the ‘Overture’, it’s very much a tried and tested formula with a circular electric riff similar to ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ by Yes.
This leads into ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ which returns us to an acoustic arrangement. I feel this is always a good vehicle for the band as it really highlights their song writing capabilities, rather than just being a huge musical showcase. In this Spock’s Beard meets Crowded House setting, the vocal hamonies are always spot on and always great to listen to, even though it could be seen as re-treading old ground.
‘Long Time Suffering’ is pretty much paint by numbers by SB standards with it’s middle period Genesis feel for the most part and Gentle Giant vocal stylings in the bridge section, but alongside the first two tracks it helps the album gain momentum and ensures ‘Snow’ as an album has a very strong opening.
‘Welcome to NYC’ presents an aggressive side to the band not often seen since ‘FU’ from the debut. It’s driving force is an old school guitar riff with a cocky swagger a la ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ by Deep Purple. The track has huge slabs of Hammond running through it, which definitely reinforces the Purple feel.
The hard rock elements are bought to the fore again during ‘The 39th Street Blues’ which, by this band’s standards, comes with a simple time signature. The closest comparison in the back catalogue would be ‘Skin’ from their excellent ‘Day For Night’ album. ‘Devil’s Got My Throat’ continues the angry vibe, with a fairly old-school feel that sounds like it was written with live performance in mind.
For those of you who prefer SB’s more pastel shades – you need not worry, as the happy and gentle feel returns on ‘Open Wide The Flood Gates’, a piece which would not sound out of place on Neal Morse’s solo records. It’s a great song with a pop edge.
The middle section is a little wandery but features some really nice jazzy guitar playing from Alan. The closing section has female backing vocals which will undoubtedly draw comparisons with ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ by Pink Floyd. An edited version would make a great (and accessible) single.
The acoustic elements continue through to the end of the first disc with the beautiful harmonies of ‘Solitary Soul’ and ‘Wind At My Back’. It’s here SB prove that they’re not always reliant on complex musical arrangements to make great music, a concept which seems lost on many progressive rock bands – sometimes less is more.
The second half begins with ‘Second Overture’ (naturally) – an instrumental piece which in Beard terms sounds like a re-hash of old ideas. The main riff is more than reminiscent of ‘Cakewalk On Easy Street’ from their third album. It’s definitely one of the albums weaker moments, but it’s probably best to remember that it’s little more than a lead into the second half.
‘4th Of July’ is another slightly angst-filled moment, with stabbing keys. It’s tempered with some vocal harmonies which recall the psychedelic work of The Beatles. The spiky musical element continues into ‘I’m The Guy’, which, although not aggressive, I think is one of the darkest pieces in the Spock’s Beard back catalogue. It also contains my favourite lyric from the album: ‘I’d like to walk a mile in God’s favourite running shoes’. I think the song represents the dark side in all of us.
The piano led ‘Reflections’ is superb in both arrangement and use of melodies; I’m reminded of the title track from Transatlantic‘s ‘Bridge Across Forever’, one of Neal Morse’s greatest achievements. ‘Carie’ has a similar feel to ‘Reflections’ but has a gentle pop feel which should appeal to those of you who like Richard Page, particularly his work on the 3rd Matinee album ‘Meanwhile’.
Overall, even though it’s still first rate stuff for the most part, I’d say disc two is slightly weaker than the first as the second half seems a little reliant on too many tried and tested SB ideas, some of which are reprisals of musical sections from disc one, in true concept album fashion.
That said, the album comes to a strong finish with ‘I Will Go’ which shows many of the elements of softer SB, similar to the soft sections of ‘Stranger In Your Soul’ from Transatlantic‘s ‘Bridge Across Forever’, before reprising both ‘Made Alive’ and ‘Wind At My Back’ to bring things full circle.
The album may offer little variation on previous outings by Spock’s Beard, but fans of the band are going to absolutely love ‘Snow’. Doubtless, the band’s detractors will hate every minute of it, but it’s their loss.