Spock’s Beard, the American band with the most catchy/clever/lame name, has been prog-rocking it out all over the world for over 25 years now. However, especially after the departure of their main songwriter and prog icon Neal Morse, they were or maybe still are struggling make ends meet, both financially and musically. With the help of outside songwriters they continued to release new albums on a regular basis, but failed to maintain the momentum and success of previous works. Before the making of 2013’s Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, their singer and drummer Nick D’Virgilio left the band to pursue a more lucrative job, but the band quickly filled the vacancy with their tour drummer Jimmy Keegan and Enchant-singer Ted Leonard.
Spock’s Beard has produced twelve studio albums. We took on the band’s discography and ranked their albums below. Let us know your opinions in the comments below.
12. Feel Euphoria (2003)
Could Spock’s Beard survive the departure of its now born-again Christian lead singer and main songwriter? Well, they did manage to put together a new album in decent time, but it is not an impressive opus, to say the least. Then again, the group’s music was on a path leading it away from its progressive rock beginnings and toward a tighter, harder-edged, more commercial sound ever since 1999′s Day for Night, so it would be unfair to put all the weight of this new leap on Neal Morse‘s absent shoulders.
Nick D’Virgilio, who stepped out from behind the drums to take the lead singer’s microphone, lacks the charisma, that trembling something in the voice that endeared Morse to the group’s early fans. But most of all it is the writing that suffers. If “The Bottom Line” and “East of Eden, West of Memphis” make convincing art rockers, “Onomatopoeia” and the title track are weak, lacking the rate of ideas by the minute the group was capable of back in the days. The obligatory ballads (“Shining Star” and “Ghosts of Autumn”) are enjoyable, but that kind of number, especially when given a hard rock edge, has never been the group’s forte. As for the suite “A Guy Named Sid,” it ranks among the group’s weakest attempts at epic writing.
The themes don’t gel well, the plot is thin, and how many times must listeners be reminded that “this is the story of a guy named Sid“? It has its moments, especially in the last two parts, but it is a far cry from “Flow” or “The Healing Colors of Sound.” The debate still rages on between fans of Genesis as to whether the departure of Peter Gabriel back in 1975 has been a curse or a blessing. It looks like fans of Spock’s Beard will have something to argue over for a while too.
11. Day for Night (1999)
By the end of the millennium Spock’s Beard had become one of the hottest names in the reemerging Progressive Rock scene. The band’s popularity had increased that much to lead the group to a double set of live albums, released in 1998, The Beard is Out There and Live at The Whisky and NEARFest. But at the same time the recording sessions never stopped and in the spring of 1999 the band returns with a fourth studio album, Day for Night, released in the USA, Europe and Japan by Metal Blade, Inside Out and Avalon labels respectively.
While the fundamentals of old Progressive Rock were still the band’s driving force, Neal Morse decided that the band should take a turn towards more dense and short tunes, which remain fairly intricate, bombastic and complex, but also contain a heavier dash of pop. Genesis, Gentle Giant and King Crimson are again among the biggest influences and there is some incredible Hammond organ, Mellotron and electric piano moves to be found in the album. On the other hand there is not a single piece exceeding the 10-minute mark and actually most of them are about 3-5 minutes long, half of this set is closer to a mixture of Progressive/Art Rock and Pop with joyful tunes, sharp electric guitars, analog and modern keyboards and more conventional songwriting. There is still some nice music playing in the background, but that’s not exactly what Spock’s Beard. The epic atmospheres, emphatic breaks and rhythm changes are still in the menu along with a retro atmosphere and an intelligent display of modern instrumentation and production. It’s just that the vocals now sound too sweet and poppy placed in such kind of arrangements. Cuts like the title-track, “Crack the Big Sky” or “The Gypsy” though belong among the goodies of the band, these guys offered here a monumental delivery of full-blown Prog with some Beatles-que tunes.
10. Octane (2005)
The first seven tracks of Octane comprise a conceptual suite entitled “A Flash Before My Eyes,” based on a story by John Boegehold. It’s about the experiences of a man in the process of experiencing a car wreck as it happens and watching his life flash before him as it passes out of him. He recalls everything from his parents’ separation on Christmas, to high school football games and meeting his wife and creating a life with her. It all ends at the end of the flash. The overture, “Prelude to the Past,” is all big prog symphonic rock former frontman and guitarist Neal Morse‘s gigantic presence is still missed, but the ambition here is sweeping. Nonetheless, drummer and frontman Nick D’Virgilio is putting forth the effort and he has a compelling presence as a singer, but his lyrics aren’t yet there, they still tell more than show. The contrast between Boegehold‘s narrative passages and the song lyrics that illustrate them is harsh. The music, while more “accessible” than in the past and harder in its rock-ist intentions, still has plenty of flair and verve, though one does miss the wonderfully labyrinthine passages and surprises of yore.
09. Spock’s Beard (2006)
Spock’s Beard, the third effort by a group that was forced to start over after their main songwriter, Neal Morse, departed in 2002, brings with it surprising consistency—one element which had been missing from the previous two efforts. Feel Euphoria and Octane had plenty of good music between them, with a combination of new ideas and old-style Spock’s Beard homages, but I don’t feel that the band had yet found any uniform sound or identity.
There’s a polish, sheen, and tight feel in every facet of this record—the songwriting, musicianship, and production—that hasn’t been captured since V. There’s a lot to love here, and, despite its length, it’s all very listenable from beginning to end.
08. Beware of Darkness (1996)
Beware of Darkness, the follow-up to debut, The Light, is a complete exercise in MORE. Using George Harrison‘s beautiful song (but Leon Russell‘s version of it) as a take-off point, the band uses a full-blown choir, thundering guitars, and Neal Morse‘s growling vocal to create another valid and moving version of the tune. Beware of Darkness as an album is more “song-oriented” than its predecessor. It contains eight tunes instead of four and the longest, the closing “Time Has Come,” is a mere 16 minutes, while the shortest, “Chatauqua,” is a mere 2:49!
In addition, the band’s scope widened here; aside from references to Yes, King Crimson, and early Genesis, listeners can also hear elements of Gentle Giant, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pat Metheny in the mix, too. However, all of them are subservient to Spock’s Beard‘s tough, aggressively driven rock & roll approach. In many ways it goes beyond The Light, particularly because of its construction-like songwriting approach on “The Doorway,” a tune written before anything on the band’s debut album, where classically precise pianos give way to monstrously plodding basslines and knotty little synth riffs introduce those propulsive guitars and huge organ swells with a delicate vocal floating above it all.
The overall feel of the disc is more abrupt and shape-shifting than violently dreamy like The Light, and it works without a hitch. While the sheer wildness of The Light may be preferable to this set, the overall sophistication in composition and the recording quality are quite noteworthy. This might not be the place to start with Spock’s Beard, but it is certainly a place to go once the introduction has been made.
07. The Kindness of Strangers (1998)
1998′s The Kindness of Strangers sees Spock’s Beard returning to the more “suite” oriented format of their debut The Light, issued back in 1995. There, the set kicks off with “The Good Don’t Last,” a three-part ride that serves as Neal Morse‘s indictment of popular culture —though his lyrics are pure pop culture tripe. His screed belittles his wonderfully accessible and labyrinthine music; too bad. Things look up on “In the Mouth of Madness,” with its Mellotron and heavy guitars complemented beautifully by Nick D’Virgilio‘s drum thud.
The disc also features “June,” one of Spock’s most popular songs in a live setting. And it is easily the most accessible and pleasant thing the overly technical and cerebral Morse ever wrote, with its lilting vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars, which give way to the rollicking metallic prog of “Strange World.” The track “Harm’s Way” features organist Ryo Okumoto prominently, as well as Al Morse‘s squealing guitar. The set closes with the three-parter “The Flow,” which is carried by a knotty, guitar-driven assault that is accented by various keyboards and moved forward ever more insistently by D’Virgilio‘s amazing drumming. This elegy for the end of times is one of Morse‘s better jobs lyrically. There is real poetry in his tome, and as piano and electric guitar solos and fills weave in and out, it becomes ominous, an elegy, and a dark meditation on the current era. This is a solid date, one that feels focused and true and full of strong songwriting with typically excellent performances and is well advised for those seeking an introduction to this fine band.
06. The Oblivion Particle (2015)
The Oblivion Particle is a solid progressive rock album with occasional metal elements. There are some really good vocal lines and guitar work laying ground for relaxing, entertaining and curious tunes, accompanied by the weird keyboard partitions as usual. The album features both “direct” tunes like “Get Out While You Can” and mixed pieces of progressive rock, psychedelic keyboard tunes and piano performances like “A Better Way to Fly” with a nice, flowing vocal outro. Instrumentation and “showing off” is like a mandatory flaw of progressive music in general. Most bands don’t know how to be subtle and bore you to death with melodies, but Spock’s Beard is different. These gentlemen can shock you with their talent but they do it gently. The Oblivion Particle is full of instrumental high-end performances that never bore you or make you vomit. You find the album flowing even in long pieces. That is a very important part of making quality music in my book.
David Ragsdale from Kansas also makes an appearance on the closing track, “Disappear,” which is arguably one of the best tracks on the album with its slow pace (with occasional Yes-ish keyboard arrangements popping out).
The Oblivion Particle may not be the defining moment of a new era in progressive music, but it is a solid example of how things can be achieved well and solid.
05. X (2010)
Against all odds, Spock’s Beard have really hit their stride with a superb modern symphonic prog album. In fact, a fair amount of the material here is as good, as inspired as much of what they did in the Morse era. Their tenth album X is easily the strongest of the four albums the Beards made since multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter and creative leader Neal Morse quit the band in 2002, taking their classic sound with him. Expectations were not high, but against the odds, they succeeded. X is a winner on all fronts. It’s truly a triumph and a further validation of their post-Morse configuration. Spock’s Beard had rediscovered the spark that had made them so great before: every song is carefully elaborated and flows very well. It seems the band have revealed their true songwriting skills, which probably were pushed aside when Neal was still on the lead and writing stuff continuously.
With X, Spock’s Beard have finally cleared the shadow of Neal Morse and set down their own canvas.
04. Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (2013)
Spock’s Beard has always seemed to be a band that took pride in looking while moving forward. But, since the departure of Neal Morse, the band seemed to struggle to know which direction it was headed. The band “pulled a Genesis” and his vocal duties were handed to drummer, Nick D’Virgilio. While fans rejoiced that the band would continue, it would be several years, and another personnel change, before the band would find its voice again.
From the opening bars of “Hiding Out” it is clear that the addition of new bandmates, singer Ted Leonard, and drummer Jimmy Keegan, has breathed new life into a band. It’s a song that could have fit comfortably on the band’s first release, The Light. The fact that the opening track was penned by the new singer, proved his abilities to both write and perform, finally filling Neal’s shoes. “I Know Your Secret” starts off with a nice, ‘70s-style groove, but picks up pace a minute in, filled with Pink Floyd-like keyboards, and a rumbling bassline that would have make Chris Squire proud. For the chorus, the band switches tempo again, and lets the keyboards shine. “A Treasure Abandoned” features an introduction reminiscent of “The Emperor’s Clothes” leading into a King Crimson-esqe anthem that Tom Cruise could fly jets to, serving to bookend the track. While being notable as the return of Neal Morse as a co-writer for the band, it lacks the same hooks that made the previous tracks shine. The track “Submerged” has the distinction of being one of the few singles released by the band, and is clearly a showcase for their new vocalist. And shine through he does.
This is one of the few tracks that look back towards the more radio-friendly songs produced during Nick tenure fronting of the band. “Afterthoughts” can be best summed up as “Ted channels Neal Morse while covering Gentle Giant”. A second track co-written by Neal himself is clearly a throwback to the Thoughts vocal performances that used to be a large part of Beard repertoire. “Something Very Strange,” indeed, opens with a very Floyd-ish machine voice, before kicking into a very keyboard/bass driven rhythm. The middle section contains a signature-sounding instrumental that deserves a spot on any progressive fan’s play-list. The last song on the album proper, “Waiting for Me,” sounds like the track is announcing itself to the audience. Indeed, this is the track Beard fans have been waiting for. Written by the Morse brothers, the track is a true Beard track in every sense. If you’ve ever wondered what it might sound like if David Gilmour, Steve Howe and Tony Banks played an instrumental section together, look no further. Featuring interesting tempo changes, and an incredible instrumental section, the band has chosen to close its album with the best the Beard has to offer.
Truly, the album stands as a return to form, yet invigorated, and new. Innovation, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery after all.
03. Snow (2002)
On Snow, a double-CD concept album, Spock’s Beard go for broke. Creatively, this is a new direction for the band in the sense that carrying out a sustained narrative of this magnitude stretches all compositional notion, as well as those surrounding production, arrangement, and consistency of voice. There is so much weight placed on each track to move a story forward, either expressionistically or narratively, that getting bogged down in it is always a risk. Happily, that is not the case here.
Spock’s Beard have taken all of their strengths instrumentally, lyrically, and vocally, and concentrated them in this effort about an albino boy on a noble, if idiosyncratic, quest. While concept albums have been done on much loftier notions, they seem to falter under their own weight, or the light of actual history. Here, Neal and Alan Morse, and their bandmates, use a much more subjective fantasy story, and create a spiritual, physical, ideological, and emotional set of circumstances that follow their protagonist through 26 songs.
Musically, Snow is a wonder, it’s full of nuance and texture, taut dynamics and lush arrangements, that are all, seemingly, of a piece. While some Spock’s Beard fans might have a hard time with the softer, gentler side of the band that is evidenced here, it would be tough to argue that this change of direction was both necessary and warranted. Spock’s Beard has been pushing at their own boundaries for a while now, and with Snow, they shattered them and entered into the very promise of what progressive rock is always supposed to deliver: discovering some heretofore unknown sonic territory via the individual and collective focus of creating through the applied effort of one’s best musical efforts.
Snow is an allegory, it is an archetypal story that is ambitious in scope and redemptive in result, and is a thoroughly rewarding listen.
02. The Light (1995)
One has to understand that The Light is nothing at all akin to anything being done in the mid-’90s. Yes hadn’t yet made their full comeback, and the memories of Genesis with Peter Gabriel faded ever more pervasively form view with each subsequent Phil Collins solo release.
Here are four sprawling, knotty, syncopated tunes, two of them, the title track and “The Water,” are multiple-part suites that encompass no less than 48 minutes of the album’s 67 minutes. In addition, this album was self-financed. (What “responsible” multi-national recording conglomerate during Nirvana-mania would give them a record deal after all?). There are wonderfully referenced elements here in these massive and yes, overblown constructions—but that’s what prog’s delight is—it’s overblown and confoundingly complex. There’s the great King Crimson “21st Century Schizoid Man” reference in “One Man,” and the flamenco-cum-near-gothic metal of the “Return of the Catfish Man,” near the end of The Light. The layered keyboards and backing chorus in “Go the Way You Go” reminds one of Yes at their knottiest, before slipping expertly into an altered universe dynamically and becoming a poetic and romantic elegy. And “The Water’s” labyrinthine, apocalyptic, maze-like compositional journey that may not sound like punk, but certainly reflects many of its sentiments, is an anomaly in any kind of music that espouses this M.O.
The dodgy (but not substandard) recording makes it sound like classic- ’70s vintage, and the music is out of time and space. Fans of this genre have long regarded it as a classic.
01. V (2000)
Spock’s Beard is a band that often gets lumped under the modern definition of progressive rock, which seems to be flailing keyboard solos with virtuoso guitar leads and a high-pitched singer, all thanks to a certain band named Dream Theater. While there are clearly exceptions to every stereotype and rule, Porcupine Tree tended to be the only modern progressive rock band that people often look to when attempting to find something different. But other bands are around, and not all of them make a strong effort to stay far away from what is deemed “mainstream” music. Spock’s Beard could best be defined as a “pop-tinged progressive rock” band, drawing more heavily from commercial sounds than virtuoso efforts or spacey effects. The band’s fifth album, aptly titled V, would end up being the peak in the band’s career before frontman Neal Morse’s departure in 2002, and rightfully so.