Spock’s Beard, THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS (Radiant, 2015). Three disks. 15 tracks and a video documentary by Randy George.
As far as I know, I was the very first person in Bloomington, Indiana, to purchase a copy of THE LIGHT by Spock’s Beard. Though various websites claim the album to have been released in 1995, I have rather clear memories of purchasing it in the fall semester of 1994. I was my final graduate classes, then, preparing for comprehensive exams. It would be no exaggeration to state that THE LIGHT was my soundtrack for exam prep.
As someone born in the summer of love and having heard my first prog in 1971 or so, I had done everything possible to carry the prog torch throughout the 1980s. In college, I even dedicated two years of a radio show (every Friday night, August 1988-May 2000) to prog and what was then called “college rock.” Lots of prog-loving “old guys”—at least old to me—called in from places as far as Chicago (South Bend’s FM waves carried across all of Lake Michigan), excited that someone was still playing the best music rock had to offer. My co-host at Notre Dame was none other than now famous classical guitarist and fellow progarchy editor, Kevin McCormick.
This is a long way of stating: Spock’s Beard wasn’t just prog-influenced or arty rock or pop with prog tinges. It was pure and simple prog. Unadulterated prog. Unapologetic prog. Brazenly prog. In hindsight, of course, one can see that a lot was happening in 1994 and 1995—with releases from Roine Stolt as well as Marillion. In late 1994, however, I had no idea that prog would explode into a third wave, lasting through today as I write this.
And, to be pure, simple, unadulterated, unapologetic, and brazen—Spock’s Beard opened and led this third-wave of prog. They were, for all intents and purposes, the very voice of third-wave prog. And, this latest from Spock’s Beard is nothing less than the autobiography of third-wave prog.
Twenty years later, we sit comfortably in 2015. And, to celebrate what is not only Spock’s Beard’s legacy but, frankly, the very history of third-wave prog, the band has released a “best of,” Spock’s Beard, THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS (Radiant Records, 2015). This gorgeous package is well beyond a “best of,” however, and it invokes far more than mere nostalgia. As much as possible, it really does offer a glimpse of the history of prog over the past two decades.
Looking back, we can now divide Spock’s Beard into three rather distinct parts or phases.
- SB 1.0: Neal Morse fronted.
- SB 2.0: Nick D’Virgilio fronted.
- SB 3.0: Ted Leonard fronts
And, yet, no matter what form or manifestation of SB occurs, Neal Morse remains the touchstone and the fountainhead of the group. And, this is not a knock on any past or present member of the band. SB began in pure excellence, and since THE LIGHT, it has done nothing but continue to pursue excellence.
Not surprisingly—and with no small amount of joyous wonder and love and appreciation for all that is prog and SB—Neal Morse has penned a brand new track for this album release, “Falling for Forever,” making something special even more so. Neal Morse, being so utterly Neal Morse, has written an 20:02 (interesting number—the date Neal left SB) minute epic, pulling together all of the members of SB over its two-decade history. Epic and charitable—the very essence of Neal Morse.
And, featuring every single member who has ever graced a SB album, “Falling for Forever” is exactly what you’d suspect—with the usual Morse prog twists, turns, and surprises—from the band. It is a thing of prog glory. Instruments driving and pounding here, there, and everywhere. Multiple voices—of the the human type—proclaiming beautiful things. And, of course, the song, though complete with beginning and ending, soars and falls and cascades and lingers and explodes. It’s all so very Neal Morse, so very SB, so very third-wave prog, so very incredible.
Not surprisingly, Radiant has done every single thing right with this release. In addition to the brand new track, “Falling for Forever,” the album also remixes and remasters fourteen of SB’s “best” tunes. Every SB album is represented on this retrospective, and even to my very poor ear, the remastering sounds perfect, bringing out a number of things that were toned down in previous mixes. The packaging is superb, and Randy George’s documentary about the history of SB 1.0 is an insightful and moving look at the creation of the band, its sound, and the unexpected departure of Morse in 2002.
There’s little doubt that 2015 has been a great year for prog. As a release, despite it being a retrospective, THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS holds its own even against original releases this year. As an artistic package of love, appreciation, and history, it is unparalleled. Yes, I love Neal Morse. But, I love Neal Morse for the very things that make him loveable—he so very much respects the art and the artist.
THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS is nothing if not a very revelation of the man’s soul.
To order, go here: Radiant Records.