In 1998 when I was still working for Aardschok rock magazine, I got to write a review of the third Spock's Beard album The Kindness Of Strangers (1998). It was the first time I heard SB and I was a fan right from the start. I immediately bought the first two albums The Light (1995) and Beware Of Darkness (1996) as well and later on I reviewed all of their albums and also did lots of interviews with Neal Morse, Dave Meros and Nick D'Virgilio.
Now Inside Out releases The first Twenty Years and you can divide their musical career in two parts; namely the Neal Morse years (1994-2002) and the post NM years, 2003 up till now. Spock's Beard have released 12 studio albums so far and 6 of those featured Neal Morse. When Neal decided to leave the band I was “devastated”, but in fact Neal's departure created a win-win situation as Neal Morse started a brilliant solo career and Spock's Beard continued making great progressive rock albums with Nick D'Virgilio as the new singer of the band. Unfortunately Nick also left the Beard in 2012 and he was replaced by no one less than Ted Leonard, the lead singer of Enchant.
All 12 Beard albums are definitely worth listening to. The Kindness Of Strangers, V (2000), Snow (2002), Octane (2005) and X (2010) are classic iconic prog albums and should have a place in every serious rock collection. The album that is probably the most mediocre one is Feel Euphoria (2003), the first one with lead vocals from Nick; although nowadays some bands do not even reach the musical level displayed on that album!
The first twenty years contains 14 remastered songs and one brand new track called Falling For Forever, a true Beard epic prog gem which clocks at 19 minutes and 45 seconds.
Most SB albums feature one song on this compilation with the exception of Beware Of Darkness and Snow of which 2 songs can be found on this album. I truly wonder who “picked” the songs for this album as this choice is certainly open for debate; at least for me, that is.... For example, I cannot understand why the utterly boring acoustic June is featured here as The Good Don't Last or Harm's Way would have been far better choices! The two tracks from the best Beard album Snow on this compilation would not have been my choice either as I prefer Devil's Got My Throat and Second Overture. Finally I also would have chosen another song from Octane as She Is Everything, featured here, is a bit of a boring love song. The rest of the songs are all outstanding Beard songs, meaning: complex, diverse, rocky, catchy, proggy, melodic and very recognisable due to that instantly identifiable sound. SB is a unique quintessential prog band, and this compilation is a very good way to explore the marvellous music world of the Beard if you have not done so yet.
For die hard Beard fans, like yours truly, this album is also a must, only because you need to have this new Beard epic Falling For Forever. This awesome song contains performances from all members of the band's past and present and it was of course written/composed by mister Neal Morse himself. On Falling For Forever you can enjoy the voices of Morse, Leonard and D'Virgilio and of course the music is superb again, as this track starts with quiet piano passages and strings before it evolves into a real Beard prog gem with even some metal influences and some lovely typical Beard progressive chords and melodies. The song also has breath taking vocal harmonies, melodies, guitar solos, howling keyboards and even a drum solo. Every time I listen to this song I discover new musical elements and I get to like this track even more; so a must for the fans!
This outstanding release includes 2 audio CDs and a DVD (which was not included with the promo for review) with never before seen rare vintage Beard footage, including their legendary gig at Progfest in 1997. Buy or die guys!
****+ Martien Koolen (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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