With their sixth album, Californian prog-rockers Spock’s Beard have done what many prog-rock bands have done at some point in their career, produced a double concept album. In prog-rock history, such beasts have either been their creator’s finest hours, or marked the point where hubris got the better of them. So, is “Snow” a ‘Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’, or is it a ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’?
For the uninitiated, Spock’s Beard are a 5-piece from San Francisco, comprising of Neil Morse on lead vocals, keyboards and acoustic guitar, Alan Morse on lead guitar, Ryo Okumoto on keyboards, Dave Meros on bass and Nick D’Virgillo on drums. Over the course of the previous five their sound has blended influences of Pink Floyd, Yes, The Beatles, and more obscure English progressive bands like Gentle Giant with that of American bands such as pre-blandout Kansas into a seamless whole; their sometimes lengthy songs feature strong melodies with big sweeping choruses, punctuated by manic instrumental sections. Eschewing modern synths sounds and and samples, they play 70s instruments, with heavy use of Hammond organ and Mellotron.
The concept is a trifle vague; with the central character ‘Snow’ a Tommy-like messaianic figure; but progressive rock isn’t really about the lyrics, it’s about the music. And music-wise, Spock’s Beard deliver.
All these trademark Spock’s Beard elements are present on “Snow”. The songs on both disks run into each other to produce a pair of hour-long pieces, in true concept album fashion. There are some noisy guitar-driven songs, such as heavy “Devil’s Got My Throat”, jazzy instrumental passages like the instrumental break on “Open Wide the Flood Gates”, and even an ELP-style keyboard explosion in the appropriately-titled “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Ryo Okumoto on the Keyboards”. The strongest individual song has to be the ‘Comfortably Numb’-style ballad “Solitary Soul”, penultimate number on disk one.
Overall, a strong album even if the two-hour length means there’s a bit of filler there, although I found it took quite a few listens to really get in to. If you like this album, there’s a good chance you will also like their five previous albums.