Under A Glass Moon
Beware of Darkness is the second studio release from Spock’s Beard and not only lives up to it’s predecessor, The Light, but frankly leaves it in the dust. The self-proclaimed “best progressive band in the last ten years” really hit the nail on the head with this release and it is extremely enjoyable from start to finish. Beware from this point forward however, if you do not want to read about how great I think this band is, STOP NOW!
Okay for the rest of you, I appreciate you reading on. The group starts the album with a cover of the George Harrison song, which also serves as the album title. Really though the song resembles the original in name only as the band turns the Harrison tune into a true progressive gem. The song begins with some swirling keys as Dave Meros joins in with a Chris Squire sounding bass line and the rest of the band joins in slowly bringing the energy of the song to a peak before Neal’s vocals take over and command the rest of the track. Really a great opener as it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Energy and a very positive vibe carry the track through multiple changes, which lead to the next track “Thoughts”, that has become a bit controversial in progressive circles.
“Thoughts” has stirred controversy due to the fact that many people claim it is a blatant rip off of Gentle Giant’s song “Knots”, from the album Octopus. While I agree that there are similarities in song structure and the way that the vocals are counter-balanced, to me the songs are very different and I actually prefer “Thoughts” over “Knots”. The only thing that I don’t like about this tune is the short middle section where is sounds like Neal is trying way to hard to do his best John Lennon impersonation. However, that part of the song is brief and it soon returns to its quirky beginnings and ends like it started, wonderfully.
Next up is one of my favorite Beard songs ever but not my favorite from this album. “The Doorway” is a wonderful and upbeat tune that begins with a beautiful piano intro that segues into keys and guitar giving the first glimpse at the track’s main riff. The lyrics are very positive and I interpret this as a love song, though I have heard some point to its spiritual themes as well. However it is interpreted the song is brilliant. Flowing easily from one change to another and seemingly ending with the sound of a crashing door. Not to be however, as the song slowly fades back in with the main riff building into a wailing guitar crescendo before coming to an energetic end. If you had only listed to the Beard up to this point of the album, along with The Light, this would be far and away their best song, but to me the best is yet to come.
“Chataqua” is up next and is a short acoustic guitar solo that is nothing really extraordinary but is a nice piece leading into what I feel is the best song on the album and one of my favorite from the Beard catalogue. “Walking On The Wind” encompasses all that is great about the Beard in a nine-minute package. The song opens with a classic in your face prog riff, with Ryo hammering the Hammond and the band as tight as anywhere else on the album. The song then slows down and perhaps one of Dave Meros’ most memorable bass lines introduces the main body of the song. This song is extremely uplifting and inspirational which is really the way Neal Morse writes most of his music and there are many parts of the song where, even after hearing the song many times, I find myself getting goose bumps. The vocal harmonies are sweet and sugary and the music flows so very well through the whole tune.
The rest of the album, for me, leaves a little to be desired, though it is still strong. “Waste Away” seems to be Neal Morse’s attempt at a rock anthem, though it doesn’t really seem to come across quite as strong as maybe he intended. The song even gets a mention on the next album in another song (“June”, from The Kindness Of Strangers), but this song just leaves me feeling kind of flat, though not so much that I am reaching for the skip button.
The longest song is saved for last but doesn’t quite punctuate this fine album with as much impact as I had hoped. “Time Has Come” is a decent track but feels a bit more disjointed and forced than the other songs on the album. Its length is a bit of a detractor as well, but it is still a pretty good tune.
Beware of Darkness pushed Spock’s Beard further into the prog spotlight when it was released and in my opinion still holds up as one of their top two studio albums, V being the other. Like him or not Neal Morse is a brilliant composer who can really make a melody stick in your head. The Beard were definitely at the forefront of reviving a musical style that many thought was left for dead. Call them derivative or copy cats, but the truth is they wrote performed and recorded some brilliant music and much of it is contained here. Beware of many things but check out Beware of Darkness.
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