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Spock's Beard - Octane (Special Edition)

Spock's Beard - Octane (Special Edition)Octane is Spock's Beard's eight studio album, and on this two-disc special edition, they have produced a fine collection of songs. It is the second outing since the departure of Neal Morse, and is the perfect follow up to Feel Euphoria which was released in 2003 (see review). It has to be said that the 'new' Spock's Beard have now established themselves and with a brief European tour forthcoming in March, shows they are back in business once again.

On to Octane, the near fifty-six minute album is packed with excellent playing from Alan Morse (guitars, Theremin and saw!) Ryo Okumoto (keys) Dave Meros (bass) and on drums, lead and backing vocals Nick D'Virgilio who has brought the 'cowbell' back from the grave! The first seven tracks are all pieced together with the title of A Flash Before My Eyes, and is basically seven songs which tell a story written in sync with the lyrics in the booklet, and on the opening track The Ballet Of The Impact, there is a fine opening Mellotron right at the start. It has shades of a gentle Watcher Of The Skies feel to it, as Nick's vocals cover the whole thing with a warm glow. The second part is a ballad type song, with the American sounding chorus, and along with the acoustic guitars, this could be a single, and one to get the cigar lighters out for. It has the classic Beard ballad feel to it, with strings and a pleasing guitar solo, an open road song in a convertible if you get my meaning.

The third track or part Surfing Down The Avalanche, is more of a rocky number, similar to the last album's vein, with Nick giving us a classic rock vocal with screams thrown for good measure. Back to the gentle mode follows on She Is Everything, which again could be a single on this forth part, and the Floyd type guitar solo gives it a great lift. Fifth part Climbing Up That Hill is totally different to the previous four, with it's nice moving bass lines from Dave Meros, and with the stadium type chorus makes this a interesting mixture. The Hammond style keys feature in the background too, and moving on to Letting Go, the sixth part is just Ryo performing a string sounding Mellotron solo, complete with a touch of sound effects on the final few seconds. Last part Of The Beauty Of It All, has a touch of The Beatles circa Abbey Road but then it breaks into the Beard feel of Gentle Giant, deep Mellotron voices, Hammond, stringed Mellotron and French horn which brings it to a close.

Track eight, away from the 'concept' first seven, is NWC which is instrumental. Imagine a heavier Gentle Giant combined with the Fragile period of Yes, well, that's it. There is a nice percussion section too in which Nick demonstrates his style in true form. There Was Time follows, and is reminiscent of the early material such as Fade Away and Wind At My Back, with the acoustic guitar, and the Hammond sound. The Planet's Hum is next, and has Dave Meros opening up with his bass line. This is the classic Gentle Giant type Beard we all know, with the guitar riffs just melting from Alan Morse's guitar, combined with the rock voice from Nick give this a firm edge to the sound.

For me track eleven is the album's highlight. Watching The Tide is a ballad, and you could call it the Beard's Waterfall from Sir Paul McCartney, but it stands out as the album's finest track in my opinion. Nick's voice is very emotional along with the strings and another one for the cigar lighters! The piano in the closing minute is a gem by Ryo. The 'stadium' sounding closing track As Long As We Ride features some great cowbell playing from Nick and is probably going to be a future encore at gigs. It has the classic 4/4 and pumping bass, guitar riffs you know the sound, similar to Foreigner in many ways.

Disc two has eight tracks and a CD-ROM video about the recording of Octane, but the first five tracks are 'songs'. When She's Gone opens up, and is a slow rocker, and has the classic Fragile Yes period Wakeman Mellotron sound, and glued with Nick's vocals make this an ideal opener. Next is Follow Me To Sleep and is electronic in the percussion side of things, and then a touch on the commercial side in the chorus. Game Face on the other hand is the jazz side of Beard with Ryo on piano and some fine percussion from Nick. Next is Broken Promise Land which is another mid-pace rocker, which has splashes of Deep Purple with the organ sound, along with the Beard spirals and loops. The guitar riffs are quite up front in the mix on this one, and again Nick's voice glides away in the front. Listening To The Sky is basically a keyboard solo from Ryo, very Mellotron sounding with a nice haunting guitar sound and is quite moving. The next three tracks are just bits from the album as in the first disc, such as a string solo, background vocals and a pipe organ solo all connected with A Flash Before My Eyes.

The video is an interesting insight to the recording of the album in various studios and various members having fun such as Nick performing a three hour cowbell solo! You see how each member recorded their parts and generally you have to admire the musicianship on offer here.

So the special edition is worth the extra money, and the album will sell well in my opinion. It is well produced and polished, and an important release for the band. I feel it will feature highly in many polls in best album, and the tour is in March, not long to wait!

Danny Mayo

Spock's Beard

 

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