At the beginning we hear the plaintive sound of guitarist Alan Morse’s cello then joined by keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, which leads into what sounds like a theme from a cowboy movie until Dave Meros’ bass comes in and starts to hold down the beat along with drummer Nick D’Virgilio. It’s an absolutely gorgeous start to an incredible album. “At the End of the Day” is one of those epics that every prog band must have in their repertoire. Actually this CD has two! And what an epic this 16 and a half minute stellar track is! In-cred-i-ble musicianship, songwriting, vocals and the kitchen sink are what Spock’s Beard does and V (meaning 5? For their fifth studio release?) is perhaps the pinnacle of their career. “At the End of the Day” finally winds down with grandiose Yes-style harmonies and vocal arrangement to cap the whole mother off! Unreal.
The next four songs may seem like kind of a letdown after an introduction like that, if not for the wonderful songwriting talents of vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Neal Morse. I especially enjoy the juxtaposition of the cool-yet-eerie mellow electric piano with the hard-edged guitar from the verse to the chorus on “Revelation.” This seems like something we haven’t heard from the guys before. The other three appear to be extensions of other songs in their repertoire. “Thoughts (Part II)” is of course, the sequel to “Thoughts” from their second release “Beware of Darkness.” This one is even more inventive than the Gentle Giant pastiche of the original. It has a great sense of humor lyrically and it is a stroke of genius musically when the string section comes in towards the end of the song to repeat the vocal line of the chorus.
“All on a Sunday” would be an extension lyrically of “The Good Don’t Last” from their other tour de force CD “Kindness of Strangers.” This song sounds like something we would hear on one of Neal’s early solo recordings. It’s a pop song with a hooky chorus and commercial appeal. Too bad radio sucks, or we might have heard it on the radio. Next up is “Goodbye to Yesterday,” which begins uncannily like “Lay It Down,” part of the “Healing Colors of Sound” suite off of their last album “Day For Night.” “Goodbye to Yesterday” is far better however, and is buoyed by the bubbly, almost floating feeling you get when the bass and drums kick in.
And finally, the over 27 minute “The Great Nothing.” What can I say? Phenomenal from start to finish. This song has a great instrumental intro with mellotron, acoustic guitars and beautiful Hammond organ, the loud part/then soft part which is a hallmark of the Neal Morse sound, a techno-beat section that you wonder “where the heck did that come from?,” and a full-on majestic closer. Along the way you are treated to some exquisite harmonies and more stellar musicianship. “The Great Nothing” uses recurring melodies throughout, though I never feel the repetition. It’s very well masked by the arrangements and dynamics of the piece.
V is in this reviewer’s opinion Spock’s Beard’s tour de force and perhaps their last great album. It is highly recommended and one of my all time favorite CDs. I don’t know what rock you’ve been hiding under if you’re a prog fan and haven’t heard of these guys, but imagine Kansas, latter-day Yes, Gentle Giant, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Genesis, and the pop sensibilities of The Beatles all thrown in a blender and you will have an idea what to expect. Get it and you will not be disappointed. Guaranteed.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on April 30th, 2010