Spock’s Beard has continued to press on, despite the diminished fan base over the years. With a lesser, but loyal fan base the band chose to use crowd funding to pay for studio time with an early limited 5,000 run pre-order edition with retail and digital editions at later dates. The crowd funding idea worked tremendously for Marillion, and many other bands have taken similar steps and may be the only way long-tail bands with a specific niche can survive. This independent choice in production of their tenth album is another wake up call for bands to being to realize the eventual change in tides when distributing music, particularly to retain control and ownership.
X is a pivotal moment for Spock’s Beard. The fourth album after Neal Morse left, certainly recorded during a time where fans of Spock’s Beard have retreated to a scarce few who remain loyal. For those who have stuck with the band, even pre-ordering the album will be fully rewarded with the band’s most solid release to date.
X features some of the distinct off-beat style that Spock’s Beard once held in high regard in their hay-day with far more political commentary in the lyrics. The first song is initially off-putting, the band is able to recover with “The Emperor’s Clothes” (featuring a brief cameo from Neal Morse) followed with the instrumental “Kamikaze”. The epic “From The Darkness” is a complex journey that is one of the band’s most ambitious prog rock songs in a nearly a decade.
“Their Names Their Names Escape Me” is an interesting song which consists of a typical lyric in the beginning, later the reciting of names of those who ordered the Ultra edition of the album are sung. It is a grand way to say thank you to fans by engraving their names into a song forever. Not just any song, one of the strongest on the album. “Jaws of Heaven”, another prog rock epic, rounds out X in a fashion that nods to the band’s past but offers a hopeful future for what appears to be a reinvigorated band.
This release is a grower, meaning true enjoyment by fans will increase overtime. Detractors will never have the chance to enjoy this album with less than five listens. For the first time in years, Spock’s Beard has been able to keep my attention during most of their albums. X is an album that is one of the most faithful representations of the traditional Beard sound that they had become known for.
During the Neal era, Spock’s Beard comprised of goofy lyrics and counter-point musical styles that had risk. The Nick era features a more laid-back, contemporary prog style with hints of fusion. X is the Beard’s latest attempt at reaching that pre-Nick genius. Nick is a great vocalist, possibly a better vocalist and more consistent than Morse. However, Morse’s vocals were tied directly to his goofy, off-beat lyrics. He fused the risky tunes with the catchy lyrics. When Neal left, not only did the vocals and lyrics change, so did the ideologies.
The addition of John Boegehold as a writer and an additional musician to the band (but not actually a member?) has certainly given the band a step in the right direction. He may be the savior of this band, filling in space Neal left, albeit far too late to save their early 2000 fan base. If Boegehold stays with the Beard, their eleventh album may be very much welcomed by the Beard community. Regardless, X is a worthy release deserving of attention from traditional progressive rock fans.