Spock´s Beard - Snow - 2002
Neal Morse is like that uncle who comes every year for Christmas to have a dinner and to give us a gift; sometimes the gift is a pair of socks or a jacket (I´m sorry for those who wanted those kind of gifts in their childhood) and sometimes the gift is a wonderful toy. This time Santa Morse (vocals, piano, synth, acoustic guitar) and his reindeers Ryo Okumoto (hammond, mellotron, vocoder, minimoog, Jupiter 8), Alan Morse (electric guitar, vocals, cello), Dave Meros (bass, vocals, french horn), and Nick D´Virgilio (drums, percussion, vocals) bring us a couple of toys - or three, depends on the point of view – with the name of “Snow”. As it´s usual in Inside Out´s latest releases, all the marketing machinery works perfectly with bands such as The Flower Kings or Spock´s Beard and the CD has a wonderful package. Since the package doesn't matter I´ll review the whole CD song by song. I won´t be very explicit because twenty six tracks are too much for my body.
The first thing I thought was that Morse wanted to kill the chicken of the golden eggs following Transatlantic´s success. Too many solo albums, with Spock´s, etc. and now a double CD !. In the same way, and not being a huge fan of Spock´s latest albums (I didn't like “Day for night” and “V” was, in my opinion, only a correct album), I didn't have a positive feeling. I also thought that, although the album would have good moments, 115 minutes are too many minutes for keeping a constant high level. Will I be wrong?
“Snow” is a double album about a guy who can heal people. This story has a link to Morse´s spirituality. The first album (eleven tracks) opens with “Made alive/Overture” (5:32). Acoustic guitar, vocals, and.. yes!... the spirit the early albums returns with powerful guitars and nice keyboard solos enhanced with new elements such the sax played by Jim Hoke. “Stranger in a strange land” (4:29), a slow song typically Beardie, is followed by the first great track of the album, “Long time suffering” (6:04). A fat bass, great vocal melody, vertiginous keyboards, marvelous arrangements.. great!. The up-tempo “Welcome to NYC” (3:33) and the delicate (pay attention to the wonderful piano) “Love beyond words” (3:24) are followed by the simple “The 39th Street Blues (I´m sick)” (4:06). Nevertheless the production is deluxe and the arrangements are impressive although the song seems hackneyed. The hard sound goes on with “Devil´s got my throat” (7:17), with a refrain that guarantees a long time permanency in the band´s set list. In the same way there is space enough, thanks to a great instrumental intermezzo, for every band´s member to show their skills. “Open wide the flood gates” (6:14) is an acoustic beautiful song that could have been included in Morse´s second solo album, followed by “Open the gates part 2” (3:03). The first CD ends with “Solitary soul” (7:34), a slow and intimate track with string arrangements included that contrasts with the vital“Wind at my back” (5:12).
First impression: A CD very easy to listen to. Mainstream in the surface but with lot of substance within; wonderful sound and arrangements and three-four memorable tracks.
Let´s go with the second CD . “Second Overture” (3:47) welcomes us but it doesn't offer anything new. From that moment on there are a sequence of short length tracks: the talented “4th of July” (3:11), the Beatle like and dark “I´m the guy” (4:48), the simple but with nice piano “Reflection” (2:49), and the snobbish “Carie” (3:05)... a soft-AOR ballad that can break the hearts of american teenagers (although I suppose they´d be more interested on Britney and shit like that). Fortunately there is a recovery with “Looking for answers” (5:16) although there is a flavor of Morse´s solo work (don´t misunderstand my words..Morse's solo albums are good pop albums but far from progressive rock). The ghost of boredom and repetition flies over “Snow” and at this moment I think nobody could resist both albums in a row. The electric discharge of “Freak boy” (2:12) doesn't help to change my feelings and only “All is vanity” (4:36) and “I´m dying” (5:09), one of the best (easy) songs of second CD , awake me to listen again to the Beard I love. “Freak boy part 2” (3:01), better than the first part, and the deranged “Devil´s got my throat revisited” (1:55) are a couple of great songs, specially the second one (I´m sure.. in the future they´ll finish their shows with this track). “Snow´s night out” (2:05) is an amazing instrumental track damaged by some horn arrangements a la Chicago. Fortunately arrives “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ryo Okumoto on the keyboards” (2:40), as you can see in the title this is a track directly related to the album´s concept J, a lesson of instrumental virtuosity with great Emerson like keyboards (I don´t know why it reminds me to “Hoedown”). The end of the album consists of “I will go” (5:09), another track easy to listen to, and “Made alive again / Wind at my back” (8:28)
Second impression: Neal Morse is a very prolific guy but sometimes his style is repetitive. I think there won´t be too many people brave enough to listen to this second album often. To be sincere, this second CD is very boring
Final impression: “Snow” is a collection of songs with the same thematic. Morse has stated several times that he was always against the idea of making a conceptual album and the inexperience can be noticed here. There isn´t a logical musical continuity between the tracks. Furthermore the sound reminds to Morse´s solo career and the most unfortunate moments of the band (“Day for night”), so the result is that “Snow” is, as I stated, a collection of songs, some of them good, some of the them bad, some of them brilliant and that´s all. Releasing a conceptual 115 minutes long double CD is a bet too high, specially since the main composer has been involved in lots of projects during the latest years.
We must thank Spock´s Beard for their love for progressive rock and their hard work but I´m sad when I see a band that gave us historic albums (“Beware of darkness”, “The kindness of strangers” & “The light”) losing their way inside the maze they created. But Morse is a genius so.. look out next year because perhaps I have to swallow my words and rate the forthcoming album with five stars. I´d be very happy for that and progressive fans too. Amen.