Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Tapestry: Picard, Spock's Beard, and Bennett's Machine

I was a fan of the original Star Trek, but it was the Next Generation that really came to mean something to me. Not at first, of course.  Most fans will acknowledge that it took a little while for the Next Generation to grow its own legs. I watched the first few seasons out a sense of obligation to the original show, but when it took off, I think it exceeded the scope of the original series.

The show’s evolution coincided with big changes in my personal life. The first season aired right as I was leaving high school, and Jean-Luc Picard's passion and intellect provided weekly inspiration to strive for excellence during my undergraduate studies.  I did not, however, really relate to the character. I did not always deal with things in healthy or positive ways in those days, and my awareness of my flaws distanced me from the ideals that Picard represented. Until, that is, an episode called Tapestry.

In this episode, Picard was given the opportunity to go back and undo an incongruously headstrong act from his youth that he particularly regretted, and saw how his life unraveled when his vigor was tempered by experienced wisdom.

It was an act of humility for Picard, who did not readily admit his faults, to look back and confess that his regrettable actions were actually essential in building his character.  Aside from the stereotypically awkward Trek-ish fight that ensues after, this was a particularly moving moment in the Star Trek canon for me, perhaps second only to the death of Spock.

Tapestry was encouraging, but in the time that has passed, I don't know if I have been successful in realizing its point.  It is a little hard to hear Q say what he does to Picard without wondering if I have "played it safe."  In any case. since the episode aired my squishy innards have proven to be particularly susceptible to impossible tales of time travel, reflection, and self-forgiveness, so Bennett Built a Time Machine, the lead single from Spock’s Beard’s recent release, hit me right in the feels.

Drummer Jimmy Keegan takes the lead and tells the tale of Bennett, a person so regretful of his past that he dedicated his life to creating a means to go back in time and guide his younger self onto a more fulfilling path.  Bennett’s myopic obsession has an undercurrent of desperation, as it blinds him to the potential benefits his discoveries could have on humanity. He just wishes that he had made better choices throughout his life, and traveling back in time seems to be the only way to find happiness.

Bennett Built a Time Machine fit into the Spock’s Beard canon in many ways.  That was a which was a relief, because I was a bit apprehensive about The Oblivion Particle.  It predecessor, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, featured a new Spock’s Beard lineup that successfully acknowledged the band's past while forging a distinctive version of its sound.  It also featured some writing contributions from founding (and defining) member Neal Morse, and I was nervous how The Oblivion Particle would work without his input.

With its memorable tunefulness, thought-provoking message, and evocative instrumental excursion that deepens the song’s narrative, however, Bennett Built a Time Machine immediately and wholeheartedly sold me.   The good news is that on the whole, the album is also an enjoyable, sometimes emotional listen.  It is, however, a little different in its execution than the Spock's Beard of old.

Although it’s a bit more like a cosmic-scaled Wind and Wuthering than a reimagined Power and the Glory that you can sing in the shower, The Oblivion Particle stands quite well on its own merit while simultaneously weaving its own way into the band's oeuvre.  Complexity and accessibility are the warp and woof, creating a tapestry that blends in comfortably within the Spock’s Beard continuity.  The Oblivion Particle also makes decisive moves to solidify this band's chemistry.  Ted Leonard is in fine form throughout, but it is still Bennett Built a Time Machine that I look forward to most when I spin the album.  My hope is that when it comes time to play the tune in a live setting, Keegan performs it from behind the drumset.  We all know that it can be done, and done well.  Make it so!

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