Apparently, someone forgot to inform Beardfish that 1970 has graciously left us behind to suffer without it. If they’re not careful, these guys are going to get lost in a pile of pet rocks, bell bottoms and turtle necks. Still, it’s hard to argue in matters of taste, so I’m going to try to be as fair about this record as I can be. While these guys aren’t really doing something that I enjoy intrinsically, I do appreciate certain things about them and their new album Destined Solitaire.
First, let me say that it has taken me a very, very long time to produce this new review for a couple of reasons, first there are personal reasons (i.e., moving and so forth), but also because Beardfish is a weird freakin’ band and I’ve really had to take time digest this album for what it is. So what is it? Well, it’s a lot of fairly young Swedish guys playing ’70s influenced progressive rock which sounds pretty much like a blend of the classics; think Yes, Genesis, you know the sort. The band has a harder edge to them at times, even launching into death metal growls at one point, but for the most part the band’s angel-voiced vocalist waxes not-so-poetically along with winding passages, soaked in organ (guh) and, from the sounds of it, bong water.
From a purely musical standpoint, Destined Solitaire is a great album. The stylistic approach is deeply entrenched in the art rock of yore, but that doesn’t take away from the obvious musical talent that these guys have. With songs winding up to 15 minutes long, somehow Beardfish manage to really write engaging music which catches one at every single stage of this album. However, the musical excellence and variability is offset by meaningless and irritating vocals which are unable to compete with the musical technicality, and instead end up winding, counter-intuitive, lacking in melody and, consequently, uninteresting.
Another issue that a lot of modern progressive bands face, I think, is that there was something intrinsically modern about the progressive music movement that was happening throughout the world in the 1970s. Call it the zeitgeist, but that same feeling is gone, and I think that this is best reflected in Beardfish‘s lyrics. Ranging from nonsense to embarrassing lyrics about “lone-wolves” and “life being a long queue to the bathroom,” Destined Solitaire suffers from what feels like a total lack of lyrical inspiration. In fact, one suspects that Beardfish has a vocalist because one is “supposed” to have a vocalist, not because they have anything interesting to say. The music is great, fun to listen to and interesting but the lyrics and vocals make it worse and even occasionally simply bad.
Of course, across the board, if you’re really into progressive rock you’ll probably enjoy this album. It’s definitely not a metal album by any stretch of the imagination—as the styles range from jazz to rap and only a minor foray into death metal—but the musicianship is both interesting and compelling. Now, if only they’d take a lesson from Rush and learn that writing good progressive rock is both about being musically interesting and writing engaging melodies and hooks, these guys would be excellent. Still, listening to Destined Solitaire makes me wonder if progressive music of this stripe hasn’t already had its day in the sun. Bands like Beardfish are just the nostalgic echoes of an age long past, and I struggle to see how that’s a formula for future success.