The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970) ****
Their fourth album, being yet another commercial failure, broke up the original quintet; too bad, since the final album by the original Spirit (several other incarnations would continue on into the '70s) is certainly their most artistically successful. It's the one most hailed by the critics for what that's worth, and for once the praise is deserved. It's not a psychedelic masterpiece - that would be The Family That Plays Together - as the band are writing tighter than ever before (keyboardist John Locke's rather uninteresting instrumental "Space Child" very much an exception). It's rather a consolidation of strengths as the band have finally gotten a firm grasp on their own unique sound, while not ignoring the songwriting side of things as they did on their previous LP. The songs are all concise and varied enough in their pop-rock folk-jazz styles to each remain distinctive (unlike the second album) and yet represent a cohesive collection, not an unfocused eclectic sprawl (unlike the first album). The big news is that Randy California is taking up a lion's share of the songwriting this time out, penning a grand total of seven tunes, as opposed to former chief songwriter Jay Ferguson's mere four. Nevertheless, Ferguson still manages to outshine the teen guitar prodigy by penning the four best tunes. "Mr. Skin," is a delightfully brassy rocker (an ode to Ed Cassidy's solar-powered sex panel), and the uproarious "Animal Zoo," are clear highlights. The dusky moodpiece, "When I Touch You," and the crackling "Street Worm," with its zig-zag arrangement setting up California fret-running, are nearly as fine. California's tunes aren't quite as strong but only not as quite, opening the album with the two-punch of "Prelude/Nothing to Hide," with its quirky "we're married to the same bride," chorus, and the even better, "Nature's Way," a pretty and emotionally moving ballad that's clearly a hippie environmentalist admonition. "Life Has Just Begun," is another touching acoustic ballad, balanced by following with the funky rocker, "Morning Will Come." "Love Has Found a Way," earns the moniker, 'psychedelic love ballad,' as it gains its rhythm from a backwards tape collage courtesy John Locke while California's sweetly harmonized tune and lyrics are completely conventional - the juxtaposition is quite effective, if a bit dated. The four bonus tracks are rather disposable this time - a couple of lackluster rockers and a pair of alternate takes. The words 'lost classic' get bandied around a bit in regards to this album, and it's on the money shot - believe the hype.