Last year seemed to answer a lot of questions for fans of Spock’s Beard. One of the questions answered was what would happen to the band without frontman Neal Morse, and Feel Euphoria was, in my opinion, a definite answer. Another question is how would Neal’s solo career change. Well, Testimony was the answer, and a strong answer it is. A two disc concept album, a testimony of Neal’s life and how he has changed.
The opera is arranged in five different suites, in the range of 10 to 40 minutes in length. The first and longest suite is a glimpse of Neal’s life during the early days of Spock’s Beard. Touring, partying, etc. Here we are introduced to a few themes, which recur throughout the album. The introductory track is a mellow acoustic piece called ‘The Land of Beginning Again’, in which Neal proclaims “I wish there was a way to start again.” From there we are instantly introduced to the epic’s first overture---and the orchestra Neal hired to carry the weight of these overtures. The orchestra as well as legend Mike Portnoy on drums adds an extra dynamic to this record that makes it unforgettable. Some other notable works in Part One include California Nights, Colder in the Sun, The Prince of the Power of the air, and Wasted Life, which features Kerry Livgren on guitar.
Part Two starts with another overture, where Neal Morse really carries his weight throughout, with keys, guitars, and bass. The second suite, clocking in at 31 minutes, describes a more somber Neal searching for something he cannot find, as described on ‘Somber Days’ and on the melancholy ‘It’s All I Can Do’:
“This song tells of the despair I felt for so long. It really was all I could do to get up and go do a gig or whatever and just make it through. I remember sitting outside 'Chillers' in Redondo Beach CA praying for God to help me just get through the day and survive the gig. It's hard when your job is to entertain people and make them feel good when you're so unhappy. I believe God was with me and helped me through all of that even when I was deep in sin and despair,” Neal says about ‘It’s All I Can Do’.
Part Three, one of the shorter suites, tells of a change in Neal’s heart. Beginning with the brief ‘Transformation’, and continuing on to incorporate bluegrass-ish music, featuring mandolin with acoustic guitar. ‘Ready To Try’ and ‘Sing It High’ tell of Neal’s first church experiences.
The fourth part, encompassing 28 minutes on 6 tracks. It starts out deeply personal, with ‘Moving In My Heart’ and ‘I Am Willing’ which has been described as the emotional high point on the record. Also included is my personal favorite, ‘The Storm Before the Calm’, which is ‘the’ prog song of the album. It starts out with a solo on the keys, then moves on to a short verse of lyric, and then to a trumpet and sax solo, and then brings back the ‘princes, principalities, legals and legalities’ theme you will recognize from earlier in the record.
Part Five kicks off with another overture. ‘Oh Lord My God’ is obviously very influenced by contemporary Christian music, but I find it is much better written than it influences. The album comes to a close with ‘The Land of Beginning Again.’
My rating: 4.5/5
Make no mistake, this IS Christian music. If you are going to be offended by a Christian message (in which the ‘j’ word is used quite often) then I don’t recommend it for you. This really is great music, reminiscent to the style of ‘Snow’, which also takes after The Who’s Tommy. The basic argument with this album is that the music is too simple---that there are two little musical themes which circulate too much throughout the album. Neal does a great job writing all the music for this album---and playing the bass (which leaves something to be desired) the guitar and the keys. Some awesome drumming is a giver, with Portnoy on the skins, and I really recommend this album to fans of Snow or Spock’s Beard in general.