(All Album Reviews by BrotherJon#9)
Neal Morse, former front man and central figure of the progressive rock powerhouse, Spock’s Beard, has crafted his first non-concept mainstream effort – Lifeline. As stated before with any work of Neal Morse post Spock’s Beard, the theme/message/platform here is Christian. The progressive rock fans are pretty dichotomous in their support of an artist…..Love/Hate. Most prog rock fans have ignored Morse’s work after Spock’s Beard due to their aversion of anything remotely religious in nature (which is pretty hypocritical when a vast majority of prog rock tunes are based in the spiritual (Yes, Marillion, etc.)). I have always given him the benefit of the doubt.
Employing his staple roster for his band’s nexus are drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic) and bassist Randy George (Ajalon). The chemistry in this triumvirate is majestic, tight and organic. The title track lulls you in with a harmonious piano and vocal interlude that gives way to opus-like splashes and orchestral washes with syncopated breaks that ebb and flow to the verse. A semi-autobiographical song about his struggle to find his calling in life (See his Solo debut, 2-Disc masterpiece, Testimony for a detailed version). “He gave me a lifeline, that I’d might grab ahold” is the catchy chorus and theme that repeats and builds throughout. The instrumental midsection is absolutely stellar, showcasing each member’s talents. A little bit of old Chicago, Latin flavors and even some Manhattan Transfer vocal nods make this a standout tune. “The Way Home” begins with some classic 12-string passages reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Yes. More on the pop side, this tune is steadfast in power and message, again more on the Lifeline theme. Simply a beautiful song. Showing his audience that he’s not so serious is “Leviathan.” My favorite track on the CD as it is non-stop action, riffery and mythological mayhem. Bringing hot horns to a song about a biblical monster is genius! Being a big H.P. Lovecraft fan, I get nothing but Cthulhu and Dagon images throughout. Dark & Scary fun here! “Children of the Chosen” starts off with new age synth pads leading to a Latin infused chord progression while a tale of hope, love and spirituality floats above. A nylon string guitar solo makes this tune exceptional.
The track, “So Many Roads” is a 28-minute mini-concept album. The message here is peeling back who you are to expose the real inertia that lifts your spirits high guiding you down the road to God. The most engaging part of the song is where it grabs a page from today’s popular culture to illustrate his point. The “Star Maker Machine” has never been more prevalent as it today. Forget the 15 minutes of fame Mr. Warhol promised us all as it has been whittled down to 15 seconds with the same fevered pitch to achieve it. In the “Star for a Day” section, Neal highlights the foibles of our tabloid lovely, Brittany Spears. Chunky guitar riffs and wah-wah pedal are in abundance as they lay the backdrop for the rock-star opulence that is devoid of any spirituality or soul. Let me also point out that Neal uses sounds here not used previously, which is exciting as prog artists can stagnate in their “signature sound.” Of note are Randy George’s tasty, Entwistle-esque bass solo snippets during the “All the Way to the Grave” section (“More Cowbell Please!”).
Neal Morse has done it again without the net of a “concept” and for a “spiritual and Christian” album, which is quite a feat. The production is top-notch, the material well thought out and fits well as a whole. I highly recommend getting this CD for your ears and your soul. Peace Be With You!