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Neal Morse - Momentum CD (album) cover

MOMENTUM

Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

3.98 | 415 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars "Some people think they're lucky / Like they thought of heaven first..." That was Neal Morse in his pre-Christian, party animal youth, from the 1996 SPOCK'S BEARD anthem "Waste Away". It was a prophetic lyric for a veteran Proghead who would later turn his entire life into a concept album of sorts: an ongoing hymn of praise to his personal Savior.

I'm not the first listener to point out that his shtick (both musical and metaphysical) grows old after the first several repetitions. Not too many singers can stretch a simple word like "arrive" into five distinct syllables, and fewer cling to their Old Time religion with such insecure devotion. He's been plowing the same straight and very narrow path throughout his single-minded solo career, but sooner or later such a prolific composer was bound to hit pay dirt, and this year 2012 studio album is the one Spock's Beard fans have likely been waiting for, achieving at last that elusive balance between his ministry and music.

Since quitting the Beard the latter should have been (but wasn't always) his first priority. It's usually necessary, when listening to a Neal Morse album, to hear the music while trying to ignore the Flat Earth thinking behind it, further illustrated in the cover art of his newest studio album. Is there a God-fearing American bias to the positioning of the globe, held aloft by the mighty hand of its absentee landlord? And is that meant to be the sun (or the Son?) revolving around it, in defiant opposition to Copernican logic?

But he's not pushing his religion quite so hard in this effort, in effect expanding its appeal beyond the circumscribed limits of his CPR fan base. And the music itself presents some of his strongest writing to date. The initial five songs (the first 'side' of the album, so to speak) pick up close to where the Beard left off with their peak album "V", driven by the old school Symphonic Rock of the aptly named title track. Morse's episodic homage to GENTLE GIANT (again, last heard on the "V" album) continues in the knotted "Thoughts, Part 5", and the slot reserved for the usual ballad is nicely filled by the delicate "Smoke and Mirrors". The only stumble is the too-cute novelty song "Freak", in which the punch-line is telegraphed well in advance and presented, with a self- satisfied smirk, like a rabbit from an old top hat.

And then there's the 33-minute "World Without End": a (melo-) dramatic showcase for Morse's gifts as an arranger, and the equal to any epic in his greater discography. The individual parts were all pressed from the usual template, but the edge never dulls over its more than one-half-hour length, and the pieces all fit together with effortless ease. Too many of Morse's big musical epiphanies, dating back to the earliest Beard albums, have sounded forced or artificial, but by the end of this beast he achieves a real sense of majesty (with a lower case letter 'm', please note).

Like a lot of Neo Prog the songwriting is typically verbose, often defeating its author's purpose, which is to spread the word, not smother the listener. And the sessions were supposedly inspired by a couch-potato fixation with an Australian boob-tube televangelist ("can God speak through a television?" asks Morse in the CD notes, and I suspect it was meant as a legitimate question). But the entire project was completed in a fortnight: an amazing accomplishment all by itself. Hard work, good fortune, and the law of averages all paid handsome dividends this time around, although Morse obviously doesn't see it that way. "Needless to say," he writes about the recording process, "the Lord delivered."

Why needless? And why not take credit for your own act of creation? If you want to claim divine guidance, more power to you, Neal, but I'm not buying it: you're a talented guy, and you did it all yourself...with a little help from your terrestrial (not celestial) friends.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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