Morse, Neal - ?

Year of Release: 2005
Label: InsideOut/Suburban
Catalog Number: IOMCD 226
Format: CD
Total Time: 56:29:00

The first thing that struck me was the fact that Neal Morse has entitled his latest effort ? which does not make things easy for both critics and record stores, as I'm sure a lot of them interpreted the "?" as being "no title for the time being". However there is a thorough explanation as to why Neal called his latest album simply ?. The only negative thing about it is because French proggers Ange released their brand new album a couple of weeks earlier with the very same title. They even went as far as to put the question mark on the front sleeve of their new CD. In Ange's case, they have called their album ? because they want each and every listener to give their copy of the album the title they want themselves, so as to make it unique the world over. But was this also what Neal intended? Not really, as all of the Morse album is based around the biblical dwelling place of God: the Tabernacle. Both the intrigue as well as the mystery of the subject are interesting enough to get you on the edge of your chair from the very first second down to the very last.

Although the album is actually made up of twelve separate "songs," Neal's album should be listened to as one continuous epic. When I listened to ? for the very first time, it kind of felt like all the best parts from Neal's previous solo albums, as well as his Spock's Beard and Transatlantic past, got woven into something new. It sounds so powerful you almost want to scream: "Neal has arrived!" Being Belgian, lyrics always tend to play a secondary role when I listen to new music, which in some cases might even be an advantage. On ?, of course, I knew from day one that it had once again a biblical content, yet the music is so "unconventional" for this kind of belief that to me this is one hell of a prog album. Although most of the guest musicians on this album no doubt have a lot of respect for Morse's belief, they still can stay loyal to their own beliefs, as the music is all that matters here. Maybe only Randy George is on a similar level as Neal, but the rest of the guests give the best they can whilst maybe getting interested in the real contents of the album. Buddy Mike Portnoy once again delivers some out of this world drumming, helped out in the bass department by the already mentioned Randy George. His Dream Theater buddy Jordan Rudess also delivers one of his superspeed synth solos whilst, brother Alan Morse is back on track. In the guitar department none other than Steve Hackett and Roine Stolt deliver their goods.

If there's one part that has a certain commercial feel it certainly has to be the funky wah-wah opening chords from "In The Fire," which later on kind of blends prog with AOR big time. Neal's attack of the Hammond sounds superb, yet should have been done by the immortal John Novello, whilst the saxophone ending incorporating Mark Leninger for my taste should've been done by a more powerful brass section, such as the horn section from Earth, Wind & Fire. During "Solid As The Sun," Randy George almost becomes Stanley Clarke when he gets open space to illustrate his great technique and skills on the bass guitar. Although a huge choir makes its presence during "The Glory Of The Lord," it still very much remains a rock song without becoming too holy or pompous. The nice thing about this album is that Neal masters the craft of getting fierce parts and intimate acoustic passages back to back without sounding corny at all. In fact the more you listen to these sections the more natural it sounds, the more logical it all becomes. More than ever before authentic jazz is incorporated in the endless fantasy of Neal Morse, when some splendid jazzy piano finds its way into "Outside Looking In." To me, the most wonderful and powerful song where melody and vocal expression is concerned undoubtedly has to be the fragile "Inside His Presence," where you only need distant strings, piano and that fabulous voice of Neal. It's like a magic moment, something "out of this world" happening when all the elements come together, resulting in something so unique you simply can't explain. It sends shivers down my spine and deserves daytime radio airplay the world over. If this is the power of the lord set to music then please count me in! At the very end of the album you hear fierce wind which carries some of Neal's vocals, yet there is no way I can understand the slightest word or part of a sentence. Maybe the booklet will explain more, yet only having the promo version right now I'm stuck with a card sleeve with no additional information.

By now all of you should know what Neal's intentions are with music. He has found the way to his lord and wants to thank his lord in everything he and his family do. Neal kind of believes that he is guided by a supernatural force that puts him on the right track, that not only saved him but saved his entire family. His gratitude is so immense that he wants to spend the rest of his life thanking the lord, whilst trying to persuade other people to let the lord enter into their lives as well. You can either approach all of this by sounding like a preacher or you can let your talent speak for itself and create a kind of music that before would never have been linked to this kind of belief at all. Maybe indirectly this kind of musical approach is far more effective; far more rewarding than any other move. With ? Neal kills two birds with one stone. First he pleases the music fan by delivering almost one hour of fantastic new music. Secondly he shares with us his personal thoughts about a very delicate matter whilst convincing new believers in his slipstream. ? is and will always remain a beautiful album whatever you migh think! By the way I also know the title for Neal's next album : !.

The Temple Of The Living God / Another World / The Outsider / Sweet Elation / In The Fire / Solid As The Sun / The Glory Of The Lord / Outside Looking In / 12 / Deliverance / Inside His Presence / The Temple Of The Living God

Neal Morse - vocals, guitars, keyboards
Mike Portnoy - drums
Randy George - bass
Jordan Rudess - keyboards
Mark Leninger - saxophone
Steve Hackett - guitar
Alan Morse - guitar
Roine Stolt - guitar

Spock's Beard - The Light (1991)
Spock's Beard - Beware of Darkness (1995)
Spock's Beard - The Beard Is Out There Live (1995) (cd/vid)
Spock's Beard - Official Live Bootleg (1996)
Spock's Beard - The Kindness of Strangers (1997)
Spock's Beard - From The Vault - 1995-1998 (1998)
Spock's Beard - Day For Night (1999)
Spock's Beard - Live At The Whiskey and NEARfest (1999)
Neal Morse (1999)
Spock's Beard - Don't Try This At Home (2000)
Merry Christmas From The Morse Family (2000)
Neal Morse and Nick D'Virgilio - Two Separate Gorillas - Live In Europe (2000)
Spock's Beard - V (2000)
Transatlantic - SMPTe (2000)
It's Not Too Late (2001)
Transatlantic - Live In America (2001)
Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever (2001)
Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever - Special Edition (2001)
Spock's Beard - Snow (2002)
Testimony (2003)
One (2004)
Lead Me Lord (Worship Sessions Volume One) (2005)
? (2005)
Morse Portnoy George - Cover To Cover (2006)
Sola Scriptura (2007)
?: Live (2007)
Lifeline (2008)
Testimony Two (2011)
Testimony 2: Live In Los Angeles (CD/DVD) (2011)
Cover 2 Cover (2012)
Momentum (2012)
Neal Morse Band - The Grand Experiment (2015)
Neal Morse Band - Alive Again Tour 2015 (2016)
Neal Morse Band - The Similitude Of A Dream (2016)
Neal Morse Band - Morsefest 2015 (CD/DVD) (2017)
Life & Times (2018)

Transatlantic - Live In America (VID) (2001)
Testimony Live (DVD) (2004)
Sola Scriptura And Beyond (DVD) (2008)
Neal Morse Band - Morsefest 2015 (BR) (2017)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: October 30th 2005
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Artist website:
Hits: 1017
Language: english


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