Morse, Neal - Momentum

Year of Release: 2012
Label: Radiant Records/Metal Blade
Catalog Number: 3984-15119-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:17:00

In preparation for RoSFest 2017 - which I was not able to attend - I had fully intended to fill in some of our "blanks" ahead of the festival to help feature the artists in the lineup, but t'was not to be.

One of those was Neal Morse, whom we last "visited" with our review of Testimony 2: Live In Los Angeles in 2011. The most recent unreviewed title in my library was Momentum (2012). If like me you have not been following Morse's career post-Spock's Beard closely, what struck me immediately - and not just in "Thoughts Part 5" - was how much the music resembles what Morse did while in Spock's Beard. Not rehashes of material, but compositionally, structurally... this is a continuation of what he started there.*

Before going forward, I feel I must confess to a couple of things. One, the last Neal Morse album I have listened to was Testimony, 13 years ago. Intervening albums have come into my possession, but as yet not listened to. I think I may have to give those earlier Morse releases a listen.

Two, being a secularist, the expectation of religious/God-themed lyrics did not appeal to me. But, in truth, one need not fear Morse is going to be preachy. Illustrate some aspect of scripture to make a point? Sure; but, it is all open enough for the listener to take from it what they will. For example, I think the message of "Freak" will make people feel uncomfortable, but not because of any religious reference. Rather, in the realization of the message: It is a flaw of human nature - in most, if not all of us - to ostracize those who are "different" (I thought of the homeless folks I have driven past in downtown Los Angeles). Morse posits that perhaps this ostracized individual is something more ... and keeping true to Morse's narrative, posits "I might be Jesus..." Take that out, and it still works as a thesis. Musically, "Freak" it reflective and ironic -- is at times quirky (a freak, you might say), at times epic (something more). Morse's cadence makes you think he's trying to be funny, and certainly at first glance a line like "I'm not schizophrenic I just haven't had my medicine today," comes across that way... but no, Morse is cloaking a serious message in something that is, ironically perhaps, different enough to attract attention.

In true Morse fashion, there is an epic -- the 33-plus minute long closer "World Without End." "Introduction" shimmers into formation from a wash of keys and percussion to a stately guitar solo, leading into a throbbing corker of track (owing to Randy George's bass). No doubt we're in for something grand. Apt clichés like tour-de-force come to mind as keyboards and guitars swirl about targeted drums and percussion. By the time the vocals begin for "Never Pass Away," we are caught up the musical whirlwind (a touch of the gothic passes through). At times, like a tempest, it churns darkly, grinding deep and throaty ("Losing Your Soul"); by contrast a moment later, lighter, brighter, more upbeat ("The Mystery"). We are no less twirled about by the music, but we are more surefooted here, waltzing beneath sunnier skies (a growling guitar reminds us the darkness is not far behind). We are released from the tumult into the languid "Some Kind Of Yesterday," marked by gentle keyboard phrases and light percussion. As we have come to expect from Morse, a moment for exaltation, here at the 22-minute mark roughly. But we mustn't be complacent as we are again caught up in another storm of instrumentation, a spot for George to solo. If we were spinning dizzyingly fast before**, the penultimate moment upped the tempo, for us to come out the other end with Morse and company at their most restrained - vocals and piano only. As most epics end, so too this one, with something huge and um... epic. A second moment of exaltation - as with Testimony (and perhaps other albums in between), through all the tumult, the protagonist has found God.

I'll add that in the musical mix you will find touches of Kansas, the Beatles, and, towards the end, the Eagles, neither an unusual aspect to Morse's music.

The album's title is no misnomer as Momentum begins with the high-energy title track, which matches crushing drum work (Mike Portnoy) with widdly keyboard flourishes (Morse) and some screaming guitar soloing (guest Paul Gilbert). You might say it has its own momentum. The transitions between choruses have a bit of a 80s-AOR feel about it, some twiddly keyboard passages (6-plus minutes in) that reminded me of Journey.

This is followed by an equally heavy -- perhaps heavier -- "Thoughts Part 5," which begins with the same layered vocals, off-kilter effects and signature bubbly keyboards as in earlier parts of "Thoughts..." (as first heard on Beware Of Darkness). As avant-garde-ish the track feels at times, there are also some what I will call traditional progressive rock elements to it as well, mostly to be found in the various keyboard textures - from parpy to organ-like.

A couple tracks later, there is the screaming, chunky "Weathering Sky," a signature piece that that seems just accessible enough to pass as a single. It's got a catchy chorus and more traditional rock feel, as "traditional" as Morse can get. Morse seems to have love large open spaces, and this song is no exception.

By contrast to those around it, acoustic guitar introduces the gentler, thoughtful and emotive "Smoke And Mirrors." As the track progresses, subtle accents of shimmering percussion here and there can be heard, soft punctuation of drums, layers of guitar add depth, all leading to the climactic moments - first, a brief keyboard solo, secondly, a violin solo (or what sounds like a violin). It is an intimate moment on an album that is otherwise epic and vast (a signature aspect of Morse's songwriting style). It is also Morse at his least direct lyrically, I think. You can get the general sense of the message, but can ascribe to it any specific thing. And, perhaps because of the violin, made me think a bit of Kansas.

Where this ranks in Morse's oeuvre thus far, I can't say. I think on the whole I like it more than Testimony. Maybe because it's more direct in many ways. It is certainly tight in that there's no filler, no "throwaway" tracks. And while a track lasting 33-minutes seems like it would be long, Morse and band keep it interesting throughout. And the shadings between the traditional rock of "Weathering Sky," the intimate "Smoke And Mirrors" and the proggier title track, there is also enough material to keep it interesting.

*This was not so in his first two solo albums, which, as he was still with Spock's Beard at the time, makes perfect sense, else why record a solo album?
**And honestly, I truly was even, as I was writing about the track.
Momentum (6:25) / Thoughts Part 5 (7:51) / Smoke And Mirrors (4:38) / Weathering Sky (4:15) / Freak (4:29) / World Without End: i. Introduction - ii. Never Pass Away - iii. Losing Your Soul - iv. The Mystery - v. Some Kind Of Yesterday - vi. World Without End (33:39)

Randy George - bass
Neal Morse - keyboards, guitars, vocals
Mike Portnoy - drums


Rick Altizer - additional vocals (3, 4) Chris Carmichael - strings
Paul Gilbert - guitar solo (1)
Eric Gillette - additional vocals (2)
Bill Hubauer - clarinet, flute, guitar, additional keys (6:iv)
Wil Morse - additional vocals (2)
Adson Sodré - guitar solos (6)

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: May 29th 2017
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 4006
Language: english


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