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Neal Morse - The Grand Experiment Award winner

Neal Morse
The Grand Experiment
by Daniel Fox at 23 February 2015, 12:58 AM

With what is likely going to be one of the most, if not the most important Prog release in 2015, Neal Morse is taking the Prog Rock world by storm. Touting an impressive solo career, collaborating with long-time friend and bandmate Mike Portnoy once again releases a massive, Progressive monster; “The Grand Experiment”, an edgier turnaround from his last release, the mellow, Pop-Christian Rock album, “Songs From November”. A literal experiment, this album is, in fact, a new venture for Neal; it is the first time he has entered the studio and recorded an album without any prior work or preparation outside the studio; the music flowed into the beautiful, Proggy, blue lagoon of an album we have now.

I have always found Neal Morse’s albums quite the conundrum; if music could be listened to “At a Glance”, one would find breezy, accessible embellishments that ease their way into our minds with powerful vocals and melodies oozing with oozing with pure soul, dancing up and down the staff. You spend a few enjoyable minutes being guided through subversive soundscapes, until you realise you are 15 minutes through one of the songs; “How on Earth am I supposed to get into a 5-track album that runs 51 minutes long”? Unless you plan to pick at and critique each riff, verse and ballad, you are not getting, what I like to call, “the Prog experience”. That is why “The Call” is an exquisite choice for an opener; the first four minutes of the track is verging-on-comically upbeat and light-hearted with incredibly intricate and catchy melodies. It spends the next few passing moments breaking down in form, as if evaporating from a liquid to a vapour, before it revs up incredulously into a series of heavy, edgy and sharp riffs. It ends in spectacular fashion, ramping up through a number of crescendos and masses of beautiful, layered chords.

“It’s a grand experiment; a well-planned, bizarre event”; the title track, being one of the ‘shorter’ tracks (still at 5-and-a-half minutes, mind you), has a more suitable timeframe to gravitate as a solid, intricate and at times, heavy, Prog Rock track. Neal Morse’s musings come to life in this track and you have to wonder if life itself is just one grand, strange experiment. Sitting at a driving and sometimes jiving mid-tempo, it is a guitar-fronted track that makes strong use of the punchy and piercing bass, and prominent keyboard work. “Waterfall” certainly hits the albums soft, tender spot; not a single Rock riff in sight. Instead, we meet with a cascade of lilting acoustic passages, light and airy atmospherics , and some of the more blissful melodic progressions you’ll here on the album. The absence of the gritty rhythm section leaves room for Neal’s voice to flourish in this piece; at times he blends in seamlessly with the arrangement, and at others commands the track with what is quite an effective ‘storytelling’ delivery. “Agenda” is a bit of an oddity in the album with raucous, swinging and almost abrasive passages. Many listens later, and I’m still not sure I fully understand the track and the ‘agenda’ he is singing about. Mind you, I definitely consider that a plus-one, because I’ll never get tired of listening to the lyrics; “I’ll shout it in the megaphone, I’ll wear it like a French cologne, I’ll scream it in the telephone”. The choruses in this piece are exquisite, this time taking on a lilting and lofty atmosphere.

Funnily enough, the final track on the album is longer than the previous four combined; running at over 26 minutes, “Alive Again” may well be considered a small album all on its own, split up into a series of movements; we are greeted with technical, Progressive instrumental mastery, before moving onto catchy, radio-friendly sing-alongs and strange, almost alien-like soundscapes with unorthodox and intriguing chord and melodic progressions. I will never quite understand how Neal writes these things, but I am still hooked right up until the end of the final ballad. “Alive Again”: the song that never ends, on the album that you never want to end. Put it on for another spin; rewind it; hit the replay button. Just make sure that you listen to it again, and again, and again.

5 Star Rating

1. The Call
2. The Grand Experiment
3. Waterfall
4. Agenda
5. Alive Again

Neal Morse - Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Michael Portnoy - Drums
Eric Gilette - Guitars, Vocals
Randy George - Bass
Bill Haubaer - Keyboards
Record Label: InsideOut Music


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Edited 06 October 2022

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