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Morse, Neal: Lifeline

Neal Morse, former front-man & central figure of the progressive rock powerhouse, Spock's Beard, has crafted his first non-concept mainstream effort in 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 I..Love/Hate. Most progrock 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 progrock tunes are based in the spiritual, ie., 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 might grab ahold" is the catchy chorus and theme that repeats and builds throughout. The instrumental midsection is absolutely stellar, showcasing each musican's talents. A little bit of old Chicago, latin flavours 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, Britney 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 esignature sound.i 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!

Track Listing
1) Lifeline
2) The Way Home
3) Leviathan
4) God's Love
5) Children of the Chosen
6) So Many Roads
7) Fly High

Added: December 21st 2008
Reviewer: Jon Rice
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 2507
Language: english

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Morse, Neal: Lifeline
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-12-21 07:02:38
My Score:

Normally I don't like to get too personal with a CD review, as most artists/albums you listen to a few times, report on, and move on to the next. Some artists though you can't help but make a connection with over the years, and their music can effect you deep down inside where you have to take a more heartfelt look at and write about in a different sort of way. Spock's Beard have always been one of those bands, and since Neal Morse left the band, it's quite the same with his solo career as well. I have to admit, what I thought would never be an issue with me with this new chapter in the career of Neal Morse, finally reared its head and became an issue. Lifeline is the latest release from this Christian prog-rocker, his first 'non-concept' record in some time, a collection of songs that for the most part stand on their own as solid progressive rock pieces. Musically, this is as enticing as ever, those tricky time signatures, swells of Mellotron & Moog, jangly guitar licks, bombastic arrangements, and powerhouse rhythms courtesy of Mike Portnoy & Randy George. Problem is, if you've been closely following the career of Neal Morse from his days in Spock's Beard up to his solo jaunt, you'll start to hear plenty of melodies and musical parts here on Lifeline that are starting to sound way too similar to material from the past. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, as this stuff is so well played (Neal is a more than accomplished keyboard & guitar player, and his vocals are always spot on) that you can sometimes take comfort in the little recognizable bits that he throws in here and there. This time around though, I'm finding the lyrics to be extremely redundant and overstated, as if Morse is really trying to will the listener into feeling the love and joy he does for God, "The Eyes of the Savior" and "Fly High" being two perfect examples. Whereas in the past, I've been able to concentrate on the music and not let the lyrical content get in the way, here it seems to be getting harder to do that, and that's a shame because there's a lot to like here.

I'm sure there will be plenty of arguments for both sides, the "this is way too religious" crowd and the "Neal's message is beautiful and the music is marvelous prog-rock" faction. I'm somewhere down the middle. Not a very religious person, I also pay more attention to the musical aspects of things rather than the lyrical, and I've immensely enjoyed Neal Morse's output up to this point. However, his Christian message is now starting to get in the way of my enjoying his material to the fullest, and I really didn't want that to happen. In summary, a very solid 4 for the musical aspects of Lifeline, as there's some furious prog here that will knock you on your butt ("Leviathan" is especially wild), but a 2 for lyrics that might be extremely deep & calming for many fans, and certainly the artist, but to these ears are getting just a bit too preachy and personal.

Morse, Neal: Lifeline
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-10-09 19:49:28
My Score:

I have been greatly anticipating this release and when it finally arrived in my mailbox I could not wait to hear it. So how does this album compare to past works? Read on to find out. As we all know, Neal's music has a definite Christian slant and the new album is no exception. If you are bothered by overtly religious lyrics you can stop reading this review right now. While the last album, Sola Scriptura, was a concept album (and I stress the word concept) the new one is a separate collection of religious themed songs with no large overall concept. The songs are quite personal, dealing with various internal struggles, life long journeys, and one's personal commitment to God. As with the last album, Neal is joined by friends Mike Portnoy on drums and Randy George on bass.

The opening song "Lifeline", begins with a nice piano melody before leading to some funky grooves and culminating with an all out prog workout. Outstanding musicianship by all involved and some really catchy moments make this song highly enjoyable. "The Way Home" is a mid-tempo number complete with acoustic guitar and plenty of soaring keyboards. Not as interesting as the first tune but still enjoyable. "Leviathan" increases the prog factor with lots of interesting keyboard effects and excellent saxophone. The lyrics take on a darker theme that really suits the intensity of the music. "Children Of The Chosen" includes some nice Spanish-like acoustic guitar and a sing-a-long chorus. Morse shows he is not just a keyboard player. Portnoy adds some nice drum fills to round out the song.

The album's epic is the twenty-eight plus minute "So Many Roads". Maybe not as overtly progressive as some of his other epic tunes but is still top-notch progressive rock with plenty of twists and turns that should satisfy fans. The ongoing keyboard melody is outstanding as are the background vocals and electric guitar. Be forewarned, this song may stick in your head for days. Lyrically, this is one of Neal's stronger efforts and really makes for a compelling listen. This is the album's best track and my personal favorite. Also worthy of mention is the album's strong production, which is of no surprise to this reviewer.

Overall, if you have been a fan of Neal's previous works you should really like this one. While on the first few listens I did not like this as much Sola Scriptura (I would have preferred a few more heavier moments), this is still a quality progressive rock release and highly recommended. Enjoy.

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