I think prog is still considered something of a dirty word in the music community… it is looked down on as pretentious, lacking in soul or just downright weird and to be fair some of it is but there is much out there that is top notch stuff, deserving more attention than it currently receives.
Neal Morse is a stalwart of the prog rock scene, a founder member of the awesomely named Spock’s Beard, a band that enjoyed considerable success before Morse left in 2002 to pursue a solo career, also appearing on numerous collaborations along the way. The most notable of these being ‘Transatlantic’, which featured ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, who Morse has worked with on numerous occasions, including drafting him in to bang the drums on Momentum.
From a musical standpoint this album is top notch, as well as the multi-talented Morse on vocal, guitar and keyboard duties, Mike Portnoy on drums it also features the amazing talents of another long time collaborator, bassist Randy George. Throw in a couple of guest solos from guitar heroes Paul Gilbert and Adson Sodre into the mix and you have a very tasty result indeed.
There are passages of this album that feel a bit like Dream Theater, not really a surprise when you have a drummer with such a distinctive style as Portnoy behind you… some of that metal background is bound to bleed through – and a welcome thing it is too. One of the great things about a good prog album is that it covers a lot of ground, you never quite know what is coming next and this album lives up to that reputation. One minute you are thinking ‘hey, this guy can rock’ (track 4 – Weathering Sky) and the next ‘ooh, this sounds a bit like The Beatles’ (track 5 – Freak).
Neal Morse is well known for producing hefty albums, often comprised of 2 discs worth of concept material but this release sees him toning things down and making a much more approachable and easy to consume record. Dedicated fans need not be down heartened though, as the 6th and final track is a six part mammoth that clocks in at just under 34 minutes.
It is a tried and tested formula for a prog release harking back to the good old days of vinyl, one side is made up of shorter, more ‘normal’ structured songs and the flip side of the record is just one long song… 2112 by Rush springs to mind as an obvious example.
Try not to be put off by the length of ‘World Without End’ though, it serves as a great introduction to those that have been wary of such long songs in the past, give it a go, just think of it as 6 short songs linked with a common theme and story!
Morse is a well documented and proud Christian follower and the albums released in the years following his departure from Spock’s Beard delved deep into his beliefs and explored many aspects of religion. While the lyrics on Momentum do touch on the subject of religion at numerous points this definitely doesn’t feel like it is trying to convey a particular message or force anything upon the listener though it does has a pleasing, uplifting feel about it – not a bad thing at all in my opinion.
You can approach this album from numerous viewpoints, rather like watching Toy Story with a child, you take different pleasures from the jokes and stories than they do while both enjoying it. There are different levels within Momentum, allowing the casual listener to enjoy an hour’s worth of well crafted and catchy songs while the seasoned prog fan will take more away from the subtle nuances and changes in direction. If this is the musical direction that Neal Morse is going to be continuing to take then all I can say is that I am looking forward to what might come next.