Review Summary: Neal Morse builds on his momentum after the success of Testimony 2
Momentum is an album that is quite simply, another excellent addition to Neal Morse’s back catalog of music, it continues his unique brand of pop/hard rock influenced progressive rock, especially with his use of 80’s-style synth and Hammond organ sounds.
After touring in support of his previous album Testimony 2, he could have chosen to take a break, but he felt compelled otherwise, to make a new album, as stated from his website and the chorus of the title track: “You've got some new momentum, you better keep on going”. Momentum was written and recorded a mere 7 months after the release of Testimony 2, and released in September 2012, marking the shortest time between his album releases.
Momentum once again features long time band members Randy George on bass and Mike Portnoy on drums. Instead of writing an album with epics a la Sola Scriptura, I feel he downplayed the prog elements a bit to write shorter songs, even so he manages to run that fine line between pop, hard rock and prog. The title track “Momentum” is a strong opener and is one of those “get up and rock!” songs, it is very upbeat, positive and optimistic. The song maintains a very strong energy throughout, an invigorated Morse sings in the chorus “You've got some new momentum, you better keep on going, tomorrow soon will be your yesterday”, a musical manifestation of his newfound momentum.
“Thoughts Part 5” turns up the prog and features very intricate syncopated vocal lines and harmonies in the verse, it is an obvious musical nod to Gentle Giant/Spock’s Beard. The extended instrumental section in the middle is one of the most interesting parts on the album before returning to the vocal interplay of the verses. The song ends with an extended jam off of Randy’s bass riff, Morse has also taken it upon himself to add some interesting but seemingly random sound samples in this section (e.g. hola hola, como estan?).
The next 3 songs turn down the prog a bit in favor of a more straightforward melodic approach, “Smoke and Mirrors” is a slow introspective acoustic ballad, a song about deceit and suffering, the keyboard solo in the middle is a direct throwback to the synth-dominated music of the 80s. “Weathering Sky” is an upbeat song about finding one’s liberation, about one yearning to be free, it begins with a guitar-keyboard-bass unison and Morse affords the liberty to be a bit goofy in this one as well, especially in the verses where the bass line is characterized by a humanized “wow-wow-wow…”. “Freak” is a predominantly strings driven song (something Morse has not really attempted before) with strong religious undertones, while not a bad song, I feel it seemed like an afterthought and is the weakest track when compared to the other songs on this album.
“World Without End” is Morse’s longest and most ambitious epic to date, split into 6 movements and clocking in at over 33 minutes long. I feel it is a culmination of everything Morse has done up to this point musically and once again he demonstrates his penchant for blending and transitioning into different styles of music effortlessly.
The first movement “Introduction” starts the song off with a strong theme and features many key changes and instrumental gymnastics, key characteristics of a Neal Morse epic. The themes and melodies introduced will restate themselves in a different key or tonality a few times later on the piece, something Morse really likes to do in his longer songs. “Never Pass Away” soars high with melody and ignites a sense of hope, “Losing Your Soul” switches gears and Morse goes into hard rock mode, “The Mystery” is a very light hearted folk influenced section, “Some Kind of Yesterday” is a slow section with Morse in reflective mood, very similar in style to “Upon the Door” from The Door (Sola Scriptura), Randy also plays an extended bass solo in this section and is a definite highlight of the song. The final movement “World Without End” draws on various themes and melodies from the first two movements and rounds off the song with the main World Without End theme, this is a song that needs to be listened to as a whole in order to fully experience it's grandeur.
Momentum is an album that further cements Neal Morse as a hugely talented progressive rock songwriter and proves he still has a lot left in the tank, Randy and Mike complement his style of playing perfectly. This album is a musical personification of where he feels he is at this stage of his career: moving onward and upwards in full drive.
Thoughts Part 5
World Without End