Neal Morse
The Grand Experiment


3.5
great

Review

by Friday13th USER (14 Reviews)
February 11th, 2015 | 12 replies


Release Date: 2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: We know these guys do "grand," but can they do the "experiment" part?

Neal Morse is definitely one of my favorite modern prog artists. Though you'd be stretching definitions by calling him an "innovator," he's done many notable things for the prog world.

First came his breakthrough 90s prog band Spock's Beard, which definitely played a large role in bringing the sounds of Genesis, Gentle Giant, and a host of other classic prog bands back from their '80s slumber. He's been the principle creative fire behind many projects including Transatlantic, Flying Colors, and his own solo career. Of them all, I easily love his solo career the most (don't worry, it still features Mike Portnoy). Though his first venture into prog concept albums produced the successful Snow album, the best came from 5 album stretch from Testimony and culminating in Sola Scriptura. Each concept was successively more complex yet tangible in its theme, and it proved that his new found faith did not dictate a regression into blandness. In fact, the thematically controversial Sola Scriptura is anything but a "safe" album, which is something artists playing '70s-style progressive rock continually need to prove to their fans to stoke their charred embers of excitement.

Neal and his co-conspirators realized that they need something out of your ordinary 7/8 keyboard solo to hypnotize you into feeling like 1973 again, so what do they do? Change the band from "Neal Morse" to "The Neal Morse Band."

"No, that’s not enough," they must have thought. "We need to something that intrigues further."

A grand experiment. No pre-writing. No more Neal bringing in his huge stack of endless themes and reprises. This time it’s all there for the band to form in a week or so from the dust of the earth.

Thus, The Grand Experiment tries to answer the question. Can these men who have been listening to and playing technically demanding prog rock for so long expand horizontally instead of vertically? Change in approach instead of in purpose? The answer is Yes…is still a major influence. See what I did there? Seriously now, these guys have proved that they are so comfortable with their brand of prog and each other that they could probably write the next album communicating only through text messages…maybe even morse code next time. If these guys were a company, they have found an efficient proprietary process that can crank out prog with fewer inputs and faster than ever before. That translates to Time, Money, and Brain Damage in the bank.

But what does the end product sound like? What happens when we strip the album of its back-story and this grand new process that they are experimenting with?

The lyrics are mostly what you've come to expect from Neal, Mike, Randy, and the rest. Spiritual searching and feel-good lines like "now I'm free" and "I feel alive again." However, the song "Agenda" is definitely the more interesting lyrically, ironically poking fun at what people do with their agendas, "shout it from a megaphone/ wear it like a French cologne." You could take it as self-mockery even, as some would consider Neal's strong Christian themes as just mere "agenda." Neal then resolves with fittingly airy chorus that "there's a place I know where the grace won't go away…and the battle lines are grey." I think we can all say amen to that, simple "I Am the Walrus" feel and all.

Can you guess what the rest sounds like musically? You got it. One big ode to '70s prog. At least most of it is. The title track is a throwaway, vaguely proggy rock song, which seems to fit these guys' inability to release a good first impression with their singles no matter what project they're in. Yes, it has guitar solos and a a cappella bridge, but it sounds too straight forward dull with a single hook in the chorus being too little too late. Ballad "Waterfall" sounds like a Beatles injected King's X ballad of old with a more overtly '70s prog keyboard solo. Really pretty, actually. The first and closing epics are, as you'd expect, Prog with a capital P. Nothing that progresses music further, but that takes all the elements you've cried tears of joy over in Foxtrot and Close to the Edge and rearranged them to make familiar but nonetheless enjoyable 10 and 30 minute epics, respectively. The last one especially has lines suggesting "Lady Fantasy" and "Supper's Ready", saying stuff like "from the corner of my eye" and concluding an epic build with "The King of angel armies has come to bring the dead to life and quench the darkness with the light." As if that's not enough "Supper's Ready" references for one album, the first bonus track on disc 2 is called "New Jerusalem", and expands on what Peter Gabriel was referring to back in 1972. If this doesn't qualify it as "retro-prog", I don’t know what does.

The two bonus tracks are at least better and more prog than the title track, so those who dig the album should check those too. The second one especially brings the heavy prog that appropriately conveys "Doomsday Destiny."

Does The Grand Experiment deliver on its promise of being just that? Grand it is. Who still writes 20 plus minute epics? I mean, wow. These guys must be vying for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records just on sheer quantity of these grandiose works.

However, "experiment" is definitely a stretch. Yes, they found a new method to their madness. But do we really care when the end product is more of the same kind of thing? I mean yes, thank God Neal has in theory taken a break from the cross-album interweaving of themes which to me were getting old on his post-Scriptura efforts. But this is just what Sola Scriptura wasn’t, and that is safe SOUNDING.

Sure, maybe it's a personal feat for the band to whip this bad boy out in record time, but I prefer that next time they take longer to soak in a larger range of ideas and re-evaluate the direction they’re taking. Considering the rate these guys jump projects, maybe we'll see a change in direction sooner than we thought. This, however, is exactly what the album art depicts...a well-oiled machine that, large and complex as it is, is definitely showing its age.



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user ratings (37)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
Friday13th
February 11th 2015


7499 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Critiques are welcome, Mr. Ghost Negator.

Mythodea
February 11th 2015


6918 Comments


One excellently executed review, pos'd.

I tried last year's Transatlantic but I was bored to death. Is this any better? I love prog, especially the kind they're trying to revive, but something doesn't feel right.


Friday13th
February 11th 2015


7499 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks, dude. Yeah, smae :] Can't say it's better or worse. I gave Kaleidoscope an extra .5 for the cover songs and this one for the writing process. Both are okay and better than the last Flying Colors imo.

Mythodea
February 11th 2015


6918 Comments


I haven't listened anything else by Neal Morse.

Friday13th
February 11th 2015


7499 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Definitely check Sola Scriptura first. Picky me gave it a 5!

Jethro42
February 11th 2015


16813 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sola Scriptura is indeed his best album. I just don't like very much Heaven in my Heart. Song seems out of place to me, and it breaks the flow, so I always skip it, but hey, it lasts 5 min, and I just decided to bump it up to a 5 as well.



Good job on the review. I still have to listen to this one.



''Thus, The Grand Experiment tries to answer the question. Can these men who have been listening to and playing technically demanding prog rock for so long expand horizontally instead of vertically? Change in approach instead of in purpose? The answer is Yes…is still a major influence. See what I did there?''



Non, pas vraiment ;)

Friday13th
February 11th 2015


7499 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hehe Jethro knows what's up as always.

Jethro42
February 12th 2015


16813 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I try, I try hehe. I intend to revisit ''Testimony'', ''One'' and ''?''. I'm listening to the latter atm and considering to give it a 4.5... I can't wait to listen to Hackett's ''12''.

AtomicWaste
Moderator
February 12th 2015


2861 Comments


On the whole, good review. A bit long, but not too bad. I appreciate the puns. I would eliminate this little sentence from the first paragraph since I didn't know what it was referring to: "I’ll say it again."

Had the pleasure of seeing Neal near Philly when Flying Colors came around last year. Awesome show, and he performs both splendidly and with the moves and appearance of your stereotypical goofy uncle. Love it.

Friday13th
February 12th 2015


7499 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

^ Thanks. To clarify, "I'll say it again" was because I mentioned what I liked about Neal's concept albums in my review of

Neal's ? album, but yes I'll change it to be clear. Haha yes, I wish Neal was my goofy, prog-loving uncle.

melomaniac
February 17th 2015


25 Comments


lol Wanna see goofy? Check out the official video for Agenda!

Jethro42
February 18th 2015


16813 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Like you said in your last paragraph, maybe some more space between their coming up albums would be benificial to the band's creativity. And Morse is using the same formula again and again... Not that it's a bad thing all the way (changing a winning formula includes some risks), but before he runs out of ideas and before he keeps on repeating (ripping off?) himself, he'd better take a little break to revise his positions. 3.5 from me.



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