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'a place inside that the world can't buy',
This review is from: ? (Audio CD)
? (2005) is my favorite not only Neal Morse album but it is my most favorite American progressive rock album. Concept-wise, lyric-wise and music-wise. When I first started listening to it I felt that its later part of songs 7-12 were of historic proportions and could have been composed by Pink Floyd or Genesis at the height of their careers. Really, to me structurally as well as in every musical or lyrical detail this work is spectacular. The guitar solo of song 9, would have looked great inside David Gilmour's portfolio and the emotional build up Neal is able to create within song 10 is again, world-class. My problem with a lot of recent progressive rock music is the progression for the sake of itself. I often hear albums with good songs and mediocre songs and minutes of music between songs, taking us from point a to b by a way of a guitar solo succeeded by a drum transition, whatever, but without the constant sense of flow and harmony which seemed to have been there on my favorite Genesis or Yes, Pink Floyd or King Crimson albums. It almost feels like seeing a cart in front of a horse. Our emotional stage should develop naturally upon the experience of creation rather then things should be constructed in a certain way to evoke an emotional feeling within listeners, as is often done. That is why every few years I pick some album revered by the progressive rock community and after few days of trying and hoping but not getting anywhere, I just put it away, and much rather play one of a hundred of my favorite progressive rock albums from 1970s. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that progressive rock is only about a quarter of what I listen to. However, the greatness of this album's entirety comes upon us rather quickly and unquestionably. Structurally everything flows here beautifully. Spiritually, Neal tells an amazing story details of which will be different for every single one of us and might be irrelevant, because the idea behind this creation is to approach us on the spiritual rather than intellectual level.
Unfortunately many of us will not allow the solo music of Neal Morse to influence their lives simply because they are feeling so disconnected from the constant message his songs deliver. Oh no, not another Jesus freak screaming hallelujah... Somehow it is hard for many of us to get influenced by the euphoria Neal seems to be under, because we feel so distant from it and we are suspicious of strong religious feelings, which seem to be bringing so much evil into our world as well. In the name of God and Jesus lots of blood has been spilled through the ages and it is hard to forget it. Neal Morse agrees with the above statement and covers the periphery of that territory in his Sola Scriptura (2007) album. We might not always approve of how our own child will feel and act, which at times could make us cringe, but we do keep on loving him or her just the same, don't we? It is that message of love which Neal Morse is trying to communicate to us on a universal level and the place he is coming from has more to do with knowing than believing. He opens his heart and soul to all of us over and over again, not letting his mind interfere. Testimony (2003) brought us the most exact records of Neal's contact with the Living God. Please read carefully through Oh, To Feel Him and please keep in mind that Neal reveals only the spiritual side of his material experience. There are plenty of records of others having gone through a very similar experience to the one Neal Morse has gone through. People of various religious beliefs (including the one in the big bang explosion of a souless and meaningless universe) who having encountered such momentous fact understand that God or the concept of God should unite us and not divide us because it stands for love and goodness within us all, which we are able to sense. Neal Morse is probably one of the most loyal people in that group and a very talented musician, so his message stands out. And again, the certainty of his conviction is based on his experience which to him is not a matter of faith but a matter of fact. Most of us describe themselves as spiritual not religious. So, here it is, a spiritual journey of a brilliant musician and song writer. It is one of his following collaborations with phenomenal drummer Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater) who obviously must be sharing the conviction of the message delivered in each one of the albums Neal Morse has given us lately. Besides the other usual suspect Randy George and Neal's brother Alan this album also features Jordan Rudess (of Dream Theatre), Roine Stolt (of The Flower Kings) and Steve Hackett, who hopefully does not need any introductions. Should it be a surprise that this album is musically truly amazing? Perhaps that is what ? stands for. As you interpret the message of this breathtaking revelation for the age of downloads do not skip over the artwork and pictures completing the puzzle.