Speaking as someone who hails Neal Morse's "Sola Scriptura" as the best album of this century to date, I have to report my disappointment at the follow-up, "Lifeline". Ok, the "best album of the century" may be a tough act to follow and it`s perhaps not a big surprise that "Lifeline" is not as good, but the disappointment stems mainly from the fact that a lot of this album sounds like material that Neal has written before but just wasn't good enough to put on other albums.
"Lifeline" lacks the exuberance of its predecessor, it seems to lack inspiration almost, sounding for the most part like a formulaic and flat repeat of earlier work, only without the zest and melodic invention that characterises much of that.
It's an album that struggles to get going. The title track opens the album and at over 13 minutes does little to justify its duration, sounding to me like a limp attempt to recreate some of the sweeping music of "Sola Scriptura" but failing to provide both the extraordinarily controlled heaviness and the sublime melody of that work, the juxtaposition of which was (and is!) a major highlight.
"The Way Home", "Leviathan" and "God's Love" struggle to rise above the mediocre and it is only on "Children of the Chosen" that the melody and inventiveness of the arrangements again begin to shine, thankfully remaining at a high level for the remainder of the album, the 28-minute epic "So Many Roads" and the closing "Fly High". These three compositions save the album and, as they actually end it, at least leave the listener in a better frame of mind.
Another retrograde step from "Sola Scriptura" are the lyrics: Neal returning for the most part to 1st person discourses about religion, the result being that it does sound on this album as if he is preaching. "Sola Scriptura" in particular amongst his records was easier to cope with from that point of view as it was a concept based on the life of Martin Luther so whilst there was still a large element of Christianity coming over in the lyrics, it was more palatable to those of us who are not fans because of Neal's "Christian rock". Of course, if you are one of his "Christian rock" fans then you may well prefer "Lifeline"'s approach!
A word about the bonus disc - I found the music here no better than expected for a bonus - ie, not up to the standard of the main disc. The exception was "Set the Kingdom", which is every bit as good if not better than the best material from the main disc. So much so, in fact, that I might swap it for "Lifeline" on my ipod. (By the way, there is also a hidden extra track on the bonus disc.)
Four stars might be generous but I can't bring myself to award three so soon after the album of the century! Here's hoping for next time!
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Well, then, that`s my album of the year sorted by the proverbial country mile. How does the man keep coming up with music of such quality? The hallmarks you`ve come to expect from him are all there and it is formulaic but it`s a formula that does it for me.
I`ve been a fan of Neal Morse for 10 years now, but in no way blind to poor output. The last offering, Sola Scriptura for instance, fell well short of the mark for me. But I consider Lifeline a welcome return to form. It won`t get played on mainstream radio, though, for two reasons: 1) it`s unfashionable and 2) the lyrics. More of that later, but as far as this album goes musically it`s streets ahead of most you`ll hear churned out on the airways every day. If prog`s your thing, there`s not much better than this.
Now, the lyrics. Since Neal became a Christian 8 years or so ago, his life has been changed dramatically and he now devotes his time and energy in this area. I can understand how this may not go down too well with many, but this is now an all pervading driving force in his life. I`m sure he realises that by going down this route he runs the risk of alienating a lot of people, but God and Neal now work together as a team.
I`ve given it 4 stars not 5 due the quite discordant Leviathan. Doesn`t work at all.The two longer tracks are full of great themes and changes as per usual, and the shorter ones lead with melody at the fore. His Beatles fascination continues to shine through in places, and many nods to older Spocks Beard songs appear. It took me a long time to get into ?, Sola didn`t do it for me but I`ve now played Lifeline twice and it`s much more immediate.
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what an absolute fantastic cd this is. i have got into neal morse,s music since i was converted to spocks beard by a friend i checked out neal morse cds.he gets better. i got to borrow live momentum and was hooked. i have purchased that and his cd [some ) since.this is truly amazing cd it ticks all the boxes.even the track leviathan which is said is a not so good track is good.not best on the cd oyerall it is a great cd buy it you will not be dissapointed.also good service from seller
I had become used to the concept album from Neal, and now he was producing a collection of songs. However, this album works really well! Great stuff love Lifeline and Leviathan and some nicer pastoral pieces that work well to break up the heavier parts of the album. The bonus disc is an absolute gem, his best one yet!
This is a hard (very hard) CD to review objectively.
I've long been an admirer of Neal and his music. Since his departure from Spock's Beard, Neal has produced a massive amount of output of great quality in the concept albums, 'Testimony', 'One', '?' and 'Sola Scriptura'.
If taken in context with his previous releases, `Lifeline' is practically identical to these, certainly no better, and probably not of the same high quality. The word stagnation springs to mind, especially considering his continuing emphasis on Christian lyrics, which are starting to wear thin and be repetitive.
But is it fair to judge an album in conjunction with previous output? Possibly. Possibly not.
The album is made up of individual songs, some of rather shorter length than the norm for Neal. It wouldn't however be Neal without at least one epic and we are treated to one near 30 minute long segue in, arguably the high point of the album, 'So Many Roads'. The low point is 'Leviathan' a rather disjointed song that even has me racing for the 'Next track' function. To be fair, all the rest of the songs are of a high quality, especially the closer, 'Fly High'.
Is it worth listening to? Definitely yes, but I won't be playing it as often as '?' which, in my opinion, remains his strongest release by a fair distance.
For the above reasons this album gets between three and four stars, so let's say four, I'm feeling generous.
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