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Neal Morse - Lifeline CD (album) cover


Neal Morse


Symphonic Prog

3.13 | 284 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
1 stars In the wake of the previous eight or so years, 2008 has been a pretty disappointing year for music. Not to say that there has been a shortage of excellent releases, but things definitely seem to be cooling off a bit as a whole. Approaching the final quarter of this year, Neal Morse's latest "masterpiece" (as his website dubs all of his albums) Lifeline is the most shocking testament of this musical downturn.

Neal has been criticized by quite a few first for repeating the work of his influences, and then for repeating himself. I have never agreed with these statements in the past; his style may not have evolved much, but each album carried it's own mood, a few new ideas, and a great set of songs. Unfortunately, with Lifeline, I must concede fully to these claims. Neal seems completely uninspired in this effort. Lyrics are dull and often cliche-ridden - nothing sets these apart from your average conteporary Chrisitian songs - while the music lacks the dynamics, feeling, flow and grandiosity of his prior work. Bluntly, this is boring. At least when Dream Theater slacked off lyrically on Systematic Chaos, they kept the vocal melodies and the music strong as always. Here, when Neal has no lyrical purpose, sophistication or inspiration, he doesn't make up for it at all. More than half of the tracks are average contemporary rocks songs. Granted, the man has never been much of a wordsmith, but on each of his past four records, he had an inspiration, and therefore purpose and direction. Plus, the music conveyed a feeling that lyrics couldn't harness anyway. In conext, songs like "Cradle to the Grave and "Heaven in My Heart" worked. They had a use in the grand scheme of their albums while being acceptable or even enjoyable by themselves. Even then, One grew tiresome having not only three similarly ordinary pieces, but three similarly ordinary pieces practically in a row. For Lifeline, you can imagine having "I Am Willing," "Father of Forgiveness," "Outside Looking In" and "Heaven in My Heart" all on the same disc. They're iffy songs as it is; with no context to support them, they will make for a poor, soporific album.

But let's not forget the epics and other standout track. The title track opens the album promisingly with a piano solo followed by a catchy piano riff to get things going. The band kicks in to start the album off rockin'. Really, though, the intro is a half-hearted mixture of the sounds and moods from the intros of "The Creation" and "The Door." After that derivative but enjoyable intro, the song becomes almost instantly unlistenable courtesy of some of the worst songwriting Neal has ever done. The verses and choruses carry a catatrophic combination of dreadful lyrics and vocal melodies. Thankfully, a solid instrumental section relieves us for a bit, though it doesn't excite. That isn't the end of the song, but for this review, that's where the song is ending. "Leviathan" is the first of few signs of Morse's quirky, fun side. Unfortunately it ends up being repetitive and borderline laughable any time vocals appear. For good measure, there is a cool technical-but-melodic riff toward the end. However, its style are way too comparable to the riff at the end of the "Party to the Lie" movement in "The Conflict." Portnoy even does the polyrhythm on the cymbal stack. What's worse is that the riff is nowhere near as good or as effective as the aforementioned. Last, and possibly least, is the 28-minute epic "So Many Roads." I don't even want to get into this one. Suffice it to say that it has a few memorable moments, not the least of them is the point where Neal Morse name-drops Britney Spears, but not nealy enough. The music is good, but it doesn't hold a candle (or flashlight for those reading after the 19th century) to any of his previous epics.

Lifeline is a failure in so many ways (pun not originally intended), but perhaps the one that's going to hurt the most is that it won't appeal to any audiences. Progressive rock fans won't like it because it is often too mundane, too trite or too forgettable, contemporary Christian rock fans won't like it because of the longer and/or more complex pieces (it also doesn't help that Neal said he didn't believe in the Trinity recently), and even the most devout fans might have trouble with it for all of the reasons I have stated. Maybe this mix of styles will hit a certain pair of new ears in a positive way, leading them to check out other great music, and maybe some fans will still enjoy. The likelihood of such cases are low, though.

It is a great shame, but Neal Morse has missed the mark big time. Lifelife might mean something to him, but it certainly doesn't seem as natural and meaningful as Testimony. Hopefully he'll regain some inspiration for the follow-up.

Moatilliatta | 1/5 |


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