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Neal Morse - Lifeline CD (album) cover

LIFELINE

Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

3.05 | 198 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Zitro
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I wish there were a 3.5 star rating, this would be the perfect candidate.

Seems like Neal Morse is in need of some inspiration. He keeps repeating himself musically and lyrically, and it's starting to work against him. However, despite being generally unadventurous played safe, it's a very good album. Neal Morse, due to not taking many risks and played to his strengths on his epics, and due to his songwriting talents, Neal Morse songs rarely are mediocre.

The opening song and title track is so derivative and familiar that it could be a neat overture to his previous four prog albums and his Transatlantic compositions. The problem with the song is when it was released, leaving an impression that you've heard all of this music before, as competent as it sounds. Let me explain: the piano intro reminds of The Creation, the overture mixes the intro to Yes' Endless Dream with bits that really remind of The Door and stuff from the second Transatlantic album. When he sings, the verses sound like "At the End of the Day", the pre-choruses remind of Transatlantic again and the chorus sounds familiar for some reason and is actually not that good: the vocal melody is too poppy. Then it plays the melody in the piano intro (that sounds like a main theme of One) with a guitar/synth unison and sounds very good, but something you heard before. Then you get a random instrumental jam reminiscent of the jams of Sola Scriptura, but with some pretty weak rock riffs alternating with an awful processed vocal line Send me a Lifeliiiiiiiine that sounded very familiar as well. Familiar melodies lead to the next verse/choruses and the chorus line He gave me a lifeline is played with the The Creation recycled melody, which in this case fits perfectly. The song ends with the same melody playing with a Jesus is My Lifeline line instead. Very nice restrained outro I got to admit, but this song is not perfect and is too derivative musically and lyrically

Then there's a humorous and slightly out of place prog-metal piece Leviathan. Opening with funny ominous synths and horn riffs. The verses continue the goofy prog-metal while the choruses are beatleish. Then silly lyrics playing on a mellotron-drenched background alternate with other hard rock riff until a silly instrumental that combines metal with vibraphone leads into the themes of the beginning with the Beatle chorus leading into a fast-paced heavy metal break where Mike Portnoy is on fire. The song ends as it began: goofy synths. The song is fun I guess, you can tell the band was enjoying themselves while making this, but it could have worked wonders as a bonus track.

Then there are four ballads, typical Morse ballads with overtly Christian lyrics. This is what could divide the Neal Morse fans. For the ones who enjoy his ballads and Christian songs, then you will find these songs uplifting and pretty nice at the least, if familiar. For the one who want prog, they may bring disappointment. These kinds of songs work very well on his concept album as part of the story, but having many of them can make them sound like songs aimed for Christian rock radio. I personally enjoy them all nevertheless. They're well written, catchy and memorable: the way Christian music should sound in my opinion.

Luckily, So Many Roads turns this good but non-essential album into a very good one. While it is again derivative lyrically (he did this already in Testimony) and doesn't break new ground, it plays to his strengths, is extremely coherent, and is musically very enjoyable. The theme of the song (deciding on what to do in life, looking at possibilities, and finally choosing to be a Jesus follower) make the epic be varied and divided into different sounding sections. It seems Neal Morse too advantage of this structure and apart from Star for a Day he made every section outstanding and he connected everything extremely well, despite how different parts sound from each other. Not only that, he made a varied epic extremely accessible and easy to get into. The first section doesn't wait to get started, with a very memorable fanfare synth melody. The 1st section is singer-songwriter for the most part but there's a watery synth passage that comes unexpectedly and sounds quite refreshing. Star for a Day is my least favorite part as it repeat things a bit too much and its sound is derivate (think of Hanging in the Balance and California Nights). I found it amusing that he referenced Britney Spears. Again, with great coherence the music leads into Humdrum Life, which is my favorite section as it really sounds as something that Neal Morse hasn't done before. It is an charming acoustic jazz piece with two saxophones playing in the background and an upbeat pace. The melodies are very memorable and when Neal Morse lets the saxophones take the centerstage, their dual solo is incredible. A new in between sections theme is introduced: So Many Roads vocal harmonies and a gentle guitar/mellotron theme is interrupted by the hammond-driven rocker All the Way to the Grave, singing of the idea of partying, getting drugged and living it up. It is here when he finds God: great symphonic buildup on The Eyes of the Savior. The song ends with variations of the themes in the first section, and his pretending to be in front of the audience, going "wooo" "oh yeah" "can you feel it" "yaaaa" "haha" as he always does on epics, which always annoyed me, but what can I do? Anyways, this is a really great epic, and due to its similarities to Testimony it shows you how much he grew musically since that album.

Despite my complaints, Neal Morse fans should own this album. So Many Roads is, for the most part, a masterful composition and the main reason to own the album for the casual fans of Neal Morse and symphonic rock fans who are not familiar of him. This album is also a good starting point for Christians who are not progressive rock listeners as it is accessible, melodic, and much better than the average Christian Contemporary Music. Testimony might be more emotional, but non-prog listeners would be overwhelmed by its duration.

Zitro | 3/5 |

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