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Neal Morse - ? [Aka: Question Mark] CD (album) cover


Neal Morse


Symphonic Prog

4.19 | 624 ratings

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4 stars For Pete's Sake! All those non-Christians who are "offended" by Morse's faith need to get over themselves: if it bothers you, don't buy his music. However, if you are a true progger who doesn't judge the music by its subject, Neal Morse continues to write the most interesting, thoughtful, intelligent, imaginative, even brilliant prog out there. And if his subject matter is "controversial" - even provocative - so much the better: would those who seem "put off" by it prefer their prog "easy?" Or perhaps even "lite?" And I thought prog was SUPPOSED to be challenging, both musically and intellectually! So why not spiritually as well?

Testimony was Morse's very personal "witness" about his conversion; on One he tackled the cycle from Creation and original sin to redemption and salvation. On "?," Morse gives what amounts to a one-hour master class on how the notions of "temple," "atonement" and "sacrifice" moved from the Old Testament notion of the physical temple, and once-a-year atonement via the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb by the "high priest" (the only person permitted into the "holy of holies" where the sacrifice took place), to the New Testament notion of Jesus as the ultimate "sacrificial lamb" "once for all sin for all time" and the "temple" being our own bodies and hearts where the Holy Spirit resides.

Although just as cohesive, amazing and listenable as Testimony or One, "?" just misses being the near-masterpiece that those two are. Still, beginning with the jam at the end of "Sweet Elation" through the brilliant "In The Fire" - among his best works, and both the obligatory GG-influenced piece and a jam session in which everyone is given a chance to shine during stunning extended solos - through the exceptional bass solo in the middle of "Solid as the Sun," and on into the majesterial, even spine-tingling "The Glory of the Lord," this part of the album alone is worth the price of admission.

The musicianship on the album is expectedly superb, though I must say I was not always certain who was playing which instrument when. However, this is probably a good thing, as it "levels the playing field" so that you don't have a case of, "Oh, yes, here is Hackett's (or Stolt's or Rudess') contribution." Rather, the blending of the instruments is done in a spirit of equality, even if the style of a particular musician may be better known to particular listeners. Morse's work (both guitar and piano) is, as always, top-notch, and the "backbone" of Mike Portnoy (does he even KNOW what a mistake sounds like?) and Randy George (where DID this guy come from?!!) is as solid as ever.

As an aside, note that Morse is all the more brilliant for being able to write incredible prog music with minimal self-repetition, either song to song or even album to album. And even his self-references are usually neatly done, and not just direct "lifts."

Morse has become a serious Christian, and is obviously quite happy and content with that. If that is now his inspiration for writing some of the best prog music out there, how can anyone find fault with that? Indeed, we should all be very happy - even grateful - that his faith inspires him to such great heights of writing, keeping the true spirit of prog alive and growing.


maani | 4/5 |


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