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

? [AKA: QUESTION MARK]

Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

4.20 | 650 ratings

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blue powder 777
5 stars Upon the recommendation of a friend, I decided to delve into the workings of Neal Morse. Having being a fan of the Beard, I decided to give his solo work a try. The local music store I frequent had two albums by mr. Morse, "One" and "?". I instantly decided upon "?" after seeing a little sticker on the front stating that the album was "Featuring Steve Hackett, Jordan Rudess, Mike Portnoy." How could one resist that? Being a fan of bot Dream THeater and Genesis, this had to be the release I was waiting for. In turn I was not dissapointed. "?" is not twelve separate tracks, but rather a massive epic in twelve parts.

The epic starts with "The Temple of the Living God." A gorgeous contemplative yet unsettling piano intro starts off the show. A little strum-and-sing guitar session briefly ensues. then the listener is propelled into straight hard rock, with brief instrumental guitar/horn work until Morse starts up with vocals again. This segues into "Another World" another straight rock peice with some impressive guitar work and catchy melodies before slowing down to begin "The Ousider," another strum-and-sing ballad. Once again, this builds up into "Sweet Elation." This is where the real musical treat begins. After a bit of vocals, an impressive instrumental section continues with brilliant keyboard passages and guitar work. "In the Fire" continues right where "Sweet Elation" left off. A hard driving rocker starting with a catchy riff and some pleasing vocal harmonies, "In the Fire" continues with the longest instrumental endeavour of the entire album. Here Jordan Rudess is allowed to shine with a steller performance once again establishing his reign as THE keyboard wizard. Apart from the keyboards, some guitar shred sneaks into the mix as well as some great vocals. This track reminds me of the prog work of old. I especially like the talkbox guitar melodies. Solid as the Sun, another straight rockers ends the jam session with more straight popish rock. One of the highlights is a bass solo with a spoken sermon in the background. The impressive choral "The Glory of the Lord" is a shining example of Morses versatility as a composer. Then another ballad, "Outside Loooking in" takes over. This moves into one of the best highlights of the album, "12." Here Morse continues with slow ballad like feel of "Outside Looking in" until moving into more instrumental passages, although slower and less intense as the "In the Fire' jam. The Steve Hackett joins in. Here, Hackett delivers an inspiring and emotional solo rivalling that of his "Firth of Fifth" solo and further securing his place as an essential piece of the pantheon of guitar gods. Then more instrumental work continues providing focus on melody rather than speed/skill based soloing. "Entrance" starts out with stunning piano playing and a Gabriel-esque flute melody. Morse continues with the soft rock mood until moving back to the melody and lyrics of "Sweet Elation" and "The Temple of the Living God" with a bit more bombast and elaboration. The piece ends with a Pink FLoydish ambience before continuing the piano melody from the intro of the album. The quiet contemplative piano work continues into the quiet and contemplative piano ballad "Inside his Presence." I could imagine the local mega church covering this bit at church next Sunday. I especially like the bagpipes and emotional dual guitar solo towards the end. "The Temple of the Living God" finishes off this brilliant composition, covering the melodies off the album in a climactic summation until the piano sounds the fnal chord.

"?" is a brilliantly concieved epic album executed by brilliant musicians resulting in 56 minutes of pure euphoria for ones ears. The album is never boring and balances between heavy and soft, catchy vocal melody and impressive instrumental passages, and spectacular interplay and emotional performances between the musicians involved. Some may be turned off by the Christian content of the lyrics (Morse even states in the cd booklet when each particular lyric was lifted from scripture) but I have always felt that music is simply a vehicle of expression. Morse isn't trying to sell millions of copies, rather expressing himself and his message in musical form. Hate the message if you must, but at least give the music a chance. Any fans of Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, Dream Theater or Genesis will highly enjoy this album. Rudess, Portnoy, Hackett, Stolt, Alan Morse, and especially Neal Morse far surpass the sum of their talents on this jem. Hihly Recommend.

blue powder 777 | 5/5 |

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