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Neal Morse - The Restoration - Joseph: Part Two CD (album) cover


Neal Morse


Symphonic Prog

3.90 | 47 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars I am writing this review directly after reviewing The Dreamer (Part One), and many of my critiques (both positive and negative) apply to this album, but only to the first 12 out of 16 tracks, because something very strange to my ears happens to close out the album, and thus I'll structure this review accordingly.

Highlights: My Dream, Dreamer in the Jailhouse, All Hail. Perhaps not surprisingly, the parts that involve Ross Jennings on this album are fantastic. These tracks remind me of some of my favorite, more sinister moments of Sola Gratia, and hearing Ross in there in spots helps the music feels especially fresh to ears that have listened to literally dozens of hours of Neal Morse music. One caveat: Neal's truly terrible falsetto in All Hail--that thing wasn't working 20 years ago and it has only gotten worse, and it's especially annoying because Neal literally has numerous other talented vocalists appearing at other points on this album who would have done a better job here.

Lowlights: tracks 5-11. Every time I listen to this section of the album, I honestly can't believe how bad it is. I don't throw around the word "bad" easily, and I don't think Neal does much that would be considered bad, but whether it's the too-tight-pants Ted Leonard vocals to the awkward vocal round exposition to the poor lyrics (rhyming "grain" with "insane"? Give me a break, Neal!), this is just one tough listen, every time through. You have been warned.

And now for something completely different: tracks 13-16. The Brothers Repent and Restoration is basically 10 minutes of musical whiplash: Here's Matt Smith! Here's NDV! Thanks for coming back Talon! Let's run back this previous theme, but only tease it...also, here's a Testimony-ish, latin-timbale break, but don't get your groove on, because it's back to another leitmotif. Is this objectively good? I don't know, but I think I like it, and I'm having fun. Also, anything I'm still caring about regarding the story seems to be wrapping up. Is it satisfactory? I don't know, but I think I'm done hearing about grain and polygamy, thank you.

Speaking of fun, then comes the real party: Everlasting. Party time. Let's kick up the tempo, get the backup vocalists rocking, get those timbales clanging, get all those Disney characters singing together...and don't forget your whistle...twice! Neal Morse is just Morse-ing the crap out of this. Is it a problem that we've kind of heard this before? Yes, a little bit, but it's still fun, so just go with it!

But unlike the Disney movie, Neal isn't done. At this point in his career, he appears to feel called to more proactively help people walk with God, rather than explaining it in his music and hoping God just takes it from there. I think that's what God Uses Everything for Good represents--just like former addicts rehearsing the Serenity Prayer in difficult times, if people who listen to this album remember nothing more than this simple mantra, perhaps this song might also help people in their most distressing moments.

I think this is ultimately pretty cool, but there are two problems--one thematic and one musical. First, I think that simple message is pretty clear to anyone who has made it to the end of the Joseph albums, so for someone like me, the music better make it worth the extra run time. Here's where this is a clear mixed bag: the closing minutes are truly epic, there's so much going on (strings, horns, harmonized vocals, heavy timpani and symbol swells) that it juuuuust starts to sound a little muddy. However, there is a bigger issue, which is that underlying melody sounds sooo close to a main Testimony melody that the first couple times I heard it, I couldn't help but hum that in my head instead.

Having said all of that, my experience with this album supports two potential conclusions. First, this to me sounds like a musician/composer who might be almost done--go out with a bang, taking all of your signature sounds and cranking them to 11. The other potential conclusion is that Neal is going to at least have to conclude this period of his writing, in which taking a biblical story and Morse-ing it up is at a point of clear diminishing returns.

Will Morse keep going to the drying well, or will he pivot and evolve? Or will he hang it up?

Flucktrot | 3/5 |


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