Originally a struggling young musician in the 90s LA singer-songwriter scene, Morse eventually gave up banging his head against a brick wall looking for that big break and devoted himself instead to his first love, progressive rock. At the time this particularly maligned little niche in rock's cannon was not in the best of health and held few, if any commercial opportunities but Morse forged ahead regardless and put together Spock's Beard.
The band recorded their debut, 'The Light', released in 1995 on Metal Blade, on a shoe string and in doing so created a prog rock masterpiece; an album that can be argued is one of the best progressive rock debuts ever. Ironically, in 2002 after being no longer able to reconcile his commercial success with his growing spiritual awareness, Morse left SB to go solo and has never looked back since with a career that has gone stratospheric both artistically, critically and to some extent, commercially.
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If you are familiar with Morse's back catalogue, you will know that such is the quality of his previous work you'd be forgiven for thinking that Neal Morse couldn't raise the bar any higher. Well, you would be wrong because with 'Momentum', Morse's twenty-forth solo album (including his spiritual stuff), he has and then some.
Neal recent said of the new album: "Momentum is my new prog solo album, it's kind of more like the 'Lifeline' album or Spock's Beard's 'V' in the sense that the content is similar, the layout is kind of that way as there is like five or six shorter songs and then one big epic at the end. The epic at the end of this one is called 'World Without End' and I think it is one of the best we have ever done. The shorter songs are really good, it all just turned out great and I think you are going to love it!" Looks like he's going to be right too.
For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Neal Morse, 'Momentum' takes the big prairie American prog sound of Kansas and throws in a fucking big dollop of early classic Yes and Genesis with a smidge of Edgar Winter and ELP. On top of that there is some cracking modern chorus work that hooks you right in. It's a fabulously heady, joyous mix that is not afraid to flaunt its retro foundations while happily applying a modern rock groove.
There are far too many who think progressive rock must be complicated and inaccessible; an uncoordinated aversion to a groove also being a prerequisite and a drummer who displays the severest symptoms of St Vitus Dance. Here, Morse shows us how progressive rock can be done without the incessant use of double kick drumming and over complicated, unrelated song structures and time signatures.
'Momentum' features six tracks; five stand alone songs and one longer concept piece. The opening self titled track works as a gateway into the album itself, being an accessible, easy on the ear introduction that does not try too hard. 'Thoughts Part 5' is a jagged, quirky follow up to the 'Thoughts' and 'Thoughts Pt 2', tracks Morse wrote for the Spock's Beard albums 'Beware Of Darkness' and 'V' respectively that some have compared to Gentle Giant.
'Smoke And Mirrors' treads a sweeping introspective, semi acoustic path while 'Weathering Sky' has the retro heavy duty guitar and keyboard driven groove that Edgar Winter, amongst others, used to dig. Possible the weakest track on the album, comparatively speaking, is 'Freak' which bobbles along with its 'Eleanor Rigby' style strings like an ELO cast off.
The six part 'World Without End' brings things to an epic close; a half hour epic that contains everything you will ever need to know about prog rock in general and Morse in particular. Overall, it is a fabulously lush album that swoops and soars, revelling in the epiphany of its own existence.
Even if you are not a fan of the genre and were to only ever have one progressive rock album in your collection, then 'Momentum' would be perfect for the job.