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Morse, Neal - Lifeline (7/10) - USA - 2008

Genre: Progressive Rock
Label: Radiant Records
Playing time: 69:35
Band homepage: Morse, Neal

Tracklist:

  1. Lifeline
  2. The Way Home
  3. Leviathan
  4. God’s Love
  5. Children Of The Chosen
  6. So Many Roads
  7. Fly High
Morse, Neal - Lifeline

NEAL MORSE has been a fairly consequential member of the Progressive Rock scene for the past 16 years, particularly noted for his work as the original lead vocalist of SPOCK’S BEARD. His solo material has been fairly similar to his work in said band, which drew heavy influence from classic 70s members of the Progressive scene such as GENESIS, STYX, YES and RUSH. Vocally he resembles Dennis DeYoung somewhat, but with a less nasally tone and a slightly thicker timbre, which suits his similar taste in organ and synthesizer sounds. The compositions he has put forth, in usual Progressive fashion, tend to be long and drawn out and often result in albums clocking in well over an hour in length.

 

If the nature of his latest studio offering, “Lifeline”, could be summed up in terms of its musicality in a couple of words, it would be something along the lines of “extremely safe”. There is nothing on here that really breaks away from previous efforts. It doesn’t come off quite as grandiose as his massive concept work “Sola Scriptura”, nor does it quite contain the yin yang effect between catchiness and complexity that was heard on “One”. It doesn’t necessarily coast or simply go through the motions, but there’s nothing that really induces a religious experience either. Acoustics and atmosphere dominate much of this, stepping aside for the mandatory fanfare choruses, but not with the sort of excitement and harder edge that you’d get from a “2112” or the absolute grandeur of a “The Grand Illusion”.

 

The highlight on here is the 28 minute epic social critique “So Many Roads”, which rocks out the hardest of everything on here, while still making a good amount of time to feature the acoustic and keyboard atmospheres that have been standard in this genre since Dennis DeYoung brought it to the forefront in the 70s. Occasionally when listening to this, you hear traces of DREAM THEATER, though clearly not as heavy or technically involved, but for the most part the drive is for a song rather than a technical display. The lead playing is melodic and somewhat reminiscent of Dave Gilmour’s drawn out leads. All in all, it gets the job done and offers up a catchy yet very thought provoking listening experience.

 

Beyond this one song, things tend to make the grade but don’t quite cross over into being really memorable. The title track “Lifeline” has a really catchy chorus, but gets repetitive and feels about 3 or 4 minutes longer than it needs to be. “Leviathan” is the only thing on here that really ventures out of the happy and triumphant sounding anthem sound, although it’s more of a Jazz/Rock fusion than something that sounds really menacing enough for me to immediately associate it with the creature being depicted. It’s all entertaining and doesn’t necessarily induce boredom, but there is very little on here that really hits the memory retention button.

 

If you haven’t heard NEAL MORSE’S solo work before, I’d recommend looking into either “Testimony” or “One”, particularly if you know and love his work with SPOCK’S BEARD. This is something that would definitely be worth your time, but unless you’ve already gotten to hear or own MORSE’S extensive back catalog, it’s not something that screams “get down to the store now and get me!!!” It’s a good listen, but the difference between good and great is really the difference between “The Serpent Is Rising” and “The Grand Illusion”. One is remembered well by a number of people, while the other is considered an absolute standard by which the genre and its adherents are measured.

(Online November 26, 2008)

Jonathan Smith



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