When Neal Morse left SPOCK’S BEARD, I could hardly understand this decision, just like many others, and was very disappointed. As a consequence of this, I did not even check out Mister Morse’s solo discs. A big mistake, as I have to admit after listening to the third Neal Morse album “?”. In company with famous musicians such as Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess (both of DREAM THEATER), Steve Hackett (GENESIS), Roine Stolt (FLOWER KINGS) and his brother Alan Morse (SPOCK’S BEARD), Neal has presented a fine Prog Rock effort that should delight any fan.
According to the info sheet, Neal Morse sees the whole album as one single song that he just divided into 12 parts for the sake of better orientation. It is unclear, though, if this disc is a concept album. Either way, I realized that the record comes across best when you listen to it in one sitting, which supports the explanation by Neal Morse. The twelve songs are packed with lots of variation and ideas. From Rock to Jazz to orchestral passages, there are a lot of different styles to be discovered, which have always been united in a plausible and catchy way in the individual songs. Besides the usual instruments, you can hear cellos, violins, horns, bag-pipes and a saxophone on “?”, which integrate surprisingly well into the overall sound.
On the whole, the record is very melodic and catchy, which should mainly be due to the low „fuddling factor“. Of course, you get to hear loads of fine instrumental acrobatics, but this never affects the music’s listenability. What I think is especially well-done, is the rocking “In The Fire” as well as the two tracks with the names “The Temple Of The Living God” (ear candy!) and the calm “Outside Looking In”. You will not find a single weak song on this record, though. Especially as it is one single song after all, but even if you pick the individual passages, none will disappoint you. All of the contributing musicians are brilliant, and the voice of Neal Morse is unimpeachable anyway. Some will be annoyed by the extremely Christian context (maybe even naďve sometimes) in the lyrics of Neal Morse, but here you should be as merciful as you are with what some Black Metal or Gore Metal bands write. What counts above all is the music, and it is really great on “?”. And so is the sound, which I do not have to comment on anymore.
I advise every fan of Prog Rock/Metal to check „?“ out, because it is a very well-done album with superb songs and melodies. After all, what can go wrong with the finest musicians around? So, no matter if you are a fan of DREAM THEATER, GENESIS, YES or SPOCK’S BEARD (especially them), give Neal Morse break. If you do not even give this album a try, you will really miss out on something.
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