Monday, June 20, 2016
Music Review - Neal Morse Band - The Grand Experiment
Neal Morse is back with another album, though this time it falls under the moniker of “The Neal Morse Band,” indicating a shift from him being the man in full control to more of a collaborative effort. I’m sure it’s not easy to relinquish control, hence the title The Grand Experiment. Or maybe the “experiment” is to see how much they can sound like classic Styx in the chorus of the self-titled track.
Ah, but I jest. But not about the Styx, because they do and it sounds totally amaze-balls, though the rest of the song is an effective yet straight-forward gutsy rocker with a hint of blues. One thing I noticed in this song, and indeed the rest of the album, is that Neal shares lead vocal duties with bandmates. Sure, he’s got a nice voice on his own but imagine if Paul sang every song on every Beatles album. So the variety is a nice surprise. As are the copious amounts of vocal harmonies which, juxtaposed against the heavier rock setting, are quite reminiscent of early King’s X. “The Call” opens with three part vocal harmonies that bash into aggressive, stuttering guitar rhythms offset by classic rock organ sounds before jumping into a kind of musical overture. Its ten minutes of fairly typical Neal Morse songwriting, which is to say that the ten minutes fly by in a furry of catchy melodies and killer guitar riffs. “Waterfall” contrasts the driving rock of the first two songs, itself being comprised of acoustic guitars and a downright beautiful melody softly presented via three part vocal harmony. If they were trying to emulate Crosby Stills and Nash they nailed it. One thing I like about the music of Morse (and pals) is that he’s not afraid to use unusual sound choices but always tempers any weirdness with solid melodies. “Agenda” is no exception, nimbly hopping from spacy quirkiness to driving hard rock. The homemade video is kinda hokey, though.
At twenty-six minutes, “Alive Again” gets its own paragraph. Few alive can write an expansive prog-rock epic like Neal Morse (and his band), spending the first three minutes building a sweeping orchestral-like overture before switching to a tumbling and forceful rhythm. Still no words for another minute when the bottom drops out, leaving Neal singing over a thin ray of nearly inaudible sunshine that brightens into more lush vocal harmonies singing the chorus. A few minutes of more typical song structures follow before things get crazy in an extended instrumental passage where talk box guitars combat gritty saxophones before the second “song within a song” begins. When this section finishes the album turns classical with piano and string section. Yeah, lots of prog bands include these instruments but this band knows their classical music arranging well enough to make it sound, well, real. This is immediately followed by a pleasant return to the early eighties, complete with an orchestral Deep Purple passage of frogged violins that turns things over to an amazing guitar solo which sounds like a perfect combination of Malmsteen, Vai, and Blackmore. Killer? Oh yeah. A calm “song #3” begins next, eventually flowing into a reprise of the original chorus but seriously, after the heart pumping instrumental section, what’s the point? Oh yeah, song integrity.
If The Grand Experiment is just that, The Neal Morse Band needs to spend time in their musical laboratory on a regular basis.