Sounds like … the classically derived symphonic progressive rock of Morse's prior bands Spock's Beard and Transatlantic, as well as Genesis, Yes, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Phil Keaggy
At a glance … because it's so unique, and Morse is relatively unknown, many will unfortunately pass on One, an album of remarkable spiritual depth and incredible musical prowess
It's easy to surmise why progressive rock is a rare genre that hasn't enjoyed revival in the last thirty years. We live in a society that's grown more and more accustomed to concision in music—most people only make time for music in between daily routines, so they only want hits and they want them on demand. Today it seems that only self-confessed music geeks (like myself) are willing to make time for an 80-minute rock symphony. Indeed, I held off listening to the latest from Neal Morse for weeks before finding the time to properly savor it.
Recall last year, the gifted artist behind progressive rock bands Spock's Beard and Transatlantic reached out to the CCM scene with his magnus opus Testimony, which incredibly set Morse's lifelong personal journey of faith to more than two hours of music. Barely a year later, he's already back with One, another stuffed album that is in some ways more creative and symphonic than the previous effort. Testimony is a little more special because of its more unique and conceptual approach—in essence, a two-disc rock opera with a narrative flow and recurring themes. One is also a concept album, not as grand a scale, but delving more clearly into the classically inspired progressive rock of Genesis, Yes, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Morse's previous bands.
The project begins with an eighteen-minute, four-movement piece called "The Creation." Though possibly the most dated sounding track on One because of the analog-sounding synths, it presents some impressive epic and visionary songwriting. Like an overtly Christian version of Genesis's "Supper's Ready," it goes back to the Garden of Eden to depict life between God and man as originally intended, leading into a dramatic fall to sin.
The gargantuan opening sets the stage for sixty more minutes of reflection on the nature of sin and restoring mankind's relationship with the Lord. The short acoustic "The Man's Gone" expresses the effects of life apart from God: "The mind got large beyond its station/Took full charge of his destination/Became a god of his own creation/Everything was his/In the stocks he made a killing/Invented games that he kept winning/But never really quite fulfilling/On who he really is." Next is the hard-rocking "Author of Confusion," an appropriately cacophonous and (seemingly) chaotic sounding struggle with The Devil and temptation. My, don't those layered a cappella breakdowns recall classic Yes?
With "The Separated Man," humanity begins to recognize its failings, eventually longing for restoration in another eighteen-minute symphony. The almost Latin and jazz sounding "Help Me / The Spirit and the Flesh" is an outpouring of contrition and faith, continued with a moving worship ballad called "Father of Forgiveness," which recognizes that we are reunited with God through faith in Christ Jesus. Things conclude with the joyous rock of the spiritual "Reunion."
It's all delivered with absolutely jaw-dropping musical prowess. Mike Portnoy's drumming is reminiscent of the thunderous fills from the late Keith Moon of The Who and the precision of Rush's Neal Peart. He's complimented by Randy George's quick and confident bass work. But Morse is the true musical journeyman here. With a voice that sounds like Brent Bourgeois and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, he offers slick keyboard solos alongside elaborate guitars that would surely make Phil Keaggy proud. Apparently so, since Keaggy himself contributes a couple solos of his own, along with a vocal duet on "Cradle to the Grave," singing the part of God in a beautifully candid conversation with man.
One impresses not just with sound and skill, but also scope. I'm convinced Morse can use his music to approach any biblical book or subject he chooses, like a progressive rock equivalent to Michael Card. He deserves praise for creating another masterpiece that forces those who would listen to seriously consider the nature of faith and the true relationship between God and man.
Unfortunately, the average listener doesn't have enough patience for Morse's sprawling and nuanced style, which doesn't lend itself to background music and three-minute bursts. He should someday release a more accessible album of 3 to 9 minute songs, which might sound something like the bonus disc included in the exquisitely packaged special edition of One (available at www.nealmorse.com). It includes three more songs that didn't make the primary CD, as well as strong covers of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name," George Harrison's "What Is Life?" (also featuring Keaggy), Badfinger's "Day After Day," and The Who's "I'm Free" and "Sparks."
The sad irony is that thirty years ago, One would have been instantly embraced as a true Christian music classic. Today, Morse's incredible talent will go largely unnoticed by music lovers, untapped by the top levels of the Christian music industry. Having read this far, you don't have to make the same mistake.
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