Neal Morse's endless creativity tends to become something like an inside joke for his fans; it's just phenomenal. And the even 'funnier' fact is that his music always manages to sound fresh and great. But, it’s when he finds new challenges that he truly surpasses himself and working for the first time collectively with his own solo band proves to be a challenge he had to take.
Let's take things from the start. Working with Mike Portnoy must now come as the most natural thing, as he's played on all of his solo albums since "Testimony" ("Songs From November" excluded) and they are band mates in Flying Colors and Transatlantic as well, so the chemistry is well known. Also, Randy George has been playing bass with him for many years, both in studio and on stage, and he’s a great musician, so that was pretty obvious as well. Then, Eric Gillete on guitars and Bill Habauer on keys a deserved a chance for something more than just playing their parts (flawlessly) on stage and they seem to grab the chance, both offering some great vocals as well.
As a result, we have a new album that is based on Neal Morse's trademark progressive rock sound, but filled with fresh elements here and there that make the final result differ from the last couple of his solo albums. By letting some more chefs in the kitchen, Neal offers a delicious meal that -undoubtedly- are based on his recipes, but at the same time contains some new ingredients that make it tastier.
The main advantage of this album is pretty clear from the get go and it boils down to the fact that all of these musicians have great voices and combined they create amazing vocal harmonies, while sometimes Eric and Bill take the spotlight for some astonishing lead vocals. Rather than creating crazy multi-layered vocal tracks like on "Thoughts" or "Author Of Confusion" they use their voices for the sake of the melody. So, you get great melodies, challenging / prog playing of five VERY talented musicians, and on top some great vocal harmonies. What's not to like?
"The Call", album opener, is a 10-minute long proggy track and it's an amazing piece of music, starting with the chorus being sung a capella, while its melodies and structure remind me of Neal's work with Spock's Beard, whilst Eric provides some great guitar work. The beautiful lyrics have a positive spiritual aura about leaving the past behind and seeing a brighter future.
Most of Neal's fans will be aware of the title track, as the video has already been released. It's quite straightforward rocker for Neal's standards, with a nice chorus that sticks to your brain and a nice shredding solo by Eric, but doesn't really have much more to say about it. I guess it'll be a nice sing along tune in future shows.
"Waterfall" is the standard acoustic song on each Neal Morse album, but it's nothing but typical and I don't know if describing it as ballad serves it right. It's an acoustic song, lead once again by the amazing vocal harmonies and along with the positive, soul searching lyrics it creates a magical melodic trip for the listener. Just brilliant!
"Agenda" is the odd bird of this album, a semi prog, semi pop tune with lots of groove and a great vocal melody that I'm not sure if it comes from Eric of Bill, but it’s really cool. It's not the typical type of song we usually hear from Neal, but it's a cool addition to the album.
The closing of the album comes with an epic song, lasting no less than 26 minutes and 47 seconds, called "Alive Again". As you might have already figured out, this track is where the real magic happens. Take for example the impressive prog part taking place from 3:30 up to 5:00 with Mike's crazy drumming, or the grandiose choruses along its way, the acoustic part and the changes in the lead vocals. It's simply another amazing journey and one of Neal's best epics for sure, standing next to "World Without End".
I think that the standard edition of the release could contain one more song (52 minutes of Neal's music seems just not enough for his fans, haha) and I can't wait to get my hands on the limited editions to see what else this amazing collaboration of musicians has come up with.
"The Grand Experiment" is an album that will surely satisfy -even excite- Neal's fans. It strongly indicates that Neal Morse will continue to lead progressive rock music and he has the right team to support him in doing that.