The Neal Morse Band
The Similitude Of A Dream
Not just the progressive rock album of the year
Ever since Neal Morse turned to his solo career, he mostly produces musically adventurous albums that - either in a straight forward way or through some story lines - speak about his own experiences and beliefs or about his spiritual pursuits. So, maybe the new album of The Neal Morse Band may not seem that different in the first place.
Then, what’s making Mike Portnoy argue that this is the highlight of their career?
Well, maybe, because "The Similitude Of A Dream" seems to be the masterpiece that was in the making for some years now, being the product of the chemistry that’s grown between the five fabulous musicians that consist The Neal Morse Band.
By now, Eric Gillette (guitars/vocals) and Bill Hubauer (keys, saxophone, vocals) are fully in the creative spirit of the band and along with Randy George (bass) and of course Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) they seem to have freed Neal Morse of having to compose everything on his own. Moreover, two powerful "tools" have been added to the machine, providing flexibility, differentiation and versatility to the final outcome. It is obvious that it’d more of a team effort now, while every member has his moment to shine. Also, the fact that Eric Gillette takes over so many vocals - even stealing Neal’s thunder with his performance in some of the songs - is proving that there are no egos in this camp. Music comes first.
There are 23 songs on the album, with normal (or even short for Neal’s standards) lengths, summed in approximately 110 minutes of music and the concept is loosely based on John Bunyan’s book, "A Pilgrim’s Progress". Most importantly in my opinion, the concept and the lyrics are presented not in a religious, but in a more spiritual way. The way the story and the characters unfold doesn’t seem preach-like, but more like a spiritual pursuit. And if there are some answers given here, anyone is free to take whatever they want from them.
Even though not paying close attention to the lyrics takes away from some of this album’s magic the music alone will amaze you. Tons of ideas and melodies flow through the album, with some basic themes reappearing here and there, transformed in order to serve the story that’s been told. And even though the inspired instrumental parts and the odd time signatures are always there, the music and the melodies remain accessible for anyone. There’s just so much talent here and of course the fact that Neal shares vocals with Eric, Bill (and even Mike in a few cases) keeps the listener’s interest engaged from start to finish.
It’s clearly a "larger than the sum of its parts" album, but still one can find plenty of highlights in it. Like "City Of Destruction" for example, the first video of the album or the Beatle-ish vocal at the second half of "Draw The Line".
Also, "The Ways Of A Fool" is Bill Hubauer’s moment to shine, being a really different tune than someone would expect and "So Far Gone" is one of Eric Gillette’s thriving moments with its melodies sticking in your head from the first listen. Then, "Breath Of Angels" is clearly a Neal Morse moment on the album. With the help of a gospel choir Neal builds a climax at the end of the first disc, in his own unique way.
Moving on, "Slave To Your Mind" comes with these incredible odd signatures and some jazzy parts, while "Shortcut To Heaven" with its piano and its great chorus really stands out, before "The Man In The Iron Mask" comes in with a Deep Purple riff and yet another amazing chorus, sung by Eric.
"Freedom Song" and "I’m Running" are two really special songs, with the former being the Crosby, Stills & Nash song of the album, made for great sing-a-longs and the latter is a straight forward, hard rocking tune with a really cool bass solo by Randy George. But, then it’s time to move to the grand finale...
...Which starts with the haunting piano melody of the stunning "The Mask", on to the furious "Confrontation" and then to the instrumental orgy of "The Battle", before the nearly 10 minute long "Broken Sky/Long Road (Reprise)" finishes the album in a perfect way. The ending of this album is exactly as it should be, full of emotion and divine melodies.
I assume that most people wait to see if Mike Portnoy was right. Well, even though I think it can’t be really compared to "Scenes From A Memory" as it is a different animal and "The Whirlwind" is a prog classic from another planet, I can see that Mike has a point. "The Similitude Of A Dream" is an album of the same quality as the aforementioned albums and that should be telling something about how good it is.
As for the comparisons with some classic artists and albums, I think they can easily be misunderstood. In my books, Neal Morse already belongs among the "classics" in rock music and I think that this album will make more people agree with me. It’s not just the progressive rock album of the year. It’s much more than that.
Make sure you take this journey, cause in the end there’s salvation that no shortcut can offer.
Release date: 11/11/2016
Pre-order the album here.
THE NEAL MORSE BAND - 2017 TOUR DATES
North American Dates
Jan 15 Nashville, TN - Venue TBA
Jan 17 Seattle, WA - Triple Door
Jan 18 San Francisco, CA - Regency Ballroom
Jan 21 Whittier, CA - Center Theater
Jan 22 Phoenix, AZ - Nesbitt-Elliott Playhouse Theater
Jan 24 Denver, CO - Oriental Theater
Jan 25 Dallas, TX - Curtain Club
Jan 27 St Charles, IL - Arcada Theater
Jan 28 Cleveland, OH - Beachland Ballroom
Jan 29 Toronto, ONT - Mod Room
Jan 31 Montreal, QUE - Club Soda
Feb 01 Quebec City, QUE - Salle Jean Paul Tardif
Feb 02 New York, NY - Highline Ballroom
Feb 03 Washington DC - State Theater
Feb 07 - 11 Cruise To the Edge
March 22 Barcelona, Spain - Apolo
March 23 Milan, Italy - Venue TBA
March 24 Pratteln, Switzerland - Z7
March 25 Aschaffenburg, Germany - Colo-Saal
March 26 Berlin, Germany - Lido
March 28 Warsaw, Poland - Progresja Music Zone
March 29 Hamburg, Germany - Markthalle
March 30 Verviers, Belgium - Spirit of 66
March 31 Cologne, Germany - Stollwerck
April 01 Malmo, Sweden - KB
April 02 Tilburg, Holland - O13
April 04 Luxembourg - Rockhal
April 05 Paris, France - Divan Du Monde
April 06 Birmingham, England - O2 Academy 2
April 07 Glasgow, Scotland - O2 ABC
April 08 Manchester, England - O2 Ritz
April 09 London, England - O2 Islington Academy
April 12 Tel Aviv, Israel - Havana Club
May 6th Gettysburg PA - RosFest