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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Neal Morse

Neal Morse

Review by Steve Alspach

On "Day for Night," Spock's Beard songwriter, frontman, and head whisker Neal Morse said that he wanted to put emphasis on the songs rather than the long suites so prevalent on their first few albums. On his first solo album he continues this trend, and the result is a collection of songs that are quite wide in their range of moods. This is a welcome respite from today's "12-of-the-same-song" CDs that are being released.

Nick D'Virgilio plays drums and percussion on most of the songs. Neal plays all guitars, basses, and keyboards.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Living Out Loud
A four-chord Hornsby-like progression opens the song, a mid-tempo number that tells the listener that it's OK to live life to the fullest - living out loud, as it were. Morse plays everything on this song, including drums.
Lost Cause
A bouncy guitar intro leads to a rather stately riff. The upbeat tempo of the song is in playful contrast to the lyrical lament of being a lost cause. The track never takes itself seriously, and works quite well as a result.
Landslide
This number is acoustic through the verses, but Morse adds a Mellotron in the choruses to good effect. Its sparseness avoids overwhelming the song and dragging it into being saccharine-laden. A Tony Banksian break gives this song a latter-day Genesis feel. The lyrics are heartfelt and in all, this is a powerful, yet beautiful song.
That Which Doesn't Kill Me
A straight-ahead guitar rocker this one applies Nietsche's tenet to a broken relationship. Morse throws the listener a curve towards the end by changing one word in the title line, "…makes you stronger…". This twist leaves the listener thinking. This "good riddance" number is a solid song that could easily find a home on many radio stations.
Everything is Wrong
In this composition Morse smartly pares back the arrangement to piano, bass, and drums. The song has a slight jazzy feel, but is anchored by a riff that reflects the wistful feeling of the piece.
Nowhere Fast
Like "Lost Cause," this is a song with an up-tempo feel, a catchy melody, and some punch in the chorus. The similarities don't end there, as it also includes lyrics that catch the listener by surprise. In this case the words deal with unrequited love but in such a humorous way that the arrangement works. If nothing else, Morse can laugh at himself. This is another radio-friendly song that, by lyrics alone, should catch the ear of many listeners.
Emma
An acoustic guitar is paired with a string quartet in this "Bridge to Terabithia"-like tale of childhood friendship and loss. The string arrangement enhances the intimacy of the song.
A Whole 'Nother Trip
A Whole 'Nother Trip consists of the last four songs on the album. The songs lyrically seem to reflect a sense of alienation among their protagonists (whether it's a troubled young genius or a man who is not recognized for his worth), and, like the medley on "Day for Night", musical themes keep occurring throughout to give a sense of coherence.
A Bomb That Won't Explode
This sounds the most like something you would hear on a Spock's Beard album. The longest cut at just over nine minutes, this piece gets the full Morse treatment. The track opens with an intro that introduces a few themes from other songs in the suite, then the song itself which features keyboard and electric guitar solos. This one includes an interesting folk-type acoustic bridge that leads into "Mr. Upside Down".
Mr. Upside Down
This is the "cranker" on the album (as in, crank it up!) This power chord-laden song is given an off-kilter feel by its electronic squawks and Pink Floydian vocal interjections. The piece ends by going back to a riff that opened "Bomb."
The Man Who Would Be King
Ricky Martin, call your agent, you've got competition! This Latin-flavored song works so well that it seems much shorter than its 4:20 length. The rhythm and percussion give this number lots of energy. The lyrics deal with a man who has everything except a chance to prove himself. An excellent acoustic guitar solo is featured as well.
It's Alright
An ELO-type bridge gives way to this final cut on the album. The composition is a slow, dreamy piece with Beatlesesque harmonies that tells us that it's alright to be wherever or whoever we are. A countermelody picks up halfway through and gently carries the song to its end. The effect of this ending is as if Morse is tucking us into bed for the night with a kiss on the forehead.
 
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