Driven forward by Neal Morse, Spock’s Beard became one of the most popular progressive rock bands of the last ten years. But after the man known for his Hawaiian shirts “found” God, it looked as though he was going to put his writing pen into a drawer never to be opened again.
Thankfully messages from above beckoned him to carry on and a year after his Testimony album, Morse has released One. Again, he doesn’t shirk the difficult subject areas, but where Testimony saw him tell his life story, One is a concept album telling the story of the Bible.
Don’t let the religious angle put you off though, because the music is so good that you can just ignore the lyrics if you feel that way inclined. Morse has called upon the help of Dream Theater‘s Mike Portnoy on drums, bassist Randy George and guitarist Phil Keaggy, and the results are spectacular.
The album gets off to a typical prog start with keyboard wizardry, mesmerising drumming and blistering guitar solos – and that’s just the opening three minutes. Going through different phases in a similar vein to many Spock’s Beard songs, and including a quieter piano ballad section, The Creation then returns full circle to finish with the same grand ending that started the epic 18 minute opener.
To serve as a reminder of Morse’s versatile writing ability, The Man’s Gone is a beautiful acoustic ballad. Ending with the sound of birds tweeting, it comes as the calm before the storm as third song Author Of Confusion blasts out of the speakers like an atomic bomb.
Heavy guitars and spellbinding drumming showcase Portnoys skills in what is essentially a jam session. As things quieten down, some a capella vocals – a trick Morse used with Spock’s Beard to great effect – are thrown into the mix before the main vocal section of the song. The pace is picked up however with a hectic ending which causes the song to literally explode.
There are nods towards many great prog bands on this record and The Separated Man is very reminiscent of Kansas in parts, with the use of fiddles in the long instrumental passages. This is another 18-minute, four-part opus featuring more of the great harmonies and melodic qualities that Morse is so good at writing.
Keaggy shares lead vocal with Morse on Cradle To The Grave, the slowest song on the album but full of emotion, as is the heartfelt piano ballad Father Of Forgiveness. In between the two comes Help Me/The Spirit And The Flesh, another 10 minute-plus epic, which will leave prog fans salivating at its grandeur and John Peel turning in his grave.
Last track, Reunion, concludes the “story” which sees Morse actually playing the role of God himself. A storming finale, it really sounds like Morse is singing the song with a smile on his face, as he cries, “I love it!” and affords himself an audible laugh during one of the instrumental sections.
In addition to the 80 minute album, there is also a special edition featuring a bonus CD with three songs which Morse couldn’t squeeze onto the album. And, as an added bonus, he tackles four covers, including U2‘s Where The Streets Have No Name. Wonder what Bono makes of that?
This is an album that will leave prog rock fans crying hallelujah and those who despise the genre reaching for a hammer to smash the CD to smithereens. But the same could be said of the entire progressive rock genre. Like Marmite, you either love it or hate it.