Neal Morse - One - 2004
“Testimony” was a long, abundant (123 minutes!) album. “One” is also long, but stops just before the 80-minute mark. I mention this as one of the attributes that make Neal Morse’s new album a much better one than the last. The 2003 double release failed on its vagueness, as already happened with Spock’s Beard “Snow” (2002); both feature undoubtedly excellent moments, but both keep repeating ideas and themes until exhaust them, losing the listener’s attention.
In the vinyl age, “One” would have been a double record, but one that never bores, and keeps the “concept” (even if this is a quite beaten pretext) interesting throughout the listening. It’s true that, musically speaking, it contributes few new ideas to the “prog-preacher”’s repertoire, but that’s something that has been happening since circa “Day For Night” (1999). The secret lies in how you use song structures and themes; so, if “Testimony” followed the Spock’s Beard path, “One” approaches Transatlantic (Mike Portnoy composed some music here, so…), building around long epics (between 9 and 18 minutes) separated by shorter pieces fitted in the standard song format.
“The Creation” (18.22), divided in four sections, opens the CD introducing the leitmotif that will feature on the entire album. There’s a solemn overture, and then follows 100% Neal Morse music, with all of its tics and commonplaces, but performed with much more passion and power than on “Testimony”. The fact is that, in spite of a certain “déja vù” feeling, this is an impeccable epic and has no dull moments.
The first interlude is “The Man’s Gone” (2.50), a brief and beautiful acoustic song which appears later on the album. Then comes “Author Of Confusion” (9.30), a masterpiece if it wasn’t a compendium of “Neal Morse & Spock’s Beard Style-book”, Gentle Giant vocal harmonies included. Anyway, there’s really strong sections, the heaviest Neal’s ever recorded, which approach the album to Dream Theater’s dominions.
The other highlight of the album is “The Separated Man” (17.58) and, if not being the most accomplished song on the CD, it’s the most interesting, as it goes away from the typical “prog-rock-epic” structure (which is used on “The Creation”) and toys with some interesting concepts, giving priority to mood to the detriment of accumulation. So, sections as “I Am The Man” or “The Man’s Gone” reprise take their time to build a crescendo which leads to a strong climax, magnified with the use of the string section. The coda is “Cradle To The Grave” (4.55), a really sickeningly sweet ballad; Neal sings with Phil Keaggy the weakest song on the album, and surely one which slows down the listening.
The last third of the album starts with “Help Me / The Spirit And The Flesh” (11.13) and, as its title suggests, consists of the union of two different pieces, the first being a dynamic piece driven by the piano, the second a darker one. Both are very good compositions, but their union is somewhat forced. “Father Of Forgiveness” (5.46) is the last ballad and, even if it’s a bit repetitive, avoids the saccharine of “Cradle To The Grave”. To close, “Reunion” (9.11), which starts with the merry and wind-driven “No Separation” section; then follows “Grand Finale”, which surprisingly is not the end of the CD. The end comes with “Make Us One”, a typically emotional and pompous epilogue in the vein of Transatlantic and The Flower Kings.
Neal Morse tells us the story of Mankind and its relation with God in a very good album that, in spite of its lack of originality, features its author’s best music in years. Also welcome are the less religious lyrics, which were annoying in some passages on “Testimony”, and now move towards a symbolism which is much more bearable for those who, like me, don’t visit the church very often.