THE NEAL MORSE BAND - The Great Adventure


The Dream Continues...

This wasn’t supposed to happen. A sequel to 2016’s Similitude Of A Dream? But I knew there was always a strong possibility that this would happen. 22 songs, 5 chapters, 2 CDs later and here it is – the sequel (in essence). But what could possibly surpass what these guys accomplished with one of the greatest opus’s of contemporary progressive rock? The Great Adventure does expand upon and continue the saga, but has this been executed as brilliantly as what has come before? Musically, do Neal Morse and friends step outside the confines of what they’ve already delivered? Do they have more to say lyrically? These are worthy questions for sure, but I dare put forth that they are largely questions that probably won’t matter much in the scheme of eternity. If you are a fan of Neal Morse prog rock, there isn’t much you won’t enjoy about The Great Adventure. The good news – these songs are more of the same. The bad news – these songs are more of the same. Take it or leave it – these gifted musicians continue to light the way, but at the same time, there isn’t a single song – if you are a fan of the genre – which you haven’t heard before. I don’t mean this to be negative, it is merely an expression of the reality of what my ears perceive. Yes, the musicianship is fantastic and yes, the melodies are beautiful. And that is all good.

I confess that I’ve never understood what Neal was doing with the story. I do think that Similitude had a very purposeful storyline – it was easy to relate to all of the characters and principles from Pilgrim’s Progress. But The Great Adventure doesn’t exactly follow that formula and seems to be more “inspired” by the great novel and less of an adaptation of the second phase of the original saga. The question of “is this a sequel or not” seems a fair question. With the DVD documentary it becomes apparent that the other band members seem a bit unsure as well. And then Neal even admits in the documentary that this was a difficult album for him.

Lyrically, this is really an amalgamation of the story of “the prodigal son” and the second part of Pilgrims’s Progress, rather than a direct musical interpretation “Part II” of Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s confusing for sure, because Joseph (the main character here) was actually Christian’s 3rd son (not his eldest), and in the original novel the journey (or “great adventure”) was the entire family and not just one of the sons. If that’s not confusing enough, the character Faithful who appears here as Joseph’s companion was actually Christian’s companion in Part I of the novel, and he was killed in Vanity Fair during Christian’s journey. All that aside, there are, without a doubt, some beautiful lyrics on The Great Adventure, and if the listener has no reference point (i.e. never read Pilgrim’s Progress), then none of what I’ve observed here would have any negative impact on the listening experience.

Where Similitude was very focused on bringing out the essence of the literary saga, I think The Great Adventure seems to focus more on the music side of things. Of course, if you have been following Morse/Portnoy through their various incarnations (Transatlantic, Flying Colors, etc.) then you will be familiar with the “overtures” at the beginning of each disc. Nor will be surprising the excellent variety each band member brings to the mix with not only their instruments, but also with their vocal talents. “Welcome To The World” would have to be a highlight from the first disc – a great musical theme matched with incredibly relevant and cutting words.

Where the first 11 songs seem almost “ordinary/routine” (if that is possible for a band of this caliber), the second disc of songs is much better because there is this “untethered” vibe that permeates the songs, putting that “pizzazz back in the pantacle pantry.” (“Vanity Fair”) I mean the riffs in “Welcome To The World 2” are wonderful, with Portnoy contributing vocally. And the “Element of Fear” similarly brings a bit of the passionate aggression missing from the first part of the album. George’s bass “buzzing” guitar sound works really well. I just love the flow of tracks – the transition between “Element of Fear” and “Child Of Wonder” particularly elegant. The last 3 tracks may well be my favorite songs on this entire work. “The Great Despair” sets the final run with the sober, yet beautifully melodic realization, “How can you speak of deliverance/When we are trapped in Hell without a key?” There is some incredible guitar solo work going here that bleeds with passion and rides out to the transition to “Freedom Calling.” Here we are treated to Portnoy’s toms (finally!), a bit of complex progressive aggression/urgency and a call to persevere, to “seek a love that never dies.” This is the perfect build-up to the wonderful finale – “A Love That Never Dies” – which is, rightly so, the most inspirational song on the entire set.

DVD

This time around the documentation and discussion is somewhat limited. The first section features the early recording sessions from January 2018, the discussions at that time about the direction and nature of the album – most of the video extended music clips of the in-studio performances. The second half features a bit more interactive and fun discussion between band members as they get together in August 2018 to reshape and record the 2nd incarnation of the album. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much insight into Neal’s inspiration behind the lyrical direction this time other than to say that the themes are directly related to Similitude. One of the highlights of the DVD would have to be when Portnoy challenges Morse to name the 19 albums they have collaborated on over the past decade or so. Don’t expect the kind of detail, though, in this documentary that was provided on the Similitude DVD.

In conclusion, The Great Adventure is really very good, but it doesn’t surpass in any way Similitude. That album was absolutely fantastic. It may have been a bit too ambitious to try for a second double CD release drawing from the same lyrical source. It’s best to think of this collection of songs as a very good companion to Similitude – less lyrically dense and a bit more focused on emotional and musical expressions. There is no doubt this is the most talented Neal Morse line-up, and maybe future releases will continue to explore these attributes but maybe in a more song-oriented arena.

Release Date: 1/25/2019

Radiant Records

Disc 1/Act I (54)

1. Overture (10:06)

2. The Dream Isn’t Over (2:40)

3. Welcome To The World (5:25)

4. A Momentary Change (3:42)

5. Dark Melody (3:29)

6. I Got To Run (6:05)

7. To The River (5:02)

8. The Great Adventure (6:17)

9. Venture In Black (5:16)

10. Hey Ho Let’s Go (3:22)

11. Beyond The Borders (3:07)

Disc 2/Act II (49)

1. Overture 2 (3:46)

2. Long Ago (3:45)

3. The Dream Continues (1:20)

4. Fighting With Destiny (5:23)

5. Vanity Fair (4:00)

6. Welcome To The World 2 (4:01)

7. The Element of Fear (2:34)

8. Child Of Wonder (2:28)

9. The Great Despair (6:18)

10. Freedom Calling (7:31)

11. A Love That Never Dies (8:38)

#Christianrock #NealMorseBand #MikePortnoy

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