mighty music

The Neal Morse Band – ‘Innocence & Danger’

Publisher
Sony/InsideOut
FFO
Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Porcupine Tree
Release Date
August 28, 2021
Publisher
Sony/InsideOut
Genre
Progressive Rock

If this was the last classic Prog album ever made, nobody would be able to say the genre faded away without a final flourish. A love letter to the greats; Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, even Marillion. This is the fourth release under the name Neal Morse Band, and is undoubtably their defining moment.

Neal’s career is longer than your “to do” list, and spans multiple strands from Christian Praise songs to hard-edged Technical Prog, and annoyingly he tends to hit the bullseye pretty much every time. I’ll give you an example; “Your Place in the Sun” blends elements of The Beatles, 10CC, and The Steve Miller Band as easily as Gordon Ramsay mixes herbs for a steak rub.

“The Way it Had to Be” (effectively the title track) oozes “Dark Side” keyboard and bass symbiosis, and has guitar tone to make the angels weep. It will be heard in many, many hi-fi stores for years to come when valve-heads demo equipment as the space around the instruments is palpable; you can almost hear what colour shirt Eric Gillette wears while he plays the solo. And that is arguably the most remarkable aspect (I’ll get onto the sheer musicianship later) for an album allegedly recorded in one week. The quality of the recording, mixing, and production is quite literally at benchmark level, raising the bar ever higher. The vocal harmonies on “Not Afraid part 1” are CSN good; Simon and Garfunkle good; but delivered in a distinctly “Starship Trooper”/”Yours is no Disgrace” vibe. Talking of Simon and Garfunkle the album has a single cover version, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. A song which shouldn’t be touched? With more than a smattering of Yes’s rhythmic playfulness and stylism (Yes covered “America” if you didn’t know) it should be the weak point of the piece, but somehow just isn’t. It has a shredded solo from for a start, and Zepplin-y chops before a full orchestral ending (recorded in one week? Most bands couldn’t do this one cover version in a month!).

If there is a weak moment it starts disc two, “Not Afraid past 2” is simply too long for the content displayed. It’s not in any way a bad song, but compared to Frost*’s epic “Milliontown” or “Gates of Delirium” by Yes for example is does feel laboured. It’s not going to make disc 2 gather dust in your collection though, album closer (and similarly epically proportioned) “Beyond the Years” is a modern Prog masterpiece. Musicianship dripping out of every beat, Mike Portnoy has probably never been better than here, and there’s a whole lot to be said for the extraordinary work by bassist Randy George, it’s Chris Squire/Geddy Lee level good. From me that’s one hell of a compliment. Keys and vocalist Bill Hubauer brings all of his inner Tony Banks to the fore with some exquisite references to “Firth of Forth” and “Cinema Show”.

So, will this Prog-Rock double album convert fans of Messhuggah? Not a chance. It’s Prog Rock through and through, not a glimpse of Prog Metal to be seen. If you already like music like this you’ll be won over in one listen; if you’re not it will just be two hours of that Prog-wankery you already don’t like.

Astounding musicianship, if you like this sort of stuff
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