Lightning Strikes Twice With the Neal Morse Band’s The Great Adventure.
What group in its right mind releases a double concept album based on a seventeenth century novel, and then follows that up with another double concept album based on the same novel??? The Neal Morse Band, that’s who. When the news broke that The Great Adventure was to be a double album and sequel to 2016’s The Similitude of a Dream, I am sure I was not alone in feeling a great sense of trepidation. But once I heard the album, any misgivings I had were instantly dispelled. The Great Adventure is not only a worthy successor to Similitude—it is one of the finest musical works Neal Morse has ever been invloved with.
The Neal Morse Band (Neal Morse, Randy George, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer, and Mike Portnoy) released what many consider a masterpiece in Similitude, which was highly praised by both fans and critics for its musical complexity and storytelling. The Great Adventure successfully takes the band’s stellar composition, performance, and storytelling to a new level with the active participation of Gillette and Hubauer. The story is moving and easy to relate to. And the songs are just a blast to listen to.
Whereas Similitude followed the journey of faith by a man identified by name as “Christian,” The Great Adventure shifts protagonists and follows a similar struggle and journey of Christian’s son, Joseph. Christian felt compelled to leave the “City of Destruction”—a cold and wicked place—and embark on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual fulfillment. Although he pleaded with his wife to take their children and accompany him, she could not bring herself to leave the City behind, and chose to stay. Years later, Joseph has endured life in the City without his father, and is bitter. The lyrics say it best and set the stage for Joseph’s journey: “But the young man hates his father. HE LEFT. And that’s the bottom line. That’s the bottom line.”
Neal’s cold, spoken-word delivery of “That’s the bottom line” perfectly captures the emotion of the moment. And it reminds me that a recurring lyrical theme in Neal Morse’s writing is dealing with father/son issues, whether dealing with physical fathers and sons, God the father with his children, or God and Jesus.
As is typical of Neal’s writing, this album deals with all three of those relationships, often exploring more than one simultaneously, and often using one as an allegory for the other. There is a real warmth and genuineness in the way Neal handles these themes, and combined with the universality of father/son relationship issues in general, helps make Neal’s writing and storytelling accessible and relatable, whether one believes in God or not.
Interestingly, on Joseph’s journey, he finds himself in many of the same places as his father. And, yet, the nature of his struggles at each location is somewhat different than those encountered by Christian. This helps the narrative of The Great Adventure stand on its own and not be repetitive of Similitude. It also highlights what I believe to be a sub-theme of the album: that although we all must walk our own paths in life of self-discovery and/or spiritual exploration, and we may encounter many similar things, people, and places, the specific struggles and their impact on each of us can be quite unique in shaping our own identities.
It should come as no surprise that the album concludes with Joseph coming to terms with things and essentially finding what he has been looking for. It is not the “end” of his journey so much as the beginning of the next one. Musically, the end of the album is not hugely bombastic or “epic” in the way that many prog concept albums typically conclude. But the band gives the album the conclusion it needs. Sometimes, a great adventure, with its wearisome journey and intense struggles, ends with huge pomp and bombast. Other times, it ends with a sigh of contentment. The ending to The Great Adventure lies somewhere in between and is exactly what is called for by the story.
Musically, The Great Adventure feels like it is often darker and more intense than Similitude. It also seems to have more guitar-driven moments than prior Neal Morse albums. As one might expect, the musicianship is always top-notch. But so is the actual composition of the songs. I do not recall where I first read it years ago—but I remember reading that when Mike Portnoy first approached Neal Morse about collaborating on the project that would come to be Transatlantic, Portnoy made a comment along the lines of, “I really like the way you write music.” Yes, Neal Morse can write. Man, oh man—can he write! Indeed, the album is so strong and vibrant because of the exquisite songwriting and the variety of emotion invoked by the music and lyrics. There are times when the music is lighthearted and fun (“Hey Ho Let’s Go,” “Vanity Fair”). At other times, it is moving and emotional (“A Momentary Change,” “A Love That Never Dies”). At still others, it is dark and even heavy (“Venture In Black,” “The Great Despair”).
Each of the musicians is given plenty of opportunities to shine on this album. I could go into detail, but there are far too many standout moments to mention. And the mix is clear and allows each of the instruments its own space.
As with any Neal Morse album, lyrical and musical themes recur, taking different forms and evoking different emotions. This device is used to great effect. And it does not hurt that the major themes—such as the Welcome to the World, Dark Melody, and Love That Never Dies themes—are so good!
In addition, there appear to be a few lyrical and musical themes from other albums hinted at on The Great Adventure. For example, there is a note progression that shows up here and on Similitude that is very reminiscent of a theme from Testimony. Neal also revisits the lyric “revolution in the air,” which is a theme of part of Neal’s own spiritual journey from Testimony. Is Neal dropping breadcrumbs for the astute listener to make the connection to Testimony and hinting that the spiritual struggle portrayed on The Great Adventure may be somewhat autobiographical, or at least similar to some of Neal’s own struggles? Only he (and perhaps his band) knows for sure. But there is a lot on this album that feels very personal and intimate in a way that I have not heard from Neal’s more recent output.
Despite the comparisons to Similitude, it should be noted that The Great Adventure is not that record’s “little brother.” It firmly stands on its own as a fantastic musical ride, and fans of Neal Morse are in for another exciting and grandiose journey from one of prog rock’s top artists.
Author: Jerry Deschler
Editor’s Note: This review has been updated from its original version.
The Great Adventure will be released on January 25th, 2019 via Radiant Records / Metal Blade Records
Neal Morse – vocals, keyboards, and guitars
Bill Hubauer – organ, piano, synthesizers, vocals
Eric Gillette – lead and rhythm electric guitar, vocals
Randy George – bass, bass pedals and vocals
Mike Portnoy – drums and vocals
Chris Carmichael – strings
Amy Pippin, Debbie Bresee, April Zachary and Julie Harrison – background vocals on “A Love that Never Dies”
“The Great Adventure” track-list:
Chapter 1 (12:50)
The Dream Isn’t Over
Chapter 2 (23:48)
Welcome To The World
A Momentary Change
I Got To Run
To The River
Chapter 3 (17:59)
The Great Adventure
Venture In Black
Hey Ho Let’s Go
Beyond The Borders
Chapter 4 (18:13)
The Dream Continues
Fighting With Destiny
Chapter 5 (30:57)
Welcome To The World 2
The Element Of Fear
Child Of Wonder
The Great Despair
A Love That Never Dies
So Far the band has released 2 videos – Welcome to the World and The Great Adventure – and you can watch them here:
The Great Adventure
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