Neal Morse’s work rate is a miracle in itself. Last year, fresh from his fruitful stint with supergroup Transatlantic, he produced his biographical album sequel Testimony II and supported it with a tour of the US, Mexico and Europe. Then he joined Flying Colors, he’s currently on the road with them and he also found time to produce another solo album. Its title speaks volumes.
Momentum is the sound of the artist in full flight, still brimming with musical ideas, and still fervently in the thrall of his Christian faith. As we’ve come to expect, it’s a sustained, grandiose work of sophisticated symphonic prog adorned by dazzling displays of musicianship, and all with a spiritual theme. It’s a niche all his own really, and while the religious zeal may be too on-the-nose at times for non-believers, the power of Morse’s vision is undeniable.
He, Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy George form the nucleus for the pared-down band here. Urgent, upbeat and accessible, that title track sets the tone. Synth arpeggios give way to a catchy chorus about keeping on keeping on (‘Tomorrow will soon be your yesterday’), punctuated by a relatively restrained solo from monster guitarist Paul Gilbert. The contrapuntal, Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies of Thoughts Part 5 interpolate clips from Spock’s Beard’s own Thoughts. Portnoy has fun as the song switches rhythms, dips into a golden-era prog breakdown (George’s bass set to wah) and rises back up on a swell of retro keys.
This is one hook-laden album. Hung on a muscular, bluesy riff, Weathering Sky offers another singalong chorus and vocal harmonies to bask in. Chris Carmichael’s brisk violins power Freak, a sunny, slyly compassionate tale of life’s outsiders complete with a Eurovision key change on the outro. There’s a downshift into the ruminative Smoke and Mirrors (if the Good News is shoehorned in anywhere, it’s here), and over half the album is occupied by a glorious, 34-minute hexalogy.
World Without End is just monolithic: musical themes drift in an out, splashes of folk colour the work, virtuoso interplay abounds, and newbie guitarist Adson Sodré matches his intimidating co-players well. From the strident, low-register strings of Never Pass Away, the sinister swing of Losing Your Soul to The Epic Ballad Some Kind Of Yesterday, all prog boxes are artfully, wholeheartedly ticked.
This is a pleasure to lose yourself in, packed with musical intelligence, and further testimony to its maker’s consummate talent. Christianity’s eternal promise of salvation permeates it all; anything else would be disingenuous at this stage. You may buy into it, you may not. Momentum sweeps you along regardless.