NMB - Innocence & Danger: "Delivers big themes..."

Quantity and quality from Neal Morse’s merry band of proggers.

(Image: © InsideOut Music)

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Four albums in, and The Neal Morse Band have become NMB, although the group still consists of Morse himself, plus drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Randy George and keyboard player Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette. In contrast to previous concept albums, this third consecutive double album studio release contains a series of standalone tracks with no immediately obvious narrative or thematic connecting thread. The band stretch out a bit and lyrically, while distinctly spiritual themes crop up, there is little explicitly religious content sometimes prevalent in Morse’s wider output.

Opener Do It All Again makes a powerful symphonic prog statement, with a hint of The Police sliding in when it’s least expected, which features lead vocals shared between Morse, Hubauer and Gillette including a strident repeated chorus that’s hard not to join in with on repeated listens. The combined drum and keyboard intro to Bird On A Wire maintains the intensity level with its frenetic pace and some fantastic riffing with 80s keyboard sounds.

More obvious departures crop up in Your Place In The Sun, which suggests both Steely Dan and Supertramp as influences, as well as The Way It Had To Be, whose spacious sonic landscape of sweeping synths and atmospheric guitar morph into something akin to Dark Side…-era Floyd. Meanwhile Another Story To Tell features verses with staccato keyboard and guitar riffs that have more in common with the likes of Toto than Transatlantic and also boasts some lovely multipart vocal sections. Closing the first disc is an eight-minute, thoroughly progtastic cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water that takes the song to a couple of unexpected places, making a far bigger statement than Simon & Garfunkel might ever have envisaged. Disc two is taken up by just two epic tracks, Not Afraid, Pt. 2 and Beyond The Years, an almost 30-minute multipart journey that features a terrific drum and bass solo section, which then builds into a suitably majestic, chest-beating ending.

Morse is one of the most recognisable and prolific forces in modern prog, and Innocence & Danger adds to his enviable high quality catalogue, but it would be wrong to ignore the contributions of his bandmates here. There are some twists and turns that move beyond the expected Morse formulae and, while Innocence & Danger isn’t Spock Beard’s V or Bridge Across Forever by Transatlantic, it certainly delivers those big themes, mellifluous vocal lines, instrumental gorgeousness and more one has come to expect from this accomplished band.

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Gary Mackenzie

Gary has contributed reviews and news features for Prog Magazine for over a decade now. A fan of prog and heavy rock since childhood, his main areas of interest are classic and symphonic prog, prog-metal and modern acts bringing in fresh influences to the genre. He has a professional background in youth and community work, he teaches drum kit in schools and is a working musician. Gary was the drummer in semi-legendary NWOBHM band Praying Mantis for a couple of years and has been a member of indie-prog-pop-art-rock combo The Mighty Handful for more than twenty years. He loves cats and skiing, and has a Blue Peter badge.