Neal Morse – Sola Scriptura 

By Balaji Srinivasan

Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Maybe Jesus asked Neal Morse to stop making music for nuns in skirts and start kicking all sorts of ass because that’s what this album does.Spocks Beard achieved considerable popularity among fans of progressive rock despite having a much despised pop oriented “happy” approach to their epic length songs. Much of their distinct sound was all credit to Neal Morse, singer-songwriter-keyboard player-guitarist-and-what-not who had the knack of keeping 20+ minute songs tight and engaging with dynamic arrangements and catchy melodies and some sonic experimentation to boot. The band was also different from others of its kin in that it had very few reference points to 70s prog or the prog metal of Dream Theater or Rush and hence had a very distinctive sound of its own. The quality of the albums was mostly consistent till… Neal Morse decided to hang his boots to move on to better things in life … like Jesus.

Spocks Beard crashed after his departure putting out albums of incredible mediocrity. Neal Morse started a solo career mostly singing songs about god and how wonderful a feeling it is to love him and how fortunate he is to be a messenger giving this news to the people. A lot of the music he put out was predictably lame and self indulgent and balless. That was till Sola Scriptura happened.

Sola Scriptura is a non stop no bollocks ferocious kickassery of a kind that rocks all the way to hell. Mind you, the songs are still insanely self indulgent, over 20 minutes long (four songs on this album clock over 75 mins) and Morse is still Jesus’ official messenger of love but for all that, the album is intensely tight featuring some balls out playing from both Paul Gilbert and Mike Portnoy. The sound of the album is pretty much like that of the early Spocks Beard albums albeit heavier accompanied by symphonic arrangements, some flamenco guitar, complex time signatures and truly virtuoso drum work. There’s a 5 minute ballad which would have been cringe inducing on its own but it works rather well here as a bridge between two long compositions.

I don’t really mind the fact that he is not traversing any new territory here, only rehashing the vintage sound with a lot more juice. It makes for a great album that hopefully is a sign for things to come.