I have to give Glass Onyon a huge amount of credit for re-introducing me back to Neal Morse’s music thanks to the 2-CD/DVD set Alive Again which showed his band at the time promoting The Grand Experiment recorded two years ago in the Netherlands. Again, while I’m not a gigantic fan of Spock’s Beard and his solo work, it’s opening my eyes a bit more of where he’s coming from. I went ahead and bought the band's follow-up released last year on the Radiant/Metal Blade label entitled, The Similitude of a Dream.
It’s an ambitious concept album based on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. And it’s the story of a protagonist named Christian, who leaves the city of destruction by leaving his wife and children behind whilst travelling through the Celestial City as his soul can be saved by the company of god and to live for eternity of the heavenly host. It’s a religious spiritual journey, but the music and lyrics work very well.
The group who worked on The Grand Experiment are back which includes Keyboardist Bill Hubauer, Guitarist Eric Gillette, Drummer Mike Portnoy, and Bassist Randy George. I can tell by listening to the entire story, which is a big and ambitious concept, Morse is all revved up and ready to go for the listener to embark on the adventure of spirituality to find on being alive and never giving up your journey.
Mike parallels the Similitude album between Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s rock opera Tommy. For me, which I might a little bit agree with Portnoy’s idea, it’s more than those two classics. I can hear bits of the stories between Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and tiny bits and pieces of The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow thrown in there.
It begins with a sincere string section as Neal’s passionate vocals being the story as we are imaging of seeing Christian knowing it’s time to go and live forever as it kicks in with the Overture. It is symphonic prog-metal with out of this work time signatures between the synths/organ and Eric’s powering leads and riffs on his guitar. Then, we get into the heavy stomps and rhythms between Portnoy and George of escaping the City of Destruction.
It gives Christian fleeing from his home along with his wife and children to save himself by having Pliable to tag along with him for a brief while. With We Have Got to Go starts off with an acoustic introduction and then Neal gives Hubauer a chance to bring the keyboards delving into the works of the PG-era of Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound while Portnoy sings as Obstinate on Draw the Line.
He’s letting Christian know that he has lost his mind and his journey in Obstinate’s mind is mumbo-jumbo nonsense as Pliable abandons Christian as the music is confrontational and intense between those two characters and Christian has made his mind up to continue on his journey. The Ways of a Fool has this late ‘60s/early ‘70s style of the Progressive Pop scene with it’s Jeff Lynne-sque lyrics as it pays nod between the styles of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper and ELO’s Out of the Blue-era.
With The Man in the Iron Cage, the vocals have this sound of Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott as guitars and organ goes into a riff mode a-la MKII of Deep Purple and the reprise of the music from the City of Destruction is shown from Confrontation as Portnoy himself is like a rapid machine gun shooting out bullets as he plays the drums to give it a powder-keg eruption.
Throughout the entire listen of this 2-CD set, I was on the edge of my seat listening to Morse’s concept and it’s quite an epic tale. For Neal to create story and music on John Bunyan’s story, is a challenge, but he and his crew worked really, really hard on their butts for another job well done. And I hope The Neal Morse Band continues to surprise me for more adventures that lay ahead for where the road will take them.
Not to mention the amazing gatefold sleeve artwork of the Pilgrim's Progress story done by the great Paul Whitehead (Genesis, Peter Hammill, and Van Der Graaf Generator).