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Home arrow Music arrow Testimony -- Neal Morse

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Testimony -- Neal Morse Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Tuesday, 27 July 2004
ImageTestimony is an incredible new album by Neal Morse, former frontman for Spock's Beard.  The album is a 2-disc album that chronicles Morse's spiritual journey into Christianity.   Musically and spiritually this is a compelling and inspiring album. 
I've not been exposed to much Progressive Rock so I couldn't tell you if this music is "typical" for the genre.  However, I found the music very interesting.  To my ears it was fresh and new -- an amalgamation of musical styles and sounds that I've never heard put together.
To be honest, I've had this album for a few months now.  I loved it from the first day I heard it.  But it's taken me this long to figure how to put into words the impact it has had on me.  I still don't think that I'm doing it justice. 
The best way to listen to this album is to block out a two hour segment of time and listen to the whole thing from front to back.  It is one continuous story.  It has been broken up into 5 "acts" that present different chapters in Morse's life and transformation.  The first couple of "acts" take place in Los Angeles and the remaining 3 happen in Nashville.
The CD opens with something like a Shakesperean prologue.  Morse sings a quiest, wistful song of regret.  But this song raises anticipation.  As the listener we know see now an outline of the conflict and we want to see how it is fleshed out and resolved.
The next track is the pulling back of the curtain as the show starts.  The overture introduces, musically, some of the characters and forces we'll be dealing with during the rest of the story.  These include God and Satan, as well as angels and demons.  In my imagination I see each costumed actor walking onto the stage from the side and introducing himself to the audience.  It is a particular genius that is able to use musical cliches in novel ways to clearly portray the different elements.  For instance, the introduction of Satan is especially vivid.  He strolls, so arrogantly into the center of the stage and sneers and mocks the audience.  He prances and struts and puffs himself up.  Then walks off the stage as the next characters appear.
The careful listener will pick out the different characters in that introduction and hear them come back in other parts of the story.  Recognizing these and bringing them out in the music later is what holds the whole story together.
As the story starts, Morse is living the lifestyle of a rock star wanna be.  The drugs, sex and rock 'n roll.  It's all there.  But we quickly see that Morse isn't satisfied with these things.  He spirals into a depression.
The next instrumental track portrays the constant invisible good vs. evil battle that surrounds Morse daily.  In a Peretti-esqu way we can imagine swirling battles boiling in the invisible realm around Morse. 
After the heat of the battle there is a break.  The "sleeping Jesus" is planted deep in the soul.  Later we will see with the sleeping Jesus wakes and new life is born inside.  After the respite the spiritual battle continues.  And we see the effect that this is having on Morse.  Deeper and deeper he falls into depression and begins to give up on life.  Out of desparation he calls out for someone to take his "wasted life" and make something out of it.
By the end of the second act we find Morse at his lowest point.  He's at the end of his rope and needs something else.  Everything he's striven for is gone, the band, the record deal, his girlfriend.  It's all gone and he's giving up.  But even throughout the turmoil of his life there have been glimpses of God moving.  The subtle strains of "God's Theme" are mixed in many of the instrument breaks during the first two acts.
The third act in the story start with Morse heading to Nashville.  With nothing left but his car, his dog, and a tape machine he hits the long road from Los Angeles to Nashville.  Once there he meets up with an old friend and stays at her place -- and never leaves.
It turns out that she's a Christian.  She, through her silent testimony, reflects the love of Jesus. Morse sees that but can't quite grasp on to it.  He knows there's something there but it's just beyond his reach.  Elusive and tantalizing.    There's still a basic disconnect and inability to understand the spiritual nature.  It's is portrayed so well by the line the preacher said we're saved by grace not by works/that's good cause I haven't worked for a year.
One of the highlights of the entire album is the song "Sing It High".  This captures some of the pure innocent joy found in old-time religion.  It is true, accepting, non-judgemental love.  The camp-meeting events described in the song touch deep in Morse's soul and even though he's not one in spirit with them, he senses even more the deep joy that is there. 
This ends the third act.  The fourth act starts with Morse marrying.  He marries that girl he stayed with.  Soon kids were on the way and their life was growing.  Slowly his life was being transformed.  Slowly God was working and the sleeping Jesus was being awakened. 
But each time any progress was made the enemie's attacks were renewed.  More good vs. evil battles happen over his head.  Eventually Morse breaks through and meets Jesus.  In a powerful balad his life is transformed.  He becomes a new creature.
Over the next few songs we see him growing and struggling with past bondages.  But he breaks free.  Sometimes falling back into depression but always coming out. 
The final act is something akin to Handels Messiah Chorus.  The "Oh Lord My God" song is so joyous and celebratory.  It is an inspiring anthem that Christians can all relate to.  After the songs of praise God makes another appearance in a final majestic movement.   It's as if God is looking back over the past several years and welcoming Morse into his arms with a big smile. 
The final song of the album is almost the same as the opening song.  Now we hear the bittersweet regret that he wishes he could start all over again.  But not because he can't stand his life but because he wishes he could have done it right from the beginning.  It's a powerful re-interpretation of the opening song.
As you can tell, I love this album.  Maybe I've over-spiritualized it in places.  Maybe I took too much liberty with the artist's original intentions.  If so, please forgive me as I am only trying to explain how I see it.  This album has certainly provided one of the most powerful and significant musical experiences I have ever had. 
I hope others can enjoy it and be transformed by it as much as I have been.
Last Updated ( Monday, 04 October 2004 )

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