Sola Gratia: The “Prog” Foolishness of Neal Morse | Bradley J. Birzer | Catholic World Report
How an angry young musician has become a committed Christian and influential artist
As progressive rock continues
to regain ground in terms of sales and respectability, Neal Morse’s name
simultaneously gains increasing recognition in our larger culture as well.
As well it should. Morse has served as one of the most important figures in the current revival of the progressive rock scene, which began to re-emerge nearly two decades ago, since its recognized heyday of the early 1970s, prior to the rise of disco and punk. Over the last two decades, a number of acts, including Big Big Train, Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, Porcupine Tree, Agents of Mercy, Frost*, Gazpacho, Tin Spirits, Ayreon, the Fierce and the Dead, and Riverside have produced albums every bit the equal of those by Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer in the early 1970s. For better or worse, prog (as its followers call it) has been characterized by elaborate lyrics and stories, long (rarely less than six minutes) songs, intricate time changes, and immaculate audio production. Every aspect of the release matters for a prog artist, and the genre tends to attract an inordinate number of perfectionists.
As a master of the style, Neal Morse's longest song is the baroque “The Whirlwind,” written with his bandmates in Transatlantic, clocking in at just four seconds shy of 78 minutes, the limit of music a CD can hold. It tells the story of a modern culture willfully ignorant of Christianity. The New Jerusalem arrives, catching most citizens of the Earth unaware. This is not just a song, it’s an epic. And, as an epic, it needs to be 78 minutes long.
To make Morse and his reputation even more interesting, he has become an important, if unusual, Christian evangelist for our time. In that strange twilight realm where Christian culture and secular culture awkwardly meet as suggested by the very title of “The Whirlwind,” there stands Morse, beckoning anyone and everyone to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.