When I get in my listening mood and put on a new album that eventually will be reviewed then I do not give a damn about people’s religious, political or sexual orientation, sure there are extremes and things I don’t condone or support, but I weed those cases out beforehand. What matters to me is the music and I simply don’t get it when people slam a new album because of the lyrics! In this case everyone should know beforehand that Neal Morse is a Christian and that his lyrics are often a reflection of that.
With that small rant off my chest, it’s time to get into the music and when you read the following declaration: “I honestly think this is THE album of my career,” declares drummer Mike Portnoy. “Neal and I have now made 18 studio albums together, and I consider “The Similitude of a Dream” the absolute creative pinnacle of our collaborations together. I’ve always had a soft spot for double concept albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy, and I can bravely say that I think we’ve created an album here that can sit side by side with those masterpieces. Bold words, I know, but after a career of almost 50 albums, I honestly consider this to be one of the defining works of my career.” before you even had had a chance to listen to the album, then expectations are running high. But I am sorry to inform you and Mr. Portnoy that even though this is another brilliant release (which Mr. Portnoy is a big part of), I seriously doubt this will be considered an instant prog rock classic and it probably won’t be praised with the same kind of respect those albums he lists above does.
“The Similitude of a Dream” is based – loosely – on a book written back in 1678 by John Bunyan called “The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to the that Which is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream” and it tells the story of a man’s spiritual journey, moving from a “city of destruction” to a place of salvation. The story or the dream follows the main character named Christian, who is tormented by spiritual anguish and he is told to leave the city to find salvation in the Celestial City. The similarities to Neal Morse’s own spiritual journey are pretty obvious and even though he has explored similar topics before they seem as important to him today as before.
When we look into the musical universe compared to earlier albums this is much more of a joint effort where everyone has pitched in; everyone is a bigger part of the whole thing and has more room for their own equilibrism. This is a genuine band effort and not just Neal Morse and his supporting cast. Joining Neal Morse on this album is Bill Hubauer (Organ, piano, synthesizers, vocals), Eric Gillette (Lead and rhythm electric guitar, vocals), Randy George (Bass and bass pedals) and off course Mike Portnoy (Drums, vocals).
Star of the show on this album is Eric Gillette, not only as a great rhythm and lead guitarist but also serving as a very strong song writer and vocalist. Mike Portnoy does also get his chance behind the microphone, but to put it mildly: his drumming is far superior to his vocal abilities. They have brought in many special guests to handle more exotic instruments like violin, viola, cello, saxophone and trumpets and those contributions just add depth to wide sound universe that is always an important and fully integrated part of any Neal Morse release.
“The Similitude of a Dream” is perhaps the most guitar driven Neal Morse album ever, and the combination of Eric Gillette’s strong guitar work, retro 70s style prog rock with more modern prog rock works extremely well. Even with Eric’s stronger involvement the overall sound universe is still very recognisable and not that remote from earlier Neal Morse projects.
I do however, like so many others, have my reservations about double concept albums in general: often there is simply too much music to comprehend and take in, in one take. And this album is no different; many, many fine moments combined with some easily forgettable moments makes this both a very pleasing and at the same time a demanding experience for the listener.
An album involving Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy is always an action packed adventure that demands your full attention, it pushes the boundaries and explores the core as well as the outskirts of prog rock each and every time. This is no different and I know for sure it’ll once more divide the prog rock community, solely based on the lyrical concept, but looking past that, it’s a delightful and innovative experience, one that I can only strongly recommend and one that I will go back to over and over.
As expected: one of the best prog rock albums of 2016, maybe not the instant classic like it was proclaimed, but a little less is just fine by me!
1. Long Day
3. The Dream
4. City of Destruction
5. We Have Got to Go
6. Makes No Sense
7. Draw the Line
8. The Slough
9. Back to the City
10. The Ways of a Fool
11. So Far Gone
12. Breath of Angels
1. Slave to Your Mind
2. Shortcut to Salvation
3. The Man in the Iron Cage
4. The Road Called Home
6. Freedom Song
7. I’m Running
8. The Mask
10. The Battle
11. Broken Sky/Long Day Reprise
Playing Time: 51:59 + 54:36
Release date: November 11, 2016
Label: Metal Blade Records