In the olden days of the music industry, it was common for one artist to dominate a year, because they were releasing music at a far greater clip. When albums were only half an hour long, and sales were booming, product got churned out at an incredible clip. That led to some of the greatest music ever recorded, but it also meant that a lot of material that shouldn’t have seen the light of day got past the editor’s desk. But as a fan, if your favorite band put out two records in the span of a year, it was a magical time to love music, because you could find yourself overwhelmed by how much great material you had to listen to.
These days, things are different. With the average time between albums growing ever longer, and bands growing more popular in the years when they don’t release albums, being a fan can be frustrating. The waiting can seem endless, and then when the album does come along, there’s the inevitable question of why we had to wait so long for a mediocre piece of work. If the greatest bands of all time could write an album a year, most of which were classics, how can it take today’s bands four years to write a bland record?
There are exceptions to the trends of the times, and Neal Morse is one of them. 2014 is the year of Neal Morse, as he has dominated my experience this year like no one else I can ever think of.
At the start of the year, Transatlantic released their critically-acclaimed “Kaleidoscope”, which I raved about from the first time I heard it. It immediately took the spot as the front-runner for album of the year, and so far it has not ceded it’s position. Transatlantic is, simply put, the best prog band on the planet right now, and “Kaleidoscope” is their best album yet. They have done remarkable work to this point, but “Kaleidoscope” was able to condense the band’s history into one perfect record. Both Neal Morse and Roine Stolt were ramping up with their own careers, and they have now peaked with my favorite prog album ever, and what is sure to make my list of favorite albums of all time.
That wasn’t enough for Neal, who then released “Songs From November”, a singer/songwriter album that went in the complete opposite direction. As a fan of Neal’s work, this was the album I had wanted him to make for years. His progressive music is amazing, but what makes him stand out from everyone else in prog is his ability to write catchy melodies that bury in your head and force you to sing along. “Songs From November” is a simple album, and showcases Neal as the best songwriter in prog. Like “Kaleidoscope”, it resides right near the top of my current list of favorites from this year.
But even that wasn’t enough, as Neal was also a major contributor to the sophomore Flying Colors record. That was an album that I had a massive mood swing on. The band moved in a more progressive direction, which I thought was the wrong thing to do, given how much progressive music the members had made. In time, the more I listened, I came to love what the album was. I still miss the blatant pop sensibilities of the debut, but there is still much to love about their second effort. Once I got over the disappointment of where the album went, I could see how beautiful that place was.
In the years that I’ve been writing about music in one form or another, there have been a handful of times that one person was a part of two important albums (including Neal himself when he released his own “Momentum”, as well as the first Flying Colors album). But to the best of my recollection, there has never been a year in which one person was a part of three albums, let alone three that were as good as these.
By the time my Top Ten list is official this year, Neal could very well wind up contributing thirty percent of my favorite releases. That number baffles me, and it also saddens me. Not in the sense that everyone else making music couldn’t make enough albums to compete, but in the sense that it is far too rare for anyone to release albums at such a pace, regardless of the quality. Neal is prolific, for sure, but he never releases anything that isn’t of the highest quality. Perhaps there is something to be said for always writing, always working. The act of continuously producing new music could keep the well of inspiration running, not allowing the creative muscle to atrophy over the normal years of inactivity.
Whatever the reasons are behind the mystery of creativity, 2014 is the year of Neal Morse. Long may the king rein.