March 14, 2024

As well as the multiple excellent tracks that can and will be listened to many times alone, this is a tight, coherent album that at least equals, if not exceeds, the sum of its parts.

Regular readers of these pages will notice that the first half of Neal Morse’s latest Biblical retelling – the story of Joseph, Hebrew shepherd turned viceroy of Egypt – is conspicuously absent. Please rest assured that this has nothing to do with the quality of the album! However, rather than bore you all with a back-to-back review of both halves, we’ll skip straight to The Restoration, the second part of the double album released in January of 2024. It’s the CD equivalent of a weighty tome, clocking in at an impressive sixteen tracks and lasting an hour and a quarter, but this whistle-stop tour will cover as much ground as possible. Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times…

When last we left our amazing Technicolor™️ dreamboat (come on, you know I had to), he had been falsely accused of rape and subsequently imprisoned, and we return to him still stuck in said prison. The album’s opener gives us Joseph’s own feelings on the matter, with a mixture of sung and spoken narration over some classic prog that can be best described as accessible. Apart from a few oddities – namely a recurring horn sting and the introductory buzzing of flies to set the sad scene – Cosmic Mess mostly exists to recap the story so far while showing off the backing band’s ample chops. In narrative terms, there’s nowhere to go but up, and this applies to the music too – though it must be very strongly noted that all this means is that Cosmic Mess is really good, rather than the blinding brilliance of the rest of the album. 

Next comes epic rocker My Dream, and any Jesus Christ: The Exorcist fans in the audience (including yours truly) will find themselves a mixture of confused and amused before settling into head-bobbing enjoyment. Despite the duelling solos and chanting crowds reminiscent of We Will Rock You, everyone here is on the same side, including our hero… a slightly jarring experience for anyone whose last encounter with a similar track was the murderous conspiracy detailed in He Must Go to the Cross! However, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and this certainly ain’t broke. It’s a brilliant bit of driving rock with singable lyrics, a truly epic guitar solo, and a mixing balance that, in my definitely-not-expert opinion, is pretty close to perfect. Speaking of pretty close to perfect, next comes the standout highlight of the whole album – Dreamer In The Jailhouse, a not-quite-six-minute rock opera that punches well above its already hefty weight. Morse packs several segments into the track without any of them feeling rushed or incoherent, instead coalescing into a Muse-like whole that – in my less than humble opinion – deserved to be a single. 

All Hail is no slouch either, if a little more conventional both in prog terms and with regard to the narrative. Most of the talking (well, singing) is over in the first half, with the second half given over to a Wakeman-esque Moog solo that serves to bridge the gap between this track and The Argument – which of all things opens with a quote from Alan Watts that flatly states “you’re all going to die”. Of course, that revelation (courtesy of the forecast famine, which wasn’t polite enough to keep itself to Egypt’s borders) sets off a wave of panic, with all the brothers (and Jacob) talking over each other. And how else would Morse depict a panicked, chaotic argument full of people talking over each other but with a glorious bit of counterpoint? (This motif also gets a reprise in Bring Ben, which despite being largely more of the same at first is worth a listen on its own merits – no spoilers!) But eventually, the argument resolves into Make Like a Breeze (and blow, in case you were wondering), where the brothers – sans baby Ben – head off to Egypt with the reluctant blessing of their father. While the three sections of the track add some much-needed interest and colour, it’s a largely narrative piece that could be easily overlooked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it just may not make it onto any Spotify playlists without the rest of the album. 

The same could definitely not be said of the next track (bar a brief reprise of the overture), which has also been released as one of the two singles of the album. And… it shows. Narratively speaking, I Hate My Brothers feels a little out of place. While its inclusion is understandable – obviously Morse is showing Joseph’s internal struggle between his need for justice and his lingering love for his family (not to mention the whole “love thy neighbour” thing) – the later tearjerking ballad Freedom Road does it better. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a rockin’ song, and it makes an excellent single. If it had been cut, the album would be far poorer for it musically speaking. And, since Morse decided not to omit the brothers’ first visit to Egypt, showing the change in Joseph’s demeanour was probably a good idea. However, all those qualities that make it a perfectly designed single equally make it stick out a little in the “table leg you stub your toe on” sense on the album.

But enough nitpicking. Hello, childhood nightmares turned really good music! The musical motifs last seen in Heaven In Charge Of Hell (from the last album) recur to suitably ominous effect, helped enormously (unlike the listener’s mood) by some lovely distorted whispers of “Guilty” closing out the track. The stress continues in Reckoning, where the brothers’ sudden revelation of their own guilt is helped with the less-than-subtle guitar riff last heard in Gold Dust City, reinforcing how trapped and alone they feel in this foreign country, oh how familiar. After a couple of personal favourites namedropped earlier (namely Bring Ben and the utterly exquisite Freedom Road, another should-have-been single which is worth at least three listens, five if you relate to Joseph’s struggle), another narrative track ensues. Despite its name (The Brothers Repent/Joseph Revealed), this eight-minute monster is so much more than what it says on the tin, covering the entirety of the brothers’ second visit. Like Dreamer In The Jailhouse, this is a rock opera with several sections. Unlike Dreamer In The Jailhouse, some of the sections came out of left field to say the least!

Having said that, though, the next two tracks – the titular Restoration and Everlasting – contain similar motifs mixed with more conventional prog (assuming prog ever can be conventional). As befits a happy ending, they both work together to create a celebratory mood that might well have you dad-dancing round the kitchen in your socks (dadness optional!). However, there’s one track left, and Morse seemingly steps out of Joseph mode to address the listener directly. This is Dawning Of A New Day/God Uses Everything For Good, and its point is to impart the moral to the listener – that God does, in fact, use everything for good. What a surprise. Truthfully, those who don’t subscribe to Morse’s particular brand of Christianity – or even any Christianity at all – might be a tad annoyed to be given what could be called an altar call in song form. But it is a good one, and a fitting closer to an album that has – literally – already told us as much several times.

As our tour bus slows to a stop, one question remains: so is it any good? Well, I’m hardly an unbiased reviewer, being a guest who specifically asked to pick this up so I could gush about it, but (at least in my opinion) yes. As well as the multiple excellent tracks that can and will be listened to many times alone, this is a tight, coherent album that at least equals, if not exceeds, the sum of its parts. Morse himself has commented that “the second installment in the Joseph story shocked me!” but while I’m sure a listen to the demo tapes would reveal exactly what he means, this stuff is quintessential Morse. In particular, fans of Jesus Christ: The Exorcist will find plenty to love here, as will people who share Morse’s Christian faith. However, this is an album anyone with even the slightest interest in prog, the Joseph story, or Neal Morse’s back catalogue should give a go, as it’s truly spectacular and worth putting in your regular rotation.