'The Grand Experiment'… what a perfect name for this album. Neal Morse collaborates with some of the biggest talents in the progressive music realm to conjure up a mesmerizing spectacle that must be experienced by one and all, regardless of the genre they listen to. Also featuring the great Mike Portnoy on drums, Randy George on Bass, Eric Gillette on guitars and Bill Hubauer on Keyboards, this supergroup delivers one of the most uplifting albums ever in recent times. It was the first time that Neal Morse came totally unprepared to the studios in terms of material and collaborated in the truest sense of the word. The result is a 52-minute magical journey which leaves you filled with hope and positivity long after it ends.
The journey begins with “The Call”, which starts with a cappella urging you to “leave it all behind you” and to follow the call. The melodic vocal harmonies gently usher you into a peppy keyboard and drum build-up before exploding into a typical Neal Morse style of sound. It instantly creates a supremely lively ambience. Portnoy's polished drum work combined with some nice bass and guitar hooks keep things very fresh. The song is well-structured with an energetic opening followed by a slower melodic mid-section before the band gives it an intense moody twist to finally end on a happier note. “The Call” allows each member the space to get themselves heard. I was really impressed by the vocals and guitar talent of newcomer Eric Gillette throughout the album. On “Waterfall”, he complements Neal Morse really well on the vocal harmonies and stands firmly on his own on the guitars throughout the album, peppering up the tracks with some groovy hooks and melodic solos.
The title track “The Grand Experiment” amplifies the peppiness further with its fairly simple but addictive sound. Mike Portnoy sounds a bit restrained on this track, but happily supplements the catchy rhythms without getting too into the thick of things. It’s a happy track which will lift your spirits and get you all warm and fuzzy inside. Similarly, “Agenda” is another non-serious, simplistic offering which almost sounds like a pop anthem with its melodic chorus and super-catchy rhythms. I admit that it was a bit surprising for me at this point, about how the band has not really tried to think too much about technicality and kept it very melodic and simple. Well, that's before “Alive Again” kicks in and brings a nice twist to the proceedings. Considering that it’s Neal Morse's band, I was surprised not to hear something like this up till this point in the album. The track builds itself up gradually with every member laying their individual sonic elements bit by bit to create a foundation on which the track launches itself, taking the listener along its numerous twists and turns before reaching an epic climax. It then disintegrates again only to start rebuilding itself gradually to reach even a grander climax to signify the end of the journey. “Alive Again” is that track which synergizes the effort of each member in this band and truly brings this grand experiment to life. If you have heard of Neal Morse's work before, this track is not something very unexpected, but despite that fact, it's very hard not to get impressed by the exquisite offering.
Clocking at 52 minutes, the album maintains the listener's interest really well. They pace it nicely too, with a strong opener, a catchy mid-section and an epic ending.
All in all, ‘The Grand Experiment’ is not something very new from Neal Morse, but that should not come in the way of enjoying this awesome journey. Listening to this album is a positive experience and by the end of it, the album leaves you feeling happy and contented.