The Postmodern Christian Story-telling Album of the Year

Neal Morse "ONE"

We’ve been talking a lot in the emerging church about telling stories instead of propositional statements as our form of gospel-telling (following what seems to us as the model given in Scripture). We’ve been also talking a lot about using the arts to do so.

Well, if you like rock music, and you like epic story-telling, then have I an album to recommend to you.

Neal Morse has been recognized critically as one of the greatest progressive rock artists of the past decade. He headed up the band Spock’s Beard (which has released two albums subsequent to Morse's departure). Spock's Beard was the key band in the 90's that revived the prog rock genre (a genre that had lain dormant since the ‘70s). Morse then converted to Christianity and is now using his talents at song-writing and expert musicianship for the purpose of telling Christian stories (of course, for fans of Spock’s Beard, we saw this happening before the launch of his solo career—the double-CD concept album “Snow” was an allegory of messianic proportions, as were a few of the epic songs on earlier Spock’s Beard albums).

Morse’s latest release, ONE, tells the sweeping tale of the union, separation, and reunion of humanity with God. This album features not only the tremendous artistic diversity of Neal Morse (he sings, plays keyboards and guitars), but also the superior rock drumming of Mike Portnoy (leader of the prog-metal band Dream Theater and arguably the greatest rock drummer of our day--Mike's in the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame and has won 21 Modern Drummer Magazine Reader's Poll Awards including: Best Progressive Rock Drummer [10 years in a row], and Best Clinician [twice]). ONE also features the guitar skills of Phil Keaggy (perhaps one of the most admired guitarists in music today) offering an extended acoustic guitar solo (and also singing in a duet with Morse on one song).

Listening to this album is like attending a rock opera. Drama is found in the story telling; drama is found in the musical themes repeated so that you feel the weight of the story. It’s hard to define Morse’ musical style, because the variety of sounds that Morse offers to the listener defies narrowly defining him and would not do him justice. Think of the best of prog legends Pink Floyd, old-time Genesis, Kansas, Yes, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer…add the best of Rich Mullins or Michael W. Smith from the Christian sector…add the kind of rock-opera feel that Transiberian Orchestra has accomplished with their Christmas albums…and then add the pop-music sensibilities and sophistication of The Beatles at their creative height and you are just scratching the surface of what you’ll be hearing.


Scot McKnight said...

I can't access my blog site today; find that when I boot it up it comes up empty.
You know anything about this stuff?

Scot McKnight said...

Let me shift this a bit: the most significant story I see being told by the Emergent folks (postmodern Christians) is that the boundaries between our culture and the Christian culture has to be broken down, something I call "permeable walls." I posted a blog about this on my blogsite, and wonder if you think this connects to the Emergent folks?


Bob Robinson said...

Yes, I agree with the permeable walls analogy you have drawn, and I think, definitely, that emergent is very missional--that is what drives the whole emergent conversation.

But maybe emergent folks would say that the problem is that the windows and doorways that were created by the Reformation to let the gospel through to the people have, over time, morphed into impermeable walls, for they no longer work as they once did--mostly because the environment (our changing culture) has been so caustic to them, but also because the church has not tried to upgrade to windows and doors that would be up-to-date with the environment.

Emergent is all about re-defining the gospel in ways that are both biblical and speak to a postmodern age. Stan Grenz was the best in articulating this--with the postmodern turn, we must rearticulate the gospel, not just dress it up in new lingo.

p.a.hiles said...

hey bob,
i liked neal morse's "testimony" album. i'm going to have to check out the "one" album!

Hefe said...

Bob, I was first introduced to you blog by a link from Byron Harvey over at the Ticking Time Blob. I've been reading you with interest, especially your emergent church stuff - something I am wading through right now. I am a Worship/Youth Pastor and always looking for new music. So I blind bought Meal Morse on you recommendation. No disappointment there - what an incredible album! Im thrilled to find someone interested in making music, not just recording songs. IF this truly is an example of emergent storytelling, then I can get behind that - because it is not just stortelling dialogue, but it is a narrative that embodies the propositional truth that some emergents seem to balk at. But it shouldn't be one or the other, they don't need to be in tension. This album is a great harmony of the two, exlaining the uncompromisable truth in a relational way. Josh McDowell has been riding that horse lately, and I am quite enamored with what he says in his BELIEF MATTERS work.

Anyway, thanks for the heads up ona great album. IT will get regular rotation in my CD Player.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I agree with Hefe. Neal is no postmodernist. He probably doesn't think about epistemology or metaphysics much at all, but I'm sure he'd agree with the classic formulations of the gospel as propositional truth. He makes statements that seem like that to me. He happens to be good at putting it in narrative fashion, while Kerry Livgren, who makes similar music, states it in something closer to propositional fashion. The differences is mainly due to their temperament and personality. (Livgren plays on Morse's first explicitly Christian album, Testimony, by the way.)

To make narrative the be-all and end-all, as some of the emergent types seem to want to do, is to elevate one human tendency that some people are stronger in over another that different people are stronger in. In the end, you'll be fashioning a church in their own image, which is what they're supposed to be what they're avoiding.

Bob Robinson said...

Great analysis.
This is something worth repeating...
...again and again.

Bob Robinson said...

I'm glad you GET IT !! ! !

You said, "Im thrilled to find someone interested in making music, not just recording songs."

Not that there is anything wrong with straight pop songs, but they come and go...and come and go...

Songs by people who can write catchy hooks and can play three chords on their guitars are nice, but I prefer, in the long run, something with more meat and musical significance...
...Something that you'll be listening to for years to come (and continually discover new things as you do!).