Ever since I discovered the world of modern prog rock (circa 2000-2001), I found out about Spock's Beard and Transatlantic (circa 2004), and absolutely feel in love with SB/TA and Neal in general. When I discovered that he had left both bands and started a solo career in Christian-oriented music, I was a bit adamant at first to explore his music, but gave Testimony and One a chance and was FLOORED by his ability to still create something fresh but still so undoubtedly Neal.
When ? came out, it was his first new release for me being a fan of his works, so I was excited, especially at the premise of it being a near hour-long song-cycle with many guest musicians! Again was I delighted at what I heard, and his lyrics didn't really bother me. His albums tend to be conceptual, so I see the lyrics as part of the concept, like in the way anyone would use Tolkien or Sci-Fi themes as a concept, Neal is using Christian themes and ideas as concepts (except when he gets preachy, but many of those songs are so good musically that I can over-look the lyrics, or in the case of things like "King Jesus" or "Heaven In My Heart", end up LIKING the lyrics).
The man's consistently good output (IMO) is a true testament to his abilities, at composing and arranging! He has only gotten better over time, but even his early stuff with SB is just fantastic (things like "The Light", "The Doorway", "The Water", "Flow", and pretty much any of his long-form songs with SB, particularly "The Great Nothing").
Sure it's easy to criticize the man for recycling ideas, everyone's heard them ("Long Time Suffering" in Sola Scriptura, part of the ? album reminds of a song from one of his first two solo albums NM/It's Not Too Late... and the sometimes-obligatory Spanish-guitar-flavored flamenco-type section that is in many of his albums)... but I feel like I can just attribute all of that to it being HIS style, HIS voice, HIS form. It's what makes his music undeniably Neal, and I enjoy that about him. He puts his heart and soul into anything and everything he does with music, and it's that power in him that makes me appreciate what he does even more so.
With the release of The Whirlwind, I've heard some of his best playing and singing in ages, and it shows that he's still getting better! And I wonder how being with TA again will affect his next solo album, and if he'll carry over anything from those sessions into his next solo album, in terms of arranging and composing. Guess we'll just have to wait and see... until then, I can't wait for the inevitable Transatlantic 2010 tour!