Transatlantic - SMPTe - Round Table Review
It is bit unclear whether Transatlantic is the album or the project-title, but anyway, it's the result of the co-operation between four 'greats' in the world of prog: Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Neal Morse (Spock's Beard), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) and Peter Trewavas (Marillion). When these forces, from different musical backgrounds, and different continents joined, something very interesting happened...
Transatlantic started when Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) invited Neal Morse (Spock's Beard) to join him on just another
'super group'-project, much alike the Liquid Tension Experiment. Portnoy is known for his love for Spock's Beard, so Morse
wasn't a strange choice. One of Portnoy's other favourite bands is Marillion and Pete Trewavas seemed to be the right man:
"I already knew how talented he was and what a great melodic bass player he is. I think he is under appreciated in
Marillion and hopefully he'll get some recognition in this project", says Portnoy.
Finding a guitar player was a bit more difficult. Originally Jim Matheos of Fates Warning was meant to play the lead-guitar, but due to several postponements (Trewavas was involved in a car accident and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 had to be recorded) he couldn't make it.
Neal Morse suggested The Flower Kings' Roine Stolt. The two had been corresponding via e-mail since they performed together with their respective bands in LA at the Progfest in '97, so he seemed an obvious choice. Together, these four people formed a very special combination, recording between June 29th and July 6th 1999. Morse describes the other members: "Mike's the most aggresive and Pete's funny and very British and Roine's very quiet. That should keep everyone happy!"
So where does this combination lead to, musically? Portnoy: "Well, the obvious comparison would be a cross between
Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Marillion and The Flower Kings. I guess if I'm not to use such obvious comparisons though,
I would have to say that it's very much in the 'old school' retro-prog sort of vein". Stolt comments: "I would say
that's there's a little bit more Spock's Beard than the other bands. Neal did a lot of song writing and singing but even
when we were working on one of my songs, Neal would come in like a walking music machine". Morse reacts: "It's much
more progressive than Spock's, a lot more in fact. There's a lot of Beatles in there and of course a lot of the English
bands like Genesis and Yes but there's also a jazz element in there too." Finally, Trewavas
adds: "It's like Close
To The Edge, and Fragile, with a bit of Crimson and Tull, all rolled into one".
So now you know who the musicians think of the project, but what do we think of it? Let's go to the music now.
DPRP presents a roundtable review below in which JJ (who likes Dream Theater, Marillion, Flower Kings and Spock's Beard), Remco (who likes Dream Theater and Spock's Beard), Mark (who's into Dream Theater and Marillion), Derk (who likes Dream Theater, Flower Kings, Marillion and Spock's Beard) and Ed (into Spock's Beard and Marillion) give their opinion about the various tracks on the album and its individual tracks.
All of the Above
Trewavas' bass-melody serves as a lovely basis for the other instruments. Portnoy simply plays great. Normally I find his playing pretty "loud", but here he shows a remarkably subtle way of playing. Stolt adds some very 'Howe-ish' accents here and there.
After 5 minutes Morse's vocals come in, which adds to the Beardish sound of the track. After some great solo-ing by Morse and Stolt, there's an awesome jazzy part with a great drive and brilliant piano and organ solos.
After a slow bombastic part Trewavas introduces a gentle theme, on top of which a new melody (Camoflagued in Blue) is built. This finally leads to a repetition of one of the initial keyboard themes (Half Alive), followed by an acoustic, romantic part (Undying Love) with an electric solo by Stolt.
The bombastic finale reintroduces Fool Moon Rising. After this, there's a two minute, soft outtro-theme, again not unlike Close To The Edge.
All in all, this composition reminds me of Spock's Beard songs like The Water or The Healing Colours of Sound. This also describes my ambiguous feelings towards this track. It's really great, but not something really 'new'.
Mark: The CD starts of on a high note with All of the Above, an atmospheric piece in
six parts that, as I understand it, originated from Neal Morse. I've never been a fan of Spock's
Beard but I respect Morse's versatility, which is surely on display here. His vocals are
also excellent on this track. The music rolls through rhythm and tempo changes, adding a touch
of jazz and funk here and there through symphonic and bombastic pieces. Trewavas is great on
bass and Morse has some strong pieces on the Hammond organ.
Is it just me, or does the fifth part of this track, titled Undying Love, sound very much like a Live song, vocally anyway? It's great either way. But what's up with that two-minute fade out at the end. A bit too much perhaps?
Derk: I just finished a review of The Flower King's new album, ALive On Planet Earth, so I'm in TFK mode right now, but the feeling of this track is Spock's Beard more than anything else. The lead vocals on this track are of course Neal Morse's but that's not the main reason. The keyboard playing is quite dominant in this track and it's typical Beardian, as are the vocal melodies. I also strongly suspect that Neal is resposible for the lyrics. Having said that, that Steve Howe influenced guitar in the first part is definitely Roine Stolt, and he shines through several times again later in the track. I never really get that TFK feeling though, except maybe for the last few minutes where the track gently fades out reminiscent of Soon (last part of Yes' The Gates Of Delerium).
Remco: An epic of a length seldomly seen in recent years. The first couple of minutes of Full Moon Rising are quite Beardy, especially the vocal parts of Morse are very much his own Beard style, with Howe-like guitar playing by Stolt. October Wings is more jazzy, a bit like the keyboard middle sections in the longer Flower Kings tracks, with powerful guitar work and a repetition of the 'Full Moon' theme. Camoflagued in Blue is absolutely Marillionesque, with Trewavas playing a typical Marillion bass loop and almost Hogart-like vocals. Half Alive is rhytmically more complex, with those typical symfo tricks of mixing different tempi and bar lenghts. Undying Love has a bit of the ballad type tracks on the latest Dream Theater (Metropolis pt2), mixed with the typical Beard vocals and keyboards. The last minute is souring guitar work by Stolt. In the Reprise all themes occur again, as they should, and a very 'Yessy' (Close to the Edge) ending (but, the Flower Kings know this trick too, see our ALive On Planet Earth review).
Ed: What a marvelous track ! This one could easily have been on a Spock's Beard album and
can easily compete with their epics like Healing Colours of Sound, The Water and
A Whole Nother Trip on Morse's solo album. The first part, Full Moon Rising, starts with a
nice overture of the various themes from the next 30 minutes, followed by the energetic vocal
part. Next, in October Winds, we get a section that could easily have been
on the Morse solo album, followed by a jazzy instrumental bit in the vein of When The World is
Running Down from Sting's Bring on the Night live album. The second part continues with
a wonderful vocal section and a guitar solo reminding me of Into The Source of Spock's
Beard's Kindness of Strangers Album.
Camoflagued in Blue starts with a bass-line reminding me of the opening of Marillion's This Strange Engine, after which this laid-back piece develops into a nice bluesy Floydian section. Half Alive is an energetic section with an emphasis on keyboards and Undying Love is a lovely semi-ballad with a melody you'd like to sing along to forever. Finally the song returns to the Full Moon Rising theme (including a massive vocal harmony) and closes with a rather free formed reprise of the October Winds guitar solo.
If you like the long Spock's Beard epics, don't shun the occassional bit of accessible jazz and blues and like lots of recurring themes and diversity, you'll be delighted by this track. My only critisism is the ridiculously long 3 minute (!!) fade out at the end of the song.
This track alone is more than worth buying the album for.
We All Need Some Light
Mark: Now here's where the trouble begins. We All Need Some Light is OK, but hardly the kind of imaginative stuff I expected. Somewhat disappointing.
Derk: Whoa, is this early Genesis resurrected? Has Tony Banks finally given in? Seriously, the use of acoustic guitars in electronic tracks that Genesis pioneered has always appealed to me very much. The comparison stops there, though, because this is a slow ballad, not bad, but not very special either.
Remco: With almost six minutes the shortest track on the album. A nice acoustic opening, with (I guess) 12 string guitar, bass and pleasantly subtle keyboards. The track itself is a ballad in the vein of Distance to the Sun (of the latest Beard album). Very pleasant!
Ed: After a few Howe-like guitar twiddles, the rest of the opening reminds me a lot of the Genesis track Entangled. The song develops into a nice ballad that would have fitted quite well on Neil Morse's solo album. The song also features a typical double acoustic guitar plus piano solo. Nice track !
Mark: I have to rate this one a forgettable piece of fluff, except for the truly awful vocals.
Derk: Great track, with leading roles for Mike Portnoy and Pete Trewavas. On this track Mike's drums really sound like Mike's drums for the first time. By the way, haven't I heard that keyboard line somewhere on a Genesis album before?
Remco: A more modern sounding track, with a bit more experimenting than the other tracks, even with some sound effects in the background. Especially the drum/bass section of this track sounds mighty fine! Some vocal explosions, like Yes used to experiment with in the 80's, give nice accents to the melody line.
Ed: This song has the energy of Spock's Beard but doesn't really seem to be going anywhere. There's some great drumming and bass playing in this track but the massive vocal harmonies at the end of each line don't do much for me. The feel is a bit like Cakewalk on Easy Street from Spock's Beard's Kindness of Strangers album.
My New World
An up-tempo part changes the mood drastically. Ravishing solos and fast drums should please any prog-fan around. I think this track shows much more of an 'own' identity, as a result of the synergy between Stolt and Morse, than All of the Above. The result is an awesome composition with a great diversity in melodies and sounds.
Mark: My New World restores the early optimism a bit, though it relies on Portnoy's drumming and percussion a bit too much for overall quality.
Derk: Yes, I knew it would be there eventually! From the very first second
of this track I know this is going to be more in the vein of The Flower
Kings. Not suprisingly Stolt does lead vocals on this one, alternating with
Neal Morse who does the choruses. This chorus reminds me a bit of ELO, not
the first time I've had that ELO feeling with a track Neal Morse is
involved with (Can't Get It Wrong from the Beard's Day For Night album is
The rest of this track is a far more balanced blend between the sounds of two of the bands whose principal writers collaborate on this album. Not wishing to demean the rest of the album, I would have liked (and hoped, when I first heard this album was in the making) the other tracks to have this balance as well.
Easily my favourite of this record!
Remco: Artificial cello's open the track and lay down the main melody. This melody is later caught up with and even played by tubular bells. The quiet middle section is a nice ballad, Flower King like (read: Yes' Awaken). Especially Stolts' sliding guitar work may be credited for this reference. The bells that are used on this track subcontiencely remind me of Christmas. The jazz organ solo that follows absolutely doesn't, it's more like the very early Yes years.
Ed: Lead vocals on this one are shared by Stolt and Morse. This song sounds like Lennon, McCarteney, Howe and Squire got together and had a party; a cross between Beatles and Seventies Yes. At times I've got the feeling it might suddenly merge into A Day in a Life. There's lots of Howe-like guitar playing and Beatlesque vocal harmonies. Despite these influences this might be the only track where the band breaks away from the heavy Beard influence and develops a bit of an own sound. Nice Christmas bells as well. Good song !
In Held (Twas) In I
The following part is very story-telling-like with input from all members. The closing section of the song almost sounds like an anthem, slowly building and with multiple guitar-parts, not unlike Queen's version of God Save The Queen. A sweeping guitar-solo end this great track in a splendid way.
Mark: The last track, Procol Harum cover In Held (Twas) In I could have done without the first three minutes, but the remaining part is very good. How come a cover tops most of the other material on this album though?
Derk: A cover of a very obscure Procol Harum song. Maybe we should start a
competition to see if someone can come up with a satisfactory explanation
for the title of this track! [It's simply a combination of the first spoken line of each
section of the original song. The "Twas" also isn't in parentheses in the original Procol
Harum title. Presumably, Transatlantic did this since, as noted, they actually omittted
the "Twas" portion of the song. - explanation provided by Adrian M. Rush !]
The song starts very ominously with mellotron and a voice (Pete Trewavas?) declaiming a story. For the effect, think of The Alan Parson's Project's Fall of the House of Usher (1987 version). It then starts in earnest, with a freaky instrumental part with a leading role for the guitar. Even though I'm pretty sure I've never heard this track before, it sounds familiar. This track is also unique in the sense in that I think all four musicians have vocal parts: something I also expected to have been used more often on the album. I like it, although it doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the album.
Remco: Some vague narrated story about a traveller and the Dalai Lama opens this Procol Harum cover. I don't know the original, but I bet this one is better! A nice blend of melody and rhythmic tricks are the main features of this track. The vocal section is truely '60's, Beatles-like. The organ part in this track seems to be a derivative of A Whiter Shade of Pale (which itself is again an adaptation of Bach, I believe), but now mixed with weird sound effects, gradually growing more psychedelic. Then a section appears which may have been written (or better: concieved) by the Floyd in their experimental early years. The end is not very impressive, apart from a couple of piercing guitar bars and an adaptation of yet another classical tune.
Ed: No matter how many times I listen to this piece, I cannot get excited about this cover of a song from Procol Harum's 1968 album Shine On Brightly (no, I don't know the original, I found this information on the Internet). The long spoken intro which probably loses its charm after a couple listenings, the old-fashioned and sixties Beatlesque sound, the switching of vocals between the four band members (including a bit of sqeeking from Trewavas - sorry he's a nice backing vocalist, but this ....), the choatic and psychadelic middle piece, the God Save the Queen-like guitar solo at the end ..... nope, it just doesn't work for me. The song has a couple of interesting moments, but overall I could have done without it.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Mark: I have to say at the start that this is an album I've been looking forward to from the time I
first read about it on the InsideOut homepage. A collaboration
of musicians from two of my
favorite bands, Marillion and Dream Theater, with the guitar player from the
highly acclaimed The Flower Kings and Neal Morse! How could this not be great?
Well, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed. Maybe I had my hopes up a bit too high. Transatlantic has not enough stability in my opinion to reach the heights of greatness on this particular album.
I rate this album a 7 out of 10 purely because of the masterful first track, which I have really grown fond off in a short time. One last remark. I understand from Transatlantic's website that Neal Morse has written most of the lyrics. But as Mike Portnoy came up with the original vision behind this collaboration, why aren't we treated to more of the great stuff he has written? (Anybody remember A Change of Seasons?)
Derk: Expect no Dream Theater, or Marillion. Even Portnoy's drums sound a
lot different from on the Dream Theater albums. Pete is his solid self though.
Still, this is a great album, and a sure contender for album of the year.
If you like Spock's Beard or The Flower Kings even remotely, you can't miss
with this one. This album features four of the most talented musicians of
the genre, from four of the leading bands in the field. To say that they
probably couldn't have produced a bad album if their life depended on it
might be taking it a bit too far, but one can only imagine what the result
would be if they really put their hearts in it. Well, imagine no more, just
Rating: 9 out of 10.
Remco: I was quite suspicious before I received this album, since so-called Super Groups have dissapointed me
more often than that they impressed me (Asia, GTR, to name a couple). However, I was surpriced to find
that, apart from Portnoy who lays down impressive drumming but doesn't get the freedom for heavier
experiments like he does in Dream Theatre, all members remain their identity and just mix and blend
it, giving quite stunning results. They themselves claim that this album leans more on Old School Prog
(you know, the Big 3: Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd). Well, no, it leans more on Spock's Beard and
The Flower Kings and Marillion (in that order). Only in asfar as these bands lean on their predecessors,
this album leans on them.
In conclusion, who will like this album? People who expect Dream Theater-like prog metal are going to be disappointed, people hoping for a Spock's Beard/Flower King album will be delighted. As for my final grade: I have this album only 5 days and grading is quite difficult then. So, I hope it can still grow on me. In that case the grade would have been higher, for now I will settle for a recommended tag, no more no less.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Ed: If you are expecting a crisp new sound for this get-together of prog stars you're
going to be disappointed. The album sounds mainly like a Spock's Beard album with some other
influences on the second half of the CD. The whole thing was obviously made accoring to the
'Morse Code'. Although Morse himself said it sounded like 'a combination of Marillion,
The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard and Dream Theater', I myself cannot detect any obvious
Marillion or Dream Theater influences (I don't know The Flower Kings well enough to judge about
their sound). Although I like the album it's a bit sad though; I like it because it sounds like one of
my favourite bands, not because I like the unique sound of this new band itself, because it is
clearly lacking. Maybe an own style will develop on the next album.
The album contains one great track (All of the Above) and some nice tracks (We All Need Some Light and My New World). I personally wouldn't have minded if the Procul Harum song had been left off (or maybe I just need to get used to it).
Rating: 8 out of 10