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Transatlantic - SMPTe CD (album) cover

SMPTE

Transatlantic

 

Symphonic Prog

4.06 | 561 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lazland
Prog Reviewer
5 stars I suppose that a majority of the so-called "trendy" and "modern" music critics in 2000 would have argued that the last thing that poor old planet earth needed was a progressive rock supergroup, indulging their passion for the genre and whipping poor listeners back to its heyday of the early to mid 1970's.

Of course, the last group of people who we prog fans take a blind bit of notice of is the modern music critic. However, the background to the setting up of this project was, of course, the most favourable conditions commercially for the genre in quite a few years. Dream Theater had exploded onto the metal scene, and cleverly introduced a young audience to the joys of intelligent prog rock. Spock's Beard were no commercial slouches themselves, The Flower Kings were already beloved by those of us who loved grandiose, jazzy, symphonic prog, and, finally, Marillion were still a very powerful force within the rock music scene, with a very strong and loyal following. So, when this lot did get together, it was never really going to be a disaster commercially. The point, to me, was, would it be a disaster musically?

No is the strong and pointed answer. I am not usually a great fan of retro music, because I feel, in many instances, that it lacks a certain kind of originality, warmth, and you can, of course, always listen to the real thing. This, though, is different. This album deliberately set out to pay homage to the myriad influences that the cohorts loved, and to provide its buyers with an unashamed classical prog rock album, but did it in such a way that, the cover aside, all of it was utterly original, and brilliantly so.

The main opus is the opener, which would have taken up a whole side on the vinyl of yesteryear (and then some). As a statement of intent, All Of The Above really does take some beating. At half an hour long, it never once loses the listener's attention, either through the grandiose and pomp driven core, or, also, the delicious October Winds quieter passage. The extended closing guitar led passage is simply superb. However, at the very core of this track is about the finest example of bass playing I have had the pleasure to hear in my entire life. Trewavas is at the forefront of all of this track, and I remember seeing an interview with Mike Portnoy saying as much, and expressing his and colleagues utter amazement that someone could play bass so well. Not, though, that any of the others are slouches. The vocal performances by Morse & Stolt are simply amazing, the drums are a match for Trewavas on bass, and the guitar and keys combine wonderfully to create a soundscape that takes one back to the joy of symphonic Yes, Genesis, Camel, the best proto prog. In other words, all of the stuff that we loved so much in the halcyon days, mixed together with the best of the modern. I would here say that if you love this, then you must explore The Flower Kings (symphonic albums, not more jazz orientated) and Spocks Beard, whose sound and attitude it resembles most of the constituent parts.

But even this oral joy is not the best here. For me, this dream track is supplanted by the beautiful lyric and execution of We All Need Some Light. The live version I have sees Neal Morse dedicate this to the 9/11 victims of New York a little while later. At the time of it being written, the lyrics just express that lovely, and probably naive, hope that we as a race can all pull together and find some light and live together in peace. Morse puts in his finest vocal performance of a great career, and the guitar playing is straight from the heart, whilst Portnoy plays one of the finest understated power drumming I have heard. This remains one of my all time favourites.

Mystery Train is funky and bombastic, whilst the orchestral My New World is the finest track that The Flower Kings never got to record. It is clearly the work of a group, rather than those of disparate individuals, and the fact that this was recorded in such a quick time is testament to the talents on display here. It might have benefited, I suppose, from having a couple of minutes shaved off, but that really is a minor and pointless quibble. This was designed to be an over the top album. The strings at the commencement are just perfect as the opening, before the majestic guitar gets to work. The passage of Stolt singing gently, backed by a delicate piano and backing vocals, still has the hair raised on the back of my neck, and the main instrumental section is incredibly disciplined and enjoyable.

Lastly, there is the Procol Harum cover (at the time we did not know that this would become a staple feature of the group) In Held ('Twas) In I. This was one of the finest tracks that great band put to record, and this more than does it justice, from the opening poetry, to the guitar led close. I believe that it was Portnoy who pushed for this to be included, and I, for one, am glad that he did.

I remember twelve years ago being rather excited about this album's release. I think I saw it advertised in Kerrang magazine, although I could be wrong. Whatever, its simple joy and celebration of life and a genre I love has never left me, and it richly deserves the classification of essential, a modern classic with more than a nod to the past glories.

Five stars. If you don't have it, get it, and see what all the fuss is about.

lazland | 5/5 |

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