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Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 835 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars If your taste in prog tends to run along the symphonic side of things then this is over 70 minutes of unmitigated joy. However, I'm hesitant to label it a masterpiece because I usually reserve that distinction for albums like "Close to the Edge" or "Selling England by the Pound" (which courageously blazed new trails and are acknowledged landmarks) yet I can't bring myself to give it only 4 stars because this CD is vastly superior to many that I've awarded that rating to. So what's a po' boy to do? The important thing I want to convey is that if you're looking for wonderful, over-the-top, bigger-than-life epics that you once counted on hearing from bands like Yes, Genesis and ELP then I recommend that you get this into your changer or headphones ASAP. It's fresh and hot like it just came out of a prog oven.

Supergroups are more often than not a well-intentioned travesty. Few succeed in creating anything lasting or even listenable but this lineup of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Neal Morse (Spock's Beard), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion) bucked the odds and, while they only lasted for two albums, gave us our money's worth. They don't sound like four "super" individuals at all. Rather, the pervasive collaborative, all-for-one spirit is one of the most alluring qualities of "Bridge Across Forever" and one gets the feeling that there was a strong sense of professionalism, trust and mutual admiration keeping them focused on the job at hand.

Starting things off with a string quartet is always a good sign, then Morse's confident piano playing leads to a kickin' instrumental where the band comes on strong and tight, performing a mini-overture for the first long epic, "Duel With the Devil." Right off the bat it's clear that Portnoy and his unbelievable drumming is in top form as he guides the group like a sleek locomotive and, as Neal's strong vocal begins "Motherless Children," you know this is gonna be good. A fat 12-string acoustic guitar introduces "Walk Away" and the softer tones of Stolt's singing style offers up another aspect to the proceedings as this excellent song unfolds. But don't be misled because this tune has teeth and Roine's Steve Howe-like licks and Mike's out-of-this-world drum fills are awesome. The jazzy groove of "Silence of the Night" follows and Stolt performs a striking, Zappa-inspired wah-wah guitar solo that will pin your ears back before guest saxophonist Keith Mears arrives and gives the track yet another intriguing angle to ponder. After a Yes-style musical interlude, "You're Not Alone" arrives with its smooth, floating aura as they revisit the "Motherless Children" theme that, like many other melodies, resurfaces throughout the entire album. Meanwhile Portnoy's drum mastery continues to amaze. On "Almost Home" an expansive chorale joins in as a slow, steady build-up gathers intensity, culminating in a grandiose climax and a "shimmering" fade out. Yowza! (Okay, I'll admit it. I'm an absolute sucker for this kind of bigger-is-better rock music.)

"Suite Charlotte Pike" sounds nothing like the previous cut and that's a plus because too much of a fine thing can achieve overkill. One way that musicians get their groove on in the studio is to make it funky for a spell before "rolling tape" and here you get a rare glimpse of that technique. It also shows that they're unashamedly reveling in the midst of having some serious fun together. "If She Runs" sounds a smidgen like Spock's Beard on the verse but it doesn't have time to get predictable as Roine soon interrupts with another fierce guitar ride that evolves into "Mr. Wonderful" with its Beatle-ish melody and a deep, full chorus of "His name is Wonderful/and it's wonderful just to be near him" which, in turn, describes both the devil and the savior. On "Lost and Found Pt. 1" things get briefly rock & roll raucous before Morse brings in his gritty attitude on "Temple of the Gods" and shares vocal duties with Mike. As I said earlier, they often resurrect their musical themes and on "Motherless Children/If She Runs (reprise)" they do it quite effectively as they ride the repeating refrain of "don't want to hear it now" to the end. Never a dull moment, that's for sure.

A simple but very beautiful lone piano introduces the album's ballad and namesake, "Bridge Across Forever." Obviously a Neal Morse tune from beginning to end (the only one not credited as a group composition), it's a gorgeous song augmented by a subdued orchestral score and a calming xylophone effect that they graciously allow to remain unbusy.

The last cut, "Stranger in your Soul," is another extended epic that starts with another wisp of the album's initial theme before huge, rolling drums come charging over the horizon accompanied by a Hammond organ, leading to an all-out prog assault of the highest magnitude. The first section, "Sleeping Wide Awake," has Neal and Roine singing both solo and as a duet. "Whatever you're looking for/don't ever start looking behind/whatever you want to change/you better start changing your mind" they advise. On "Hanging in the Balance" a new melody is introduced, then they drop into a hard, metallic guitar/bass riff while Portnoy entertains you with multiple eyebrow-raising "WOW, did you hear THAT?" moments from his drum kit. (The man never ceases to defy all description.) "Lost and Found Pt. 2" is a timely change of tempo and feel that soon transitions to a driving, power-trio jam where Stolt ignites an inferno with his guitar. This guy is GOOD. They climb to a peak and then explode into the spacey "Awakening the Stranger" where different words are sung over the verse melody from "Bridge Across Forever" and the original theme reappears. "Slide" features powerful riffs and vocalizations leading into a deserved break for the underappreciated bassist Trewavas to step into the limelight for a few bars (give the bass player some, will ya guys?). "Stranger in your Soul" is suitably gargantuan and cavernous in scope as they bring the prog party to a fitting end, then Morse's solitary piano fades into the distance playing the central theme.

If you hang on for a couple of minutes you'll discover the hidden, unnamed track that's a wild and crazy two and a half minute coda filled with dislocated musical snippets, bells and weird noises. It's no big deal, just some late-night fun in the studio.

As you would expect, the lyric content is somewhat obtuse and spiritually nondenominational but it doesn't insult your intelligence, either. I know in the future there will be times when I'm in the mood to hear some good ol' symphonic prog and this will more than satisfy that yearning. It's got everything I adore about this genre and there's not a weak point to be found so take my personal praise for what it's worth to you. It doesn't get much better than this. 4.7 stars.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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