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Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 846 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars In the interest of full disclosure it's only fair to admit that one of my reasons for visiting such an already well-received album is to kick the legs out from under "The Whirlwind" in a later review, without seeming like a spoilsport. The profound letdown of that next effort left me wondering if the band itself had slipped during the intervening years, or just my opinion of them.

But after hearing their sophomore album again, I'm convinced: it was the band. "Bridge Across Forever" is just as vital today as it was a dozen years ago, when the supergroup released what stands as their definitive collaboration, far ahead of the popular but uneven studio debut of "SMPT:e".

On close inspection it shouldn't have worked at all. This is an album of motifs instead of actual songs, arranged and repeated over three extended multi-section suites, with the title ballad positioned like a palate cleanser before the 26-minute climax of "Stranger In Your Soul", arguably Transatlantic's finest (half) hour, but not even the longest selection here. The band could have eliminated the track indexes altogether and run the whole thing as one 73-minute monster: the cut-and-paste aesthetic would have been the same either way. But the discrete separations give the larger album a manageable structure, far more effective than the sum of its individual parts, and allowing the listener to digest one set of musical ideas at a time (unlike the numbing one-and-a quarter hour-plus medley of "The Whirlwind").

Piece by piece it's actually a bit of a mess. Expect moments of Symphonic Rock bombast ("Duel With the Devil"); bogus machismo ("Temple of the Gods"); insecure vocal harmonies ("Lost and Found"); histrionic overkill (a Neal Morse specialty, as heard in the faux-soulful climax of "Duel..."); and more lyrics than would otherwise comfortably fit on a 73-minute CD. The obvious thematic spirituality is (thankfully) more universal than explicit, and lacking the Born Again blinders of later Neal Morse writings. But the glut of words is still an acquired taste, and hardly the album's crowning attribute.

"Whatever you're looking for / Don't ever start looking behind" is a fairly typical line, and pretty funny coming the poster boys of Retro-Prog conservatism. That may sound like harsh criticism, but keep in mind the music here isn't remotely progressive. This is pure, unapologetic Prog Rock, with a widescreen, neon-lit capitol letter 'P', and fully deserving four complete stars (on this web site, at any rate) for grandiosity alone.

There's even a thrilling episode of live-in-the-studio jamming, fading into "Suite Charlotte Pike". Such unexpected spontaneity provides easily the most liberating one-minute and fifty- seconds of music on the entire disc, and that includes the audio-vérité flub and recovery. Too bad the improv was prematurely stopped dead at the start of the song itself: yet another jumble of unfinished ideas crammed into a single 'composition'. This is clearly a band that plays well without a script, and I wish they had done so more often.

All of which underlines my key point. Examine the Bridge through a microscope and you'll see every structural blemish, wart and wrinkle, across the entire span. But in total it's a more balanced and well-rounded effort than their year 2000 debut, although I wish the vocal duties had been assigned less democratically (Mike Portnoy should have stuck to his drumming). Not unlike a Picasso collage, the album requires a little distance to see how neatly each theme fits into the overall canvas, particularly during the finale of "Stranger...", when many of the musical phrases heard earlier in the album are reprised to their fullest effect.

What it all boils down to is an ambitious, dynamic, and often gloriously redundant Golden Age throwback: a guilt-free guilty pleasure freshly minted for the new millennium. A pity the band didn't quit while they were ahead.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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