Transatlantic - SMPTe

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Metal Blade
Catalog Number: 3984-14290-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 77:13:00

I was quite excited to hear the results of the Transatlantic project - being a great fan of the artists involved. Well, not of Roine Stolt, but only because I hadn't heard any Kaipa or Flower Kings material really until recently and so had no basis for like or dislike. Of course, I've liked quite a bit of Dream Theater material over the years, and Spock's Beard and Marillion are vying with each other in my "favourite band" sweepstakes (there are others that are nipping at their heels). So, I was thinking "this is gonna be great!"

Well, I am somewhat disappointed, but generally have an overall good feeling about this SMPTe. The playing is great, the music is great, but I can't get over how much it sounds like a Spock's Beard release. Which is fine on the one hand. I like Spock's Beard, and so I like the material here. If tell you that "Crack The Big Sky" keeps running through my head, which appeared on Spock's Beard's latest, you know just how like an SB release this is (or at least the first track, which is just under 31 minutes). But, I was expecting something ? well, something different, something that seems more a combination of all the parts.

Other than that disappointment, which will soon pass, I think this is a great sounding album and I really like it. The opening track is a multi-part composition called "All Of The Above." The opening intro/overture (about the first 5 minutes) moves through several themes, the first a very SB like opening - a descending crescendo of keyboards, guitars, drums. In there, too, you will find a very Emersonian-like passage courtesy, I think, of Stolt on the mellotron. There's a Marillion-like keyboard passage in there, too. A bit of Dream Theater ? actually, I suppose if you examine this closely, one can find small homages to other progressive bands (not just the ones they play in) - a list that matches these artists' regular band's influences.

The first section of "All The Above" is called "Full Moon Rising." Like many a SB track, this is very open and expansive, and I suppose there'll be dozens of interpretations of what Morse is on about. Anyway, this has, perhaps, a bit more percussive punch than one hears in a SB release. Though guitar takes the lead. Movement one moves abruptly into movement two, "October Winds," which is wrapped around first a nice keyboard and guitar duet, before both instruments trade leads. Keys give way to a great piano passage by Neal Morse at about 8 minutes in to the suite, which melds into an organ or mellotron passage, melding into a guitar passage. Quite nice stuff, really?as this winds down to segue into the next movement, "Camouflaged In Blue."

"Camouflaged In Blue" is mostly led by Trewavas' bass, with only light guitar accents back in the mix. Morse's vocals here sound a bit like Steve Hogarth's - odd, that, as he usually doesn't. According to a recent interview (she cheekily mentions), Morse had originally written this with a Latin arrangement, but all that remains from that is Trewavas' bassline. Eventually, stuttering keyboards comes in for the second verse, soon followed by guitar and drums come in toward the end ? I really like this one, especially the way it builds, and yet never breaking loose into a rocker. The tight arrangement makes for a great deal of tension, even as Stolt solos over the top ? as we move into the fourth movement, we get a very Emersonian like phrase (I'm thinking mellotron) - think a dash of "Tarkus." Movement five, "Undying Love" returns to the feel of "Camouflaged," though here it is acoustic guitar that is the lead instrument. It slowly builds back up to treat us to a searing guitar solo.

The final movement "Full Moon Rising (Reprise)" triumphantly returns, bringing the full band back in in equal measure. It moves through a very brief funky section, about which Morse said "If you listen at the end of the a capella piece in 'Full Moon Rising,' you'll hear some wah-wah guitar. The first time I heard it I thought of Isaac Hayes and 'Theme From Shaft!' It's so cool." Yes, it is, and heard all too briefly.

The suite ends in atmospheric fashion as a pulsating keyboard phrase creates that hanging moment - where everything seems to stop - like a held breath waiting to exhale ? only that exhale never comes ? you are forever on the cusp, as the track fades away into nothingness?

After the "All Of The Above" suite has ended, we get the acoustic "We All Need Some Light" - suddenly seeming short at only 5-plus minutes. It segues beautifully off the end of "All Of?" - anything else in the number two position would be far too jarring, and shatter the mood created. It opens with a light, acoustic guitar, joined by gentle keyboard washes, and then Morse's vocals. The track ends in an uplifting manner with full band, background harmonies, and some bell-like tones that appear briefly. In between we get a dim view of the world, punctuated by the chorus - "And we all need some light now." I'm sure one could make several arguments for what Morse means by "light" - God, better governmental leaders, the return of some moral compass ? whatever you think might be the "light" we all need.

"Mystery Train" is somewhat different, though it does still have a strong SB feel. This is the quirkiest track on the album and the point where Portnoy gets to come to the forefront, not just with the drum solo about halfway through, but all throughout it, the layers are: vocals, drums, bass, guitars, then keys. Trewavas gets another chance to play some juicy, somewhat funky, basslines . Though keys fight their way to the top for the outro, ultimately battling it out with the drums, only to end in a swirling morass of sound.

"My New World" is the next epic track on the album (16 minutes) - a Stolt lead tune. It begins with a classical opening lead by a resonant cello, with shimmering cymbal accents, then guitar, only to move into jaunty mellotron. Somewhat Beatles-esque, this track is, the Beatles in the Sgt. Pepper's period (especially during the verses). There is a decidedly psychedelic feel to it. A fuzzy guitar solo is followed by a parping keyboard solo (think of Emerson playing a Beard tune). All this over a jaunty drum tattoo, a tight, but jolly bass line, and chiming bells - this is the first solo section, which gives way to quite, understated keyboard effects? you might think of parts of Marillion's Brave - here Morse takes lead vocals again.

The album closes with a Transatlantic arrangement of Procol Harum's "In Held ('Twas) In I." This is, of course, the track that sounds the least like SB, though oddly Stolt sounds a bit like Bob Dylan vocally here. I can't really compare this to the original, as it's not a PH tune I've heard, but I'm guessing at least parts hue closely - the Hammond parts especially, as that is probably one of the key (if not THE key) sound of PH. At least, given that "Whiter Shade Of Pale" is perhaps their most widely known track (and often covered) it is a sound one can associate with PH.

If you don't like Spock's Beard, then you won't like a large portion of this album, but for the rest of us, this is a really good album. I imagine the follow up will be much stronger, as they try to find a sound less like any one of their respective bands, and one that takes paths they couldn't explore in those other contexts.

Also released by Radiant Records (joint w/Metal Blade) and by InsideOut for Europe (IOMCD057/SPV 085-31792CD)

All Of The Above (30:59) / We All Need Some Light (5:45) / Mystery Train (6:52) / My New World (16:16) / In Held (Twas) In I (17:21)

Roine Stolt - guitars, mellotrons, percussion, vocals
Mike Portnoy - drums, vocals
Pete Trewavas - bass, Moog Taurus pedals, vocals
Neal Morse - lead vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar, additional electric guitar

SMPTe (2000)
Live In America (2001)
Bridge Across Forever (2001)
Bridge Across Forever - Special Edition (2001)
Live In Europe (2003)
The Whirlwind (2009)
More Is Never Enough (CD/DVD) (2011)
Kaleidoscope (2014)
KaLIVEoscope (CD/DVD) (2014)

Live In America (DVD) (2001)
Live In Europe (DVD) (2003)
Building The Bridge Across Forever/Live In America (DVD) (2006)
Whirld Tour 2010 - Live From Shepherd's Bush Empire, London (DVD) (2010)
More Is Never Enough (DVD/CD) (2011)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin VA

Added: April 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1156
Language: english


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