SPV Records/Inside Out Music, 2001
If you want to know what people are doing these days in the name of Prog Rock, then Transatlantic are a convenient place to start. Super-grouped from members of Spock's Beard, Dream Theater, The Flower Kings and Marillion, they are acknowledging their common genre without shame. This is neo-prog, of course, often mocked as a derivative nostalgia exercise, so if you're allergic to anything that sounds more than fleetingly like Yes, then leave well alone.
Out of their parent bands that I'm familiar with (don't yet know any Flower Kings) it's most similar to Spock's Beard, mainly due to Neal Morse's lead vocals (shared with Flower Kings' Roine Stolt) and its softer-end-of-Yes sound. It's littered with choppy organs, moogs n' mellotrons and Squire/Howe-like guitar interplay. Incidentally, for anyone not aware, Marillion are nothing like this these days, under lead singer Steve Hogarth they have eschewed retro-prog and are much more inclined to push genre boundaries. It seems like their bassist Pete Trewavas has a particular taste for the conventional.
For all their trad leanings, they make some entertaining music, and are far from stale. For a 25 minute song, "Duel with the Devil" is surprisingly coherent and non-dragging, probably because they're economical with their tunes, they have the sense to stick with two or three strong riffs. The many instrumental semi-jams which serve to fill up the minutes are all based around these main themes. Neal Morse's lyrics are to the point, this is no Topographic Oceans-style spiritual-fantasy epic, the tunes and playing are firmly in charge.
At the other end of the scale is "Suite Charlotte Pike", which flits restlessly through funky jamming, Supertramp / Eagles style AOR, and "Close to the Edge"-like symphonic rock. "Bridge Across Forever" is a syrupy piano ballad which Jon Anderson (with Wakeman or Vangelis) would have been proud of. OK, a tune like that does seem piss-easy to write, but this one is successful in its simplicity, and sticks non-irritatingly in the head.
"Stranger In Your Soul" is a similar lyrical idea to "Duel with the Devil", although it's a bit less successful than the first epic. It's economical with its themes again, and none of its song or instrumental-jam sections drag, but it could have increased its impact by trimming to under 20 minutes. Having said that, it's easy to dip in and out and regain the thread of the piece, and there's a nice range of moods from punchy rhythm-guitar hammering to ambient keyboard tinkling. But those surprise endings with a bit of extra music after a long silence, that seem to be on every other CD these days, are totally unnecessary.
December 20, 2004