In September 2019 the four-piece of Neal Morse (vocals, piano, Hammond organ, Minimoog, Mellotron, acoustic guitar, charango), Roine Stolt (vocals, electric & acoustic 6- & 12-string guitars, ukulele, keyboards, percussion), Pete Trewavas (vocals, bass) and Mike Portnoy (vocals, drums & percussion) met up to discuss what would be their fifth album. After a couple of weeks of working on material and mapping out songs each musician returned to their own studio to work on the recording. It was during this period that the album kept growing, and discussions were had as to whether this should be a double or single CD. Pete and Neal favoured the shorter version while Roine and Mike preferred the longer, so in the end they decided to do both. But it is important to understand that one is not a shorter/longer version of the other in that there are alternate recordings, new recordings, and even different singers on the single album.
While they are different albums, they are also the same, which makes it hard to write different reviews for each one, but life is never easy is it? When Transatlantic first came together more than 20 years ago I was blown away, as this was the first prog supergroup of the new generation and ‘SMPT:e’ is still a delight to listen to. Here we had musicians from Spock’s Beard, Marillion, The Flower Kings and Dream Theater combining in a way which brought in influences from all these bands, taking the music in a vast symphonic manner which was both massively over the top yet also contained simple to understand melodies.
Given all those involved are also in other active units, Transatlantic have never been the most prolific of bands, and it has been six years since ‘Kaleidoscope’, which in itself was five years from ‘The Whirlwind’ while that was in itself eight years on from ‘Bridge Across Forever’ (although Morse had removed himself from popular music during that period as he concentrated on his Christianity). Morse feels this album has more in common with ‘Whirlwind’ than any other, while Trewavas states simply that it is the best thing they have ever done, and he may just be right. Transatlantic have a reputation of pushing boundaries and limits, sometimes extending where they might be better of trimming, which I am sure is due much to the influence of Stolt as this is something he has also been guilty of The Flower Kings. Yet in recent years they have definitely cut back, and the same is true here with this band, as while the album is 90 minutes long, there are 18 songs and only 3 of them are eight minutes or longer. This means we get shifts in approach far more often, and while at times it feels more like one continuous piece of music than a series of songs, there is no doubt that they are shifting melodies and lyrical ideas.
Since this band came into inception, I have often wondered what Trewavas thinks when he goes back to the day job, as I would take any Transatlantic album over any Marillion album released during the same timeframe as here we have a band that really is taking symphonic prog in new directions, lifting the listener. The 90 minutes of this release just fly by and listening to this version it is hard to imagine how it could work in a more abbreviated form. Transatlantic are back, and it is a masterpiece.
10/10 Kev Rowland