Bridge Across Forever
(Radiant / Metal Blade)
The first album from this prog-rock supergroup was notable for its 30-minute epic, All of the Above. The rest of the CD seemed little more than an exercise in self-indulgence. For those who may not already know, Transatlantic consists of Neal Morse on keyboards (Spock's Beard), Mike Portnoy on drums (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt on guitar (Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas on bass (Marillion). All four members contribute vocals to the mix. When the band's new CD arrived, I checked out the track list and noticed there were only four tracks. With two of them being over the 25-minute mark, I figured this was going to be like their first CD. Man, was I wrong. Structurally, the album is similar to the second side of The Beatles' Abbey Road. Bits and pieces of songs reappear over the course of the disc, with the band moving effortlessly between the musical passages. The musicianship is outstanding throughout (as you would expect), but the songwriting is now more of a group effort.
The first track, "Duel with the Devil" is broken down into five parts. It begins with a string section, followed by Neal Morse's piano to introduce the theme. The rest of the band comes in rocking on "Motherless Children." Things quiet down initially on "Walk Away," then the band rocks hard. The "Motherless Children" theme comes back in during "You're Not Alone," and then again later in "Almost Home"--this time, sung by The 'Elite' Choir as the suite builds to a majestic finish. If this were the only track on the CD, it would be well worth the price. But there's more--a lot more.
One of the coolest things about this disc is the way the band obviously doesn't take itself too seriously. Most prog bands come across as being stiff perfectionists who never make mistakes and do everything for the sake of their craft. After a false start, "Suite Charlotte Pike" breaks down and you hear someone say, "What's up?" Someone comes back with a "WASSUP!" and the band bursts into laughter. Recorded live in the studio, you can hear the studio chatter in places during the song. The track starts with the rocking "If She Runs," which is full of Beatlesque 4-part harmonies (Morse is a huge Beatles fan). The second section, "Mr. Wonderful" is the low point on the CD. Things quickly pick up for "Lost and Found Pt. 1" though. It rocks out for a while, and then quiets down for a reprise of "Motherless Children." Stolt turns in a particularly heartfelt guitar solo at the end of "If She Runs (reprise)." Great track.
At 5:32, the title track is the 'short' song on the CD. Essentially just Morse by himself, "Bridge Across Forever" is one of the most beautiful pieces of music the Spock's Beard frontman has ever written. The 30-minute "Stranger in Your Soul" begins quietly with the string intro heard earlier on "Duel With the Devil." Portnoy & Morse fade in over the strings, followed by the rest of the band, as the intro slowly builds to a rocking crescendo. The music fades into the piano backdrop of "Sleeping Wide Awake." However, the quietness quickly subsides as the aural assault of "Hanging in the Balance" comes pummeling its way out of your speakers.
After a quick reprise of "Lost and Found," the band quiets things down again for a brief keyboard interlude, followed by an incendiary bass/guitar duel between Stolt and Trewavas. Again, the music fades as Morse comes to the forefront for "Awakening the Stranger." The last section of the track is the disc's grand finale--combining the previous themes and bringing things to a stunning close. Be sure to stick around after the track ends though. After a two-minute pause, the music from "Suite Charlotte Pike" fades back for a quick reprise (possibly the way the song actually ended in the studio before the fade).
Bridge Across Forever is definitely one of those CDs that you need to hear a few times before you can truly catch everything that's going on. But the best thing about this CD is that not only is the material enjoyable the first time you hear it, it actually gets better with repeated listens. Challenging, yet ultimately accessible, this is clearly the best progressive rock release of the year.
|© 2001 Steve Marshall|
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