Shine on you lazy diamonds (part one…)

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If the very words ‘Progressive rock supergroup’ are enough to make your blood run cold – or indeed, boil – then, to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, this is not the post you are looking for…

…If you’re still reading, then; there’s every chance you’re also as excited as I am at the prospect of an 80-minutes-long record, featuring just five ‘songs’; enrobed in psychedelic, sci-fi splendor and dreamed up by the cream of neo-prog talent. Transatlantic, for the uninitiated, is the collaborate efforts since 2001 of Mr Mike Portnoy (then Archduke/drummer of Dream Theater); Roine Stolt (guitarist-singer-songwriter for The Flower Kings/Kaipa); Mr Peter Trewavas (Marillion/Kino/Edison’s Children); and God-bothering prog polymath from Mars (ex-Spock’s Beard) Mr Neal Morse. In the decade-or-so since, they’ve recorded and toured three fantastic albums and the pre-order for their forth, entitled Kaleidoscope is about to open. Shine is the first ‘single’/album trailer, debuted yesterday on the Prog mag website:

Despite the ‘prog supergroup’ tag, Shine couldn’t be much further from the convoluted instrumental showboating of ELP or Mahavishnu. It’s actually a straightforward rock ballad which, if you’re a fan of other Neal Morse projects from Spock’s Beard to Flying Colors will doubtless have a familiar feel. If you’re detecting a whiff of criticism in that last, then you’re at least half right: Morse‘s skill as a writer and singer of ballads – and his melodic sensibility in general – forms a crucial part of Transatlantic‘s appeal for me. Whilst the band is a veritable heavyweight in the musical muscle-stakes, and not afraid of treating itself and fans to extended, demanding workouts – in common with their first two releases, Kaleidoscope is book-ended by two half-hour-long symphonic pieces – each album has included songs that show facility for more economical, pop-rock-oriented writing. We All Need Some Light (from SMPTe, 2001) and Rose Colored Glasses (The Whirlwind, 2009) are fine examples of this kind of vibe and both were highlights of their last tour (on which the band was complemented by ‘all-round utility guy’ Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain Of Salvation fame, upping the ‘super’ stakes). Shine is a song in a similar vein, but, frankly, not in the same league. Where those songs soared and took flight, it merely plods along, struggling for breath. Even Roine Stolt‘s second solo at 4.20 – my favourite thing about the song – sounds a little uninspired by his standards; derivative somewhat of David Gilmour (Comfortably Numb in the wrong key?) and also Trewavas‘ band-mate Steve Rothery, albeit as thrilling as neither.

The country twang that makes itself felt around the two minute mark is a slight departure for the band, though curiously-apposite given that the recordings were begun in Morse‘s adopted home of Nashville; whilst the brief interlude into Floyd-ey psychedelia at 3.47 – predictably, voiced by Portnoy – is sweetly-trippy, yet slightly out of place there. The effects processor conveniently disguises his shortcomings as a vocalist – he and Trewavas provide solid backups and harmonies, but truthfully neither cuts it on lead, Portnoy least of all – but it’s something of a mystery why the band chose to split up the vocal duties at all. The song sounds very Morse and he’s much the strongest singer, even if Stolt‘s more idiosyncratic tone remains more distinctive. And can I mention the video clip? It looks cheap – as much as I love the musty, tumbledown grandeur of the chapel – and is unlikely to either impress their select, if devoted legion of fans or win them any new ones. Maybe a fanclub competition along the lines of Marillion‘s Whatever Is Wrong With You marketing wheeze would have been the way to go. The spark of creativity therein went a long way towards mitigating the nonexistent budget.

Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say I don’t like the song, it’s by far the least immediately-impressive tune released by the band thusfar: not since Asia‘s 1982 debut has the ‘super’ been so conspicuous for its absence in a group so deserving, talent-wise, of the appellation. The collective talent in Transatlantic is indeed an embarrassment, yet had this been my introduction to the collaboration I can’t say I’d have been won over, especially given the £40 (+ P&P) price tag on the collectors’ edition hardback set. As it happens, my Trans-virginity (fnarr, fnarr) was taken by Mystery Train (see below) which is better indicative of the band’s general sound and compositional skill, whilst remaining melodic and accessible. I will be buying said product, mind: on the strength of their previous three excellent albums I’m convinced I won’t be disappointed. On The Whirlwind in particular, they did themselves proud, making a record that harked back to the heyday of symphonic prog whilst remaining fresh and accessible. I hope this single doesn’t – ironically – prove to be an indicator that the shine is beginning to wear off.

The Prog article can be read in full here and includes the full tracklisting for the album including a bonus CD of cover versions which showcases some of the band’s diverse roster of influences:

CD1
01. Into The Blue (25:13)
02. Shine (7:28)
03. Black As the Sky (6:45)
04. Beyond The Sun (4:31)
05. Kaleidoscope (31:53)

CD2
01. And You And I (Yes cover) (10:45)
02. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (ELO cover) (4:46)
03. Conquistador (Procol Harum cover) (4:13)
04. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John) (3:20)
05. Tin Soldier (Small Faces cover) (3:22)
06. Sylvia (Focus cover) (3:49)
07. Indiscipline (King Crimson cover) (4:45)
08. Nights In White Satin (The Moody Blues cover) (6:13)

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