1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
“The dawn of the millennium saw four of progressive rock’s finest join together to form the supergroup, Transatlantic: Neal Morse (lead vocals, guitar, keyboard), Roine Stolt (lead vocals, guitar), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), and Pete Trewavas (bass). Their two seminal albums, tours and DVDs redefined prog’s artistic and commercial possibilities with a combination of modern and traditional prog, classic pop sensibilities, and mind-blowing performances”
“The stars that burn brightest often burn fastest, though; after two years, the members went their separate ways and Neal Morse left mainstream music altogether. The four remained friends, but when asked about the prospect of a reunion, responded that it was not likely. Fans kept the faith but realiststs moved on.
“In the ensuing years, the four worked tangentially, with the exception of Mike Portnoy and Neal, who collaborated on Morse’s solo work. Nonetheless, Mike was surprised when Neal called him, suggesting a reunion. Morse had been working on a 45-minute piece entitled, “The Whirlwind”. As he progressed, it began to take on the characteristics of a Transatlantic epic. After hearing it, Mike agreed. They reached out to Pete and Roine, and asked them to consider a reunion. After nine years, the answer came faster than either expected: “Absolutely”
“Roine, Pete and Mike converged on Neal’s studio on July 15th. Each member brought new material. Starting from Neal's demo, the four wrote together and jammed extensively. Collectively, they created a completely new album, retaining Neal's original title. The material came fast and furiously, and in a span of eight days, the team produced enough material for two releases. Recording engineer Jerry Guidroz's long-time experience with the group captured the best performances, and together with mixing engineer Rich Mouser, produced the band's finest sounding effort to date “
“Neal's original Whirlwind embodied a vision that guided the album's initial lyrical evolution. Together, the band crafted the final narrative, steering the session's collectively written material, and unifying the music that each member had brought to the reunion. The Whirlwind portrays the unyielding fury of life's turbulence, longing, mysteries and uncertainty; but somewhere, in the storm's eye, there is peace”
“The Whirlwind will be available in three editions: a standard CD package, a two-disc Special Edition, and a three disc Deluxe Edition. The Special Edition includes a 20-page booklet, and a second audio CD featuring four other new songs recorded for The Whirlwind, along with four creative covers. The Deluxe Edition adds an exciting, full-length behind-the-scenes DVD“ (http://www.myspace.com/transatlanticprog).
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
Neal Morse had already put together a 45 minute piece that he thought would work well as a Transatlantic reunion project.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
Part I – Overture/Whirlwind –That familiar build – up to the scream from Dark Side of the Moon, and then the orchestral beginning. The now familiar keys of Morse, the drumming of Portnoy with Trevawas and Stolt holding their own and bringing together the cast. The heavy keys, drums, and bass setting up a rhythm for the whirlwind sound being delivered. “Catch your breath as you watch your step.” Stolt’s voice jumps through the space to open the first vocal tracks. Trevawas bass is heavy and punctuated, with Neal kicking in to sing the chorus parts. Great blending of the talent of these superstars. “And we got caught in the whirlwind.” “Torn by the storms of our lives.” The message of the album laid out for us in the opening. But the journey’s just begun.
Part II – The Wind Blew Them All Way – Neal takes over the lead vocals, singing lyrics that sound similar to his solo work. I am a fan of his lyrics, and these are very strong, but they get better later in the CD. The guitar solos are good here, signature chords and original, not your average Steve Hackett - like launching solos so familiar in Neo Prog. Memories of TA’s past, with a nod to the newer sound.
Part III – On The Prowl – Rolling bass and the nice 70s, I’m Your Captain keys and quiet drums building momentum. Trevawas bass really does a great job of setting a mood. “Blow them down – stir up this mess.” “Make them think their leaders have become possessed.” “But listen through the wind you’ll hear him now.” “Working wonders though we know not how.” There is guidance from above despite the harrows of the journey ahead.
Part IV – A Man Can Feel – Stolt takes back the lead, “so you think you’re in control?” with a sinister sounding snide vocal. Perfect transition, until he mentions those classic Neo Prog clichés, “One World Order, hollow icons, pale riders of no tomorrow”. “That poker face won’t stand a fall from grace”, delivered with passion, sounds cool. Then the familiar Genesis, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway rhythm of Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist. The notes have been changed to protect originality, but some of us can still pick out the rhythm. A Hackett styled guitar solo to make sure no one ever forgets. “Old classics are long overdue”. That is part of the problem with this band. More on this later, when it gets much worse. The solos and bass lines here are extended far beyond what is necessary.
Part V – Out of the Night – “Coming out of the night”, Stolt breaks out with vocals into the next section of the song. Portnoy takes over vocals shortly after to add his voice to the collaboration. Then a soft, Yes – like moment, complete with Steve Howe sounding guitar. Neal takes over graciously to bring back the original sound. Good lyrics helping to tell the story. Then we’re back to Roine singing. Great transitions between these talented artists which captures the power of this union. The guitar sound is so reminiscent of some of Yes’ best work, then fade out to Genesis Ripples/Mad Man – sounding acoustic guitar as the next section begins.
Part VI – Rose Colored Glasses – “Long ago he saw the light of day”, the Ripples/Mad Man guitar continues and gets even more pronounced. Sounds great, but maybe too similar. The lyrics however, save the song. Neal really can write well. Powerful stirring lyrics even if the music supporting sounds far too familiar.
Part VII – Evermore – Wonderful piano to kick this one off and an instrumental interlude to continue the rhythm. Great keys and heavy bass with that Yes sound. All band members hitting in time like a machine in motion. With that Leviathan - like synth sound from Neal’s last album every once in a while to lift it.
Part VIII – Set Us Free – Drums and that Leviathan - like theme again to kick off this one. Back to the 70s keys and a chance to fill the epic with lyrics, to further explain the story. By the end of this track you are really ready for some change in the next section.
Part IX – Lay Down Your Life – Spooky kinda guitar, keys, and piano then a full blown Leviathan – like key and guitar riff. Neal really picks up the volume and power desperately needed after almost putting us to sleep with the last two tracks. Then he mispronounces Spokane, (spoke ann here in Washington). Not sure of the reference here, since it’s pretty arid in Spokane. Nice thundering guitar riff builds and grinds on through the middle of the piece. Drums are powerful, but by the end of the track, you’re ready for a change.
Part X – Pieces of Heaven – Keys drifting over drums and setting a new rhythm. Wind building and before you know it this one is over.
Part XI – Is It Really Happening? – They all must love Yes. On this one they come so close to doing another cover, (the second CD is full of cover songs), that you will swear they were going to break into a medley of Yes, It Can Happen/Does it Really Happen? The track even opens with an And You and I quiet moment with ocean instead of the waterfall/river. Good full blown synth rhythm, reminiscent of old Dream Theater, definitely Portnoy influenced, at the end sets the stage well for the climax.
Part XII – Dancing With Eternal Glory/Whirlwind (Reprise) – They did save the best for last. The best lyrics and the most original sounding part of the entire epic. The opening piano will have you wishing they had used it instead of the synths throughout the album. Just amazing and beautiful. This song alone saves the album from being a rehash of all their old material.
The piano really gives that special feeling to the sound. Almost a country twang in there to really separate this track from the rest of the album. An album full of this power and lyrics would have been incredible. Bells, and so much more. Really pulling out all stops to capture the feeling missed throughout the rest of the album.
Special Edition – Bonus Disc
1. Spinning – Nice original pop single. Nice Yes riffs towards the end of the song. The refrain is repeated too often.
2. Lenny Johnson – An interesting story within a song. But again, repeating the refrain until you can’t wait until it’s over.
3. For Such a Time – The best of the original songs included as a bonus. Very good. Would have been great included somewhere within the epic. Not sure why it didn’t get included in some way. Wonderful lyrics.
4. Lending a Hand – Birds and keys opens this song written and sung by Pete Trevawas. Good because it sounds so different and original on this package of songs. Kinda of a Beatles dreamy sound, but still original in content. Saxophone and calliope keys adding more variance to the sound. Thanks for that.
5. The Return of the Giant Hogweed – Great, straight forward re-make of the classic Genesis song. Helping to introduce new generations to this classic music.
6. A Salty Dog – It was TA who introduced me to Procol Harum’s classic In Held Twas In I, and maybe some young kid will hear this classic for the first time thanks to Transatlantic. Good that they let Mike handle the vocals here, but few can compare to Gary Brooker, especially Procol Harum’s live version.
7. I Need You – Good mix of one of the band America’s, best songs, and a Beatles classic. Nice interpretation and the most original interpretation of the four cover songs. Neal makes any Beatles song his own with a great performance.
8. Soul Sacrifice – Good, but nothing compares to the original.
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
No, it’s mostly similar to all of their past albums. Eternal Glory is the best song on the first disc, but it is not enough to make this one great. It’s good, but doesn’t lift this music to the super group status that it should. The talent here is evident, but the creativity is not strong enough to make this memorable. They do much better as a cover band re-making others music. They interpret well.
Younger generations and those new to prog will enjoy this and call it classic. Those of us who have the original Genesis/Santana/Beatles/Procol Harum/Transatlantic discs will continue wishing for something new in the universe of prog, and recognize it as a Neo interpretation of the past.
5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Sure, the fans of Transatlantic will love this and listen to it often as a new classic in their library. It keeps the base fans happy, but I doubt this will bring in more new fans other than the possible new discoveries. Hopefully the younger generation will search out the original versions of the cover songs. Theses seminal works cannot be missed.
Rating: 7/10 – Dancing with Eternal Glory really saves the album from being average. The musicianship is great, but the sounds being played sound too similar to what has been done by TA and others before.
Reviewed by Prof on November 15th, 2009