Neal Morse, without question, has become the pivotal figure in the progressive-rock supergroup Transatlantic. “Bridge Across Forever” – the second album from the band comprised of keyboard player and vocalist Morse (Spock’s Beard), drummer and vocalist Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), guitarist and vocalist Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) and bass player and vocalist Pete Trewavas (Marillion) – at times sounds more like a Spock’s Beard record than an album from any of the other players’ primary bands. Perhaps that’s because Morse handles most of the lead vocals, but it could be something deeper than that, too.
While two of the four songs here surpass the 25-minute mark, some of the pretentiousness that pervades Transatlantic’s first album, “SMPT:e,” disappears on “Bridge Across Forever.” (Pretentiousness, not coincidentally, is in short supply in most of Spock's Beard's material.) For example, a barely audible instrumental botch near the beginning of “Suite Charlotte Pike” on the new self-produced record gives way to a brief moment of awkward silence, and than the razzing voice of Portnoy breaks the tension before someone pipes in with “Take two.” There’s no way in hell that would have happened, say, in the middle of “In Held (Twas) In I,” the obscure Procol Harem track that appeared on “SMPT:e.”
Those few uninhibited seconds of “Suite Charlotte Pike” speak volumes about the spirit of “Bridge Across Forever.” Transatlantic continues to create fanciful and contemporary melodies while remaining firmly rooted in progressive rock’s old world, and they don’t become lost in self-indulgences. Granted, two tracks have five parts — “Stranger in Your Soul,” the rambling closer, has six — but these songs don’t feel nearly as long as they should. “Duel With the Devil” kicks off the disc with a flurry of instruments that showcases each player’s skills, as hints of Marillion and the Flower Kings pop up at opportune times. Portnoy is particularly effective, even though the track is far from the progressive metal of Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment, the drummer’s other side project. “Suite Charlotte Pike,” track two, boasts vocal harmonies and melodies inspired by the Beatles, and the Morse-penned title track -- clocking in at just longer than five minutes – sounds as if it could have appeared on Morse’s self-titled 1999 solo debut. Even though its lyrics are a bit ethereal (“I’ve had this dream all my life that doesn’t live in black and white/It has no end, it just begins in distant sands and magenta winds”), the piano ballad is the album’s most straightforward piece.
Transatlantic’s second album is a crucial acquisition for fans of the players involved and — even at this late date in the genre’s history — expands the boundaries of progressive rock into “distant sands and magenta winds.”