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Transatlantic: The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version) - Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)

It’s a long time since I felt this under prepared for a test… What? This isn’t a test?

Well, in many ways The Absolute Universe feels like exactly that, I mean there’s something like 150 minutes of music across three discs here (and two separate releases depending on how you choose to buy) and I haven’t even heard the extendingly-extended-conjoined third option on the blu-ray…

From the two versions I have heard, Forevermore (Extended) and Breath Of Life (Abridged), these are two takes on the same album, while being, well… not two takes on the same album. I mean, listen to the gloriously catchy “Higher Than The Morning” in short-mode and it’s a wonderfully memorable, chorus led piece of prog-pop that captures the mind and won’t let go. Sample the same song on the long version and well, it’s a memorable, chorus led piece that somehow sounds exactly the same while adding in all manner of new instrumental jumping off points. Was there a guitar solo there before? Did that drum break exist? Yes? Maybe? No? Don’t ask me, I’ve lost my notes… In essence, it doesn’t really matter, other than it’s unavoidable, for me at least, to contrast and compare and look to tease out who did what, where, when, why and then did they do that in the other?

The back-story behind this utter prog shenanigans from the superist of super-groups is that after working on the music for this album together but alone thanks to the pandemic days, different versions appeared from different band members (I know you know it’s Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Mike Portnoy and Pete Trewavas). Some of the tracks were suddenly elongated, some had different lyrics sung by different people and some band members felt the whole thing needed judiciously paired back to make a more concise message - others didn’t. Then, as it all came together, some in the ‘keep it shorter’ camp preferred the longer version and so on and so on and hence we get the best of both worlds… or do we?

Well, the short answer is yes, we do, but did we need to? It was Morse who presided over the shorter version and as such, you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that Breath... combines sprawling prog ideals with sharp hooks. In many ways it made me wonder if The Beatles might just have sounded like this had they also been members of The Flower Kings, Marillion, (ex)Spock’s Beard and (ex)Dream Theater? The vocals are often stacked and given a real vintage pop sheen that makes them stick deep in the mind - arguably it sounds, maybe not too shockingly, like a Neal Morse solo album.

Stolt was the man given the job of hounding the longer version into cohesion, which he’s done with the sort of flowing freedom The Flower Kings (natch) use to tell their stories. Unsurprisingly, that translates into neat little musical interplays where each instrument gets a chance to shine, while they also get to combine and share that spotlight. But it’s also more complex than that. Even tracks with the same name have different chord structures and sequences, different lyrics and - obviously - vastly different arrangements.

In hope of reviewing, I’ve often listened to the two versions back to back numerous times and even now, a few weeks into that process, while thoroughly impressed and invigorated, the task of telling you where one thing starts and another ends compared to where it might not even exist on the other (if you think that’s confusing, try it for yourself…) is pretty dazzling. Even the more straight ahead groove grinders like “Owl Howl” don’t play by simple rules… and then of course, there are the tracks on Forevermore that don’t even exist on Breath Of Life and sections on Breath that aren’t part of Forevermore. Phew! And of course, Portnoy has combined some (it can’t be all) on the definitive blu-ray version.

So let’s cut to chases here. If you like, or love Transatlantic, then you’ll like or love these albums. I’d say that if the sprawling, but spliced (album three) Whirlwind is your gig, then it’s going to be Forevermore that will set you alight. However if it’s Kaleidoscope (album four) that floats your prog cruise, then Breath... could well be for you. However, if it’s either of the band’s first two releases that truly drop your jaw (like they do mine), then arguably you’ll be left impressed but not 100% sold. I find the shorter version to feel a little forced, with most of the tracks crescendoing into the next in all too similar manner. And if you pushed me, I’d say it’s poppier, more easily accessible and, well, forgettable. Whereas Forevermore verges on being something truly special, without quite knocking that door of greatness down. Could a more removed producing eye have seen a bigger, yet somehow smaller picture? I’d boldly suggest so, because even the more free flowing Stolt option feels like a compromise in one or two places.

And with that in mind, the four star rating below is a little disingenuous, because I’m spitting a 3.5/5 for Breath of Life with a 4.5/5 for Forevermore and predicting the latter will feature pretty high in my 2021 end of year best of list, while the former might not even be seen at all. Still, I can’t quite help but think that greatness has been snatched away from The Absolute Universe by the very men who created it - well some of it and all of it, but not all of the end results - and that’s maybe the problem? If there’s a problem at all…


Track Listing
Forevermore (Extended Version)
Disc 1
1. Overture
2. Heart Like A Whirlwind
3. Higher Than The Morning
4. The Darkness In The Light
5. Swing High, Swing Low
6. Bully
7. Rainbow Sky
8. Looking For The Light
9. The World We Used To Know

Disc 2
1. The Sun Comes Up Today
2. Love Made A Way (Prelude)
3. Owl Howl
4. Solitude
5. Belong
6. Lonesome Rebel
7. Looking For The Light (Reprise)
8. The Greatest Story Never Ends
9. Love Made A Way

Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)
1. Overture
2. Reaching for the Sky
3. Higher Than the Morning
4. The Darkness in the Light
5. Take Now My Soul
6. Looking for the Light
7. Love Made a Way (prelude)
8. Owl Howl
9. Solitude
10. Belong
11. Can You Feel It
12. Looking for the Light (reprise)
13. The Greatest Story Never Ends
14. Love Made a Way

Added: March 5th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Transatlantic online
Hits: 502
Language: english

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