The Bridge Across Forever
Review by Steve Alspach
Prog's premier supergroup (Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Mike Portnoy, and Pete Trewavas) strike again with this 2001 release. This album sounds similar to their first effort, but there are many differences that set this album apart. There is a greater sense of cohesion in this album, and musical themes reappear not only within songs but also between songs. The songwriting is more collaborative (in fact, three of the four songs are credited to Transatlantic and not by band member's names), and the end result is an album that deserves the listener's attention but will not fail to reward.
The personnel on this album are: Neal Morse, grand piano, Hammond organ, Mini-Moog, Rhodes piano, synthesizer, vocals, additional guitars and mandolin; Mike Portnoy; Drums and vocals; Roine Stolt, Electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, Mellotron, additional keyboards and percussion; and Pete Trewavas, Warwick bass, Taurus bass pedals, and vocals. Also appearing are: Chris Carmichael, violin, viola and cello; Keith Mears, saxophone; and the "Elite" choir, background vocals.
|Track by Track Review
|Duel With the Devil|
This is a 26:33 suite that shows the band doing what it does best - creating an entire album within a song, with inter-related themes in complex arrangements.
|I - Motherless Children|
The song first starts with a somber-enough string quarter, then the band comes in in a lengthy instrumental passage, mostly as an overture to this suite.
|II - Walk Away|
Based in an acoustic mode for most of this section, eventually the band kicks in, going to overdrive on an instrumental section before pulling back. Stolt gets a slightly understated solo, then a Pink Floydian saxophone takes the lead.
|III - Silence of the Night|
Morse sings the verse from "Motherless Children", and the background vocals make this section sound all the more like "Dark Side"-era Floyd.
|IV - You're Not Alone|
A Gentle-Giant-type bridge leads to a light-yet-up-tempo section. The chorus from "Motherless Children" is used but with a different musical theme - a common technique on this album.
|V - Almost Home|
This is another instrumental section, and here Portnoy takes off. It is really a reprise of "Motherless Children", but the chorus uses a choir to excellent effect. The section builds before it finishes in a ¾ instrumental finale.
|Suite Charlotte Pike|
This song differs from the other Transatlantic suites in its relative brevity ("only" 14:33 long) and it's looseness. Less orchestral than other suites, this song shows the band letting its hair down and it sounds like the band is having a blast in the process.
|I - If She Comes|
After an aborted intro, the band kicks in on a fun, funky riff. At one point in this section someone (perhaps Morse) checks for the key change to the next section, indicating that this whole piece has a "not 100% polished" feel to it.
|II - Mr. Wonderful|
A total change from the first movement. Stolt sings lead in this section. The chorus ("His name is wonderful / And it's wonderful / just to be near him") sounds a bit like the band is dipping its collective toe into contemporary Christian music.
|III - Lost and Found (Part 1)|
This piece is a short interlude that leads back to the opening rock-out riff for a brief bit, then moves straight into the next cut.
|IV - Temple of the Gods|
This is another hard rocking movement, complete with the high-pitched synthesizer riff.
|V - Motherless Children / If She Comes (reprise)|
This section uses the "Motherless Children" theme from "Duel with the Devil", but the lyrics are a bit different. Morse then comes in with the opening theme, but all this is done in a slow 6/8 tempo. Then, the band finally shifts gears and the line "Don't wanna hear it now" gets repeated - as enigmatic an ending as one could imagine.
|Bridge Across Forever|
The title cut is a solo piece from Morse, featuring him on piano and occasional synth. Co-written with Prince, this song acts as a "break" from all the lengthy numbers and is quite beautiful.
|Stranger In Your Soul|
This suite is reminiscent of Van der Graaf Generator's "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" in its ebb-and-flow arrangements, veering between moments of heavy rock and softer moments, changing sometimes in the blink of an eye.
|I - Sleeping Wide Awake|
The string quartet motif that opened this album reappears again. The band then comes in, but only with the intro for this section and not an overture-type section.
|II - Hanging in the Balance|
The band gets more metal than usual, Stolt crunching out power chords in the verse while all four members trade vocal lines
|III - Lost and Found (Part 2)|
Again the group uses a theme from an earlier piece. They then turn it up a notch, allowing Stolt to go postal on his solo while Trewavas and Portnoy keep a driving rhythm. The whole thing is brought down in a hurry, Morse playing arpeggiated chords.
|IV - Awakening the Stranger|
Rather quiet at the start, the band stays restrained through the verses. The string quartet comes in to accompany the piece before the band then goes back to the opening theme and then take it up a notch, Portnoy's double-bass drum pushing the piece to its brink.
|V - Slide|
Bouncing between driving rock and straight-out jazz rhythms, this section also borrows from "Suite Charlotte Pike." Morse gets a combination synth-Hammond solo in this section, and Trewavas gets a chance to show off his licks in a jazzy backdrop.
|VI - Stranger in Your Soul|
The grand finale repeats the themes of "Sleeping Wide Awake." The strings come in towards the end as well to add to the big finish.
At the end of the disk you hear the fade-in of the end of "Suite Charlotte Pike" and some other random noises and sound effects. This music-and-sound pastiche ends the whole piece right on the 30-minute mark.
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