Here's a good idea: take four musicians from critically acclaimed but widely unknown melodic progressive bands and make a "supergroup". Now put out an album with only four songs, two of which are almost thirty minutes long. Commercial suicide? Probably. Good eats? Definitely! The suspects in question are multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Neal Morse of Spock's Beard, Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt, Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, and Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. Last year they released their first album, SMPTe, which received the expected critical acclaim, ensuring this year's follow-up Bridge Across Forever. As a fan of melodic progressive music (as opposed to those bands which only want to show off their technical chops and the song be damned) I held my breath as I spun the CD, hoping for the former but fearing the latter. What I found is a nice amalgam of classic progressive rock and modern pop/rock, lots of memorably, hooky melodies, all presented with astounding musicianship cloaked in the guise of a good song. Actually, to this corn-fed Hoosier, the songs all have the indelible fingerprints of Morse on them (making the album sound quite a bit like the best albums by Spock's Beard) but with everyone sharing the vocal responsibilities, giving some nice variety to the mix. The entire album is very symphonic in it's structure. Each song is made up of a variety of recognizable melodies that cross-pollinate to other tracks, giving a nice cohesion to the album. For instance, the first track opens with a moving, melancholy, Morse-ish orchestral string section that develops into the "motherless children" theme that appears later in the second track. Elements of Dark Side Floyd surface later with the addition of sax and a gospel choir, which are later revoked and replaced with an aggressive rhythm and some really spicy guitar tones. The second track, at a puny thirteen minutes long, has a very "Abby Road side 2" feel about it and is literally brimming with hooks. The title track is a somber respite from the grandiose aural assaults of the previous tracks with Morse singing against piano and strings. The final track, "Stranger In Your Soul" begins with the same string passage that opened the album, albeit in a different key. After many musical changes, drawing from Supertramp to Gabriel-era Genesis to straight ahead 70s arena rock, the song, like the opening track, ends with an overblown, dramatic finale which to my ears sounds a bit overdone: a small Achilles heel for an otherwise remarkable project. As far as I'm concerned, any album that leaves it's songs in my head for days after last vibrating across my eardrums is a winner and this one has plagued me for weeks with it's astounding musicianship and catchy powerprogpop melodies. Now if only the voices would stop.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, November 2001.