Look, supergroups are usually bad; this is known. It’s not hard to figure out why either. There’s nothing in their circumstances which would make them good. They are usually created ad-hoc, meaning that first a bunch of musicians are friends and then they try to have ideas strong enough to build a band around. There’s also the question of ego, differing backgrounds and creative ideas, and more. When you put all of that together, you get a parade of mediocrity at best and, often, entire careers besmirched by a huge, black, demerit. Which is a shame because the promise of supergroups sounds so good on paper: what’s better than one great musician? A bunch of them together. If only things could work and those talents could multiply without friction and create a whole larger than the sum of its parts then we would have true grandeur on our hands.
Well, what if I told you that that does happen sometimes, as rare as it is? What if I told you that one of the best examples of what happens when supergroups work can be found within the spheres of cheesy, melodramatic, self-indulgent progressive rock? What if I told that that band is called Transatlantic, has been in operation for over twenty years (though not consecutively)? Well, you’d probably say “yeah, we know” because Transatlantic is not some well kept secret. The idea with this series of posts is not “listen to this obscure band” after all but, rather, “holy shit, I love this so much”. And, indeed, I love Translatlantic so much.
Made up of Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater), and Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation) in a live, infrequent capacity, the supergroup really does bring in some of the best and the brightest of progressive music in the last few decades. However, the key is not quite in how good each individual member of this band is (although they’re all quite good) but rather in how powerfully naive Transatlantic is in how they approach progressive rock and how much this allows each member of the band to break free of the limitations the genre can often place them under. Take Portnoy for example; I think I’m confident enough to say that his drumming is the best with Transatlantic. There are no overtly complicated meters and even his propensity for unnecessary fills works with the grandiose of the music in general.
So too Morse himself. His usual Christian influenced themes are all over Transatlantic but they are mitigated to a less abrupt version than on his solo works, perhaps to suit the more diverse group he’s working with here. All of this is true for the other members as well: Gildenlow’s flamboyance is tempered by how sparsely he’s used, Stolt’s indulgence is contextualized, and Trewavas…Trewavas is a perfect human and I have nothing bad to say about him. Within the trappings of honest, pure, and unapologetic progressive rock these talents can both thrive (as in, reach the heights which they are capable of) and fit in (as in, actually work on a team instead of just playing for playing’s sake).
And make no mistake, Transatlantic is extremely unapologetic in its love for saccharine progressive rock. Whether it’s on the intricate and far-flung structures of tracks like “All of the Above” or “Duel with the Devil” or the groovy, synth drenched lines of “Suite Charlotte Pike” or silken, Stolt-centric vocal passages that work so well on their latest release and elsewhere throughout their career, Transatlantic are as prog as you can get. It’s not just about technicality, a certain jazz influence or massive track run-times (although those are certainly all there) as much as it is about the sheer exuberance and love of life that sings from every passage in their career. Admittedly, if that’s not what you’re looking for, then Transatlantic is not the band you’ll want to reach for; even I have periods where I can’t quite take their constantly-at-eleven celebration of life and music. But if you’re looking for a band with a chorus you can shout along to on every single track, whether in happiness or in melancholy, a band that is truly committed to its style, a band not afraid to challenge its members to work together as a whole, a band which really lives up to the supergroup promise, then Transaltantic is the band for you. Happy listening.