Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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In Held ('Twas) in I

TransAtlantic


TransAtlantic is an interesting side-project of Prog superstars Neal Morse Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar (Spock's Beard); Roine Stolt Vocals, Guitars (Flower Kings); Pete Trewavas Bass, Vocals (Marillion); Mike Portnoy Drums, Percussion, Vocals (Dream Theater). Their first album, SMPTe, was released in March 2000

Tracklist:

1. All Of The Above
I. Full Moon Rising
Ii. October Winds
Iii. Camouflaged In Blue
Iv. Half Alive
V. Undying Love
Vi. Full Moon Rising (Reprise)
2. We All Need Some Light
3. Mystery Train
4. My New World
5. In Held ('Twas) In I

It's odd that another release from the InsideOut stable contains a track named 'Better Left Unsaid'

The idea for the Transatlantic project came initially from Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. He first called Neil Morse, whose band Spock's Beard were set to support Dream Theater at London's Shepherds Bush Empire one April. Morse explains; "Mike said, 'Hey, I have a cool idea for a project together with you and Jim Matheos from Fates Warning; are you interested?' I said yes straight away, of course, but Jim couldn't do it. Anyhow, that's how it got off the ground".

Searching for an alternative, Morse emailed guitarist Roine Stolt, whom he had met when his band, Scandinavian progressive rock outfit The Flower Kings, played on the same stage as Spock's Beard at the LA Progfest in 1997. Portnoy, meanwhile, having been a big Marillion fan for years, contacted bass player Pete Trewavas, and the line-up of this progressive rock supergroup was completed.

By the time the band got together to put down 'SMPTe', all four musicians had stockpiled ideas for the project. "Before we went into the studio, we had lots of vague ideas, but most of the final versions of the songs came about during our numerous jam sessions" notes Stolt. Neal Morse, in particular, took with him an arsenal of bits and pieces of some songs and entire concepts for others, all of which were adapted, added to and refined throughout the recording process. "Neal is incredibly creative," says Stolt, adding that there's no stopping him once he's started to play and has thought up new stuff. He also wrote most of the lyrics."

The album was recorded at Millbrook studios in upstate New York, (where Portnoy had recorded with Liquid Tension Experiment), produced by the band and engineered by studio owner Paul Orofino. The first song Transatlantic recorded was the six part, thirty plus minute epic 'All Of The Above'; 'we must have produced nearly 25 parts for that song' comments Stolt. After the final track (a cover of an obscure Procol Harum track, In Held ('Twas) In I) was put down, the tapes were sent to LA to be mixed by Rich Mouser, who had already worked with Morse on several Spock's Beard albums. There is an alternative mix by Stolt: see interview.

Stolt describes the album as "Real strong progressive rock", while Portnoy believes SMPTe has more of an affinity with "old school prog rock la Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis, Steely Dan, The Beatles or Yes than with metal" and Morse notes that "there's lots of Hammond organs and lots of hard, fast and progressive drum rhythms. Whatever their individual take on the final result, all four members of Transatlantic agree that SMPTe (the name comes from the musicians' initials, but is also a communicative code used in studio recording), released on Inside Out through SPV Koch on 10 April 2000, was a timeless piece of rock history.


 BtP notes: this cover is pretty interesting, synths and a bit of rewriting, editing and tinkering notwithstanding.

Very curious to hear how 'In the darkness' has been assigned to more than one speaking voice. You get a triple dose of the frantic waltz that comes after 'life is like a beanstalk', and some peculiarly changed chords under the 'sitar' melody, which is taken by a loud guitar chorus.

Natural piano introduces the section containing 'They say I'm somewhat small for one so weak, for one so tall' [sic], but it's *sung* in husky macho fashion, with other verbal changes ... 'it's hard at times when it's all gone wrong,' with wailing guitar ... it's all a bit heavy, and you wonder where else it has to go ... there's completely new music for 'They say that Jesus healed the sick'.

But don't stop reading yet ...

Then there are close vocal harmonies on Madness, which is taken quite fast; the organ solo is nicely played, with some convincing drum breaks ... the second organ solo is also backed with growing-chaos noises, but it plays a very proggy rhythmic trick, with every other bar being shortened by a quaver ('eighth-note'): heretically enough I rather like this; and there's much frantic drumming that will please Mike Giles fans of yore ... the disintegration into chaos here is VERY thorough ...

The return of the sitar / oboe melody doesn't sound as frightening as it did in the proper version, because what has preceded it isn't so tellingly understated. As the Emperor says to Mozart in Shaeffer's Amadeus: 'Too many notes!'

Look to Your Soul starts with sprangling guitar, and keyboard flute effect ... it's pretty faithfully rendered, though the policy of sharing the vocal is unsettling at first, and there are celestial choirs of the sort that normally accompany the emergence of an enormous flying saucer from 'B' movie clouds. Nice drumming again. 'And so if you *learn* anything' [sic] sees the vocalist going into falsetto. Great guitar solo!

Grand Finale ... why change the bass line in bar 7? Why lose that scrumptious chord with the seventh at the bottom ... Matthew Fisher will have kittens. Verse two uses chorused guitars instead of the famous piano counter-melody. Another pretty impressive guitar solo in the middle (sort of Whitehorn technique and Trower tone) but it's a shame that it goes screaming on into the final voice, I think, and the walking bass is alarming (BtP had a couple of kittens at this point) Great drum sound. The delay to the final chord is a splendid effect ...

Overall, there's a lot more bombast than Procol aficionados like, but it's obviously been played by loving fans ... although the lyrical changes seem a bit vandalistic. I think Brooker, Fisher and chums will be underwhelmed by it but there are a couple of ideas in the arrangement that would be interesting to hear Procol adopt when they next play it as they so nearly did on 12 December 2003! The whole suite will be heard on the 2004 release from The Palers' Project will it take liberties with the original, as TransAtlantic have done?

That blimp is heading towards Europe, surely. Fans who come to Procol Harum from listening to Morse, Portnoy, Stolt and Trewavas will be puzzled to find out that the original also included 'Twas Teatime ..., and without that piece of the puzzle they are very unlikely to figure out why the suite is called In Held 'Twas in I (tee hee).

BtP's comments probably make the TransAtlantic version sound abominable but it's not abominable at all in its own terms; if it sounds too busy and not contrasty enough that's because we all have 35+ years of the exquisite original in my head. But it has guts: Procol Harum fans won't necessarily like it but they'll find it intensely interesting, and it's bound to increase the flock!

It's the climax of an album of music that's extremely attractive and principally much lighter-weight than In Held

It's a nice detail that the album is named after the initials of the players, just as In Held is named after the first words of each section.

 

 


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More PH covers

BtP review of this album

 


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