Transatlantic: Absolute Genius

The three versions of the album. Photo from nealmorse.com

So, after much anticipation and perhaps some untoward eagerness on my part, Transatlantic’s Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition box set finally arrived yesterday.  Or, maybe one should write more appropriately, it landed!  And, yes, I was and am thrilled.

I had received a promo copy of two versions of the album—The Breath of Life (Abridged) and Forevermore (Extended)—and I’ve been playing them pretty much non-stop. 

But, with The Ultimate Edition, I now have yet a third version of the album, Mike Portnoy’s blu-ray version. If you have to pick just one of the three, I’d highly recommend the blu-ray version as the best.  Not only does it capture the spirit of The Breath of Life (which Morse mixed and curated) and Forevermore (which Stolt mixed and curated), but its sound is just nothing short of glorious.  Each instrument is crystal clear as is the space between each. 

Most astonishing of all sounds to emerge from the blu-ray version is Pete Trewavas’s bass. I’ve always thought of him as an excellent bassist, but I didn’t realize just how excellent until hearing the blu-ray version. Somewhat funny that he was the only band member NOT to mix and curate a version of this album. 

I’ve seen some confusion and even a bit of bitterness—on the part of fans and of reviewers—regarding Transatlantic’s decision to release so many versions.  Some are puzzled by which one to get, and some have seen it as a mere grab for extra profit for the band.

For me, though, I say bring out as many versions as possible. Not only is it great to have so much music, but the music is different enough to bring out distinct personalities with each version. Maybe the next Transatlantic album should be a four-parter, with each member of the band remixing and curating his own version.  Yes, I’m being serious.

While I’ve loved all Transatlantic releases, I’ve always held SMPTe and The Whirlwind as unbeatable standards within the genre. At this point, I’m willing to throw the gauntlet down and proclaim The Absolute Universe to be the band’s best.  From the opening notes, you immediately know this is a Transatlantic album. It has all the trademarks of high symphonic prog: soaring vocals, soaring lyrics, and soaring melodies.  It is, at times funky, at times playful, at times, at times psychedelic, at times deadly serious. . .and the band allows an idea to linger, cycle, and return—all of it feeling very organic.  Each of the members of the band sings on this album, and I’m also convinced (I know, I know: lots of absolute statements on my part) Morse’s vocals have never sounded better. He reaches his absolute best on “Swing High, Swing Low,” a song that achingly embraces his personal faith to such an extent that it’s hard to keep the eyes dry.

Locked inside a whirlwind, I cried out in hope

Because you said you would not leave me. . . behind

Swing high, swing low, just get me through to tomorrow

Swing high, swing low, carry me through Lord

I’m coming home

If a man had these words and this tune in his heart at the hour of his death, he would be a happy man, indeed.

Again, let me stress, though, it is all four of these men that make this album so extraordinary.  There’s just something about this particular lineup of musicians (artists, creators) that brings out such high symphonic prog genius. 

I’ve already praised Morse and Trewavas, so let me praise the other two. 

Portnoy and Nick D’Virgilio are, of course, our greatest living drummers—and Portnoy has never sounded better in his drumming, his vocals, or his mixing than he does on The Absolute Universe

Stolt’s vocals, guitar, and his psychedelic playfulness pervade the album, and I love every moment of it. For me, Stolt is that awesome older kid I always wanted to emulate.  Not only deeply talented, but brimming with conviction. 

Indeed, I could say the same about Morse. What a great older brother he’d be.

Portnoy and I are the same age, and I would have loved to have sat around with him in 1981, listening to Moving Pictures for the first time.

Pete would be that utterly loyal companion, steady but majestic.

Well, it’s been a ride for me.  I first became a diehard Transatlantic fan in 2000, and, 21 years later, I remain one.  I love these guys individually, but, collectively, they’re unstoppable and sublime.

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