Maybe it’s the professional historian in me, but I love dates, and I love anniversaries.
This year is the fifteenth anniversary of Transatlantic’s first album, the rather stunning and never aging SMPTe.
I’d not heard of the project until one of my students handed me a copy of the CD in the fall of 2000, about six months or so after its release. I knew Morse (I’d been one of the first–if not the first–persons in Bloomington, Indiana, to purchase THE LIGHT from Spock’s Beard), I knew Trewavas (having been a Marillion fan since BRAVE), and I knew Mike Portnoy, having purchased every Dream Theater release since 1992’s IMAGES AND WORDS. Roine Stolt? Didn’t have a clue at that point, though I’d heard of The Flower Kings.
My first reaction upon seeing the CD cover was one of elation. This looked like a very modernized Yes cover. And, of course, I loved the starship/blimp. I thought the album title, SMPTe, was kind of weird, as I didn’t quite get why the names of the members were so important, but, then, it was a “supergroup.”
Looking at the credits, I thought, “Ok, this is a Morse project. I wonder why he isn’t finding enough fulfillment in Spock’s Beard?” Not that I knew much about anything going on in any of the bands represented in Transatlantic. I knew the music, but I didn’t know any details about any of the bands.
In fact, the only real music news I kept up on at the time was for Rush, Yes, Tears for Fears, and Talk Talk. Admittedly, I did a very good job of keeping up with these bands, but I was aided by some really good user groups and news groups (remember those?!!?).
When I put the Transatlantic cd on my stereo, I was completely floored. The first minute of sound effects not only grabbed me, but all 31 minutes of the epic rooted me in place. I was utterly blown away. Yes had given us songs at 22-24 minutes, and Rush had come close, but 31 minutes? Holy schnikees. This was flat out amazing. Then, “We All Need Some Light,” which I thought sounded much like a Spock’s Beard song. Thus, I Iiked it. And, it was the perfect breather after “All of the Above.” I didn’t fall in love with this track, though, until I heard it live on LIVE IN AMERICA.
The third track, “Mystery Train,” really caught my attention as well, pulling me back into the depths of the album. I loved the psychedelia of it, and I was especially taken with the Beatle-esque refrain. This was an updated version of something off of the MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR–yet it was an homage not a mimicry.
If I’d been captivated by tracks 1 and 3, I was once again thrown into a tizzy as I listened to the sixteen minutes of “My New World.” The references to the Doors and Jimi Hendrix sold me. And, I’m a sucker for Stolt’s voice. As soon as I heard this album, I immediately purchased all of The Flower Kings up to that point.
SPACE REVOLVER, by the way, became and remains one of my top ten favorite all-time albums.
As I looked back over the first four tracks of SMPTe, I came to realize how very different each song had been. There was no distinctive “Transatlantic” song. They each hit me in different ways.
Then, as though I deserved dessert (which I didn’t!), Transatlantic gave me a remake of one of the best Procol Harum songs ever written. Granted, it wasn’t “Simple Sister” but it was the next best thing.
When Transatlantic played live over the internet, I listened. When the live album of that recording, LIVE IN AMERICA, came out, I bought it–the day it came out. And, I’ve done the same with every single live or studio CD since. I will admit that I was horribly shocked by Portnoy’s language on the live releases. At the time, I was only recently married. My wife comes from a very conservative Texas family, and she knew nothing about prog. As I was listening and Portnoy said inappropriate things, I cringed. Astoundingly, my wife either didn’t hear Portnoy or chose not to hear. She’s now as much a Morse/Portnoy fan as I am. So, all’s well that ends well!
I will admit that it’s a bit hard for me to accept that I first heard SMPTe fifteen years ago. At that point, I was newly married, and my oldest child was just a year old! Now, he’s sixteen, and he has six siblings! Sheesh.
And, my wife is now a prog fan. Again, the times do change.
A huge thank you to Morse, Portnoy, Trewavas, and Stolt. That one album from a decade and a half ago introduced me to the Flower Kings, and it made me realize that third-wave prog was and remains pure, unadulterated love and beauty.