Transatlantic, Kaleidoscope (Radiant/Metal Blade/Inside Out, 2014).
The opening few moments of Kaleidoscope transition perfectly from the band’s previous outing, The Whirlwind. The atmospherics and sound effects cause the listener to imagine the Transatlantic blimp/starship landing in a Close Encounters sort of way.
The band, it seems, readily survived the whirlwind, and they’ve come back to tell us about their adventures.
Despite the opening few moments of transition (over six minutes, actually) from the last album, Kaleidoscope has far more in common, in terms of structure and themes, with SMPT:e and Bridge Across Forever than it does with their 2009 masterpiece. It’s eclectic, to be sure, but . . .
. . . this is pure and glorious Transatlantic in every way.
And, what can one say about Transatlantic that hasn’t been said? These four guys not only embody traditional symphonic prog in their music, they live it and promote it and love it and cause lots of other folks to feel the same. A Transatlantic album is never just another offering, it’s always a moment in prog history.
Cohesive Community or Autonomous Individuals?
Yet, for me, it’s hard to think of Transatlantic as a band as much as I think of them as four friends, getting together to jam next to each other. Big Big Train, for example, always sounds like a group of brilliant individuals who have agreed to build an album while working firmly as a cohesive unit, a community without bounds. TA, though, sounds like four very separate individuals who want to play next to and around one another. It’s even a blast listening to TA albums, thinking, oh that’s Neal’s part, that’s Roine’s, that Mike’s, or that’s Pete’s.
One picture in the accompanying booklet even mysteriously shows a white board with the parts of each member. Were I still sixteen, I would spend hours trying to decipher the meaning of it all in some gnostic fashion. Sadly, that was 30 years ago, and I have no such time, though the desire remains.
While thinking of modern prog groups, BBT reminds me much more of 1973 Genesis, while TA reminds me of 1971 Yes. Not that either is retro, as they both are their own and no one else’s, of course.
Or, to put it in military terms, BBT is an Anglo-American Marine unit and TA is a group of late medieval Berserkers, ready to challenge the enemy through individual honor. To take this a bit further, Andy Tillison of The Tangent would be leading a cavalry charge uphill.
Ok, enough comparisons, but even the title of the new TA album is revealing, as a series of overlapping, reflecting images. Appropriately, each song title deals with a color or a type of light.
A Beautifully-Fractured Whole
When the video of “Shine” appeared online, a number of proggers on the internet loved the song, of course (who doesn’t love TA?), but worried about the direction of Transatlantic, wondering if the whole album would have such a praise and worship feel. Fear not! As a song, Shine, seems like nothing else on the album. Except, perhaps, for Neal’s one solo contribution and paean to hope, “Beyond the Sun.” The latter, though, bleeds directly into the 32-minutes finale, “Kaleidoscope,” and serves as an effective prologue.
The first song, “Into the Blue,” doesn’t really pick up until several minutes into the song and past the atmospherics, the transition from The Whirlwind. At 25 minutes, this is an adventure. Rather than it building and building, it builds, falls, and builds again several times. At moments, it sounds like pure TA, at other times, it sounds very much like a sequel to TFK’s Desolation Rose. Even the creepy, ominous voice that appeared on TFK’s “Bavarian Skies” and “White Tuxedos” makes a cameo here on “Into the Blue.” Very welcome, though, is the cameo vocals of Daniel Gildenloew. Of all of the songs on the album, this is by far the most religious, lyrically, especially the references to St. Paul’s writings (Galatians and Romans). The religion never becomes blatant, though, and it will probably seem merely a Jon Anderson-like love of the Cosmos for most listeners.
Everyone who loves TA has already had a chance to hear “Shine,” so I won’t go into details here, except to state that it 1) fits the albums; and 2) has a sitar part at the beginning I didn’t catch in the video.
My favorite track, by far, is “Black as the Sky.” Every member of TA is in top form, but especially good are Roine’s vocals and the rhythm and interplay of Mike and Pete. Phew. Amazing. I hope they start off the concert with this. Talk about a rocking intro, one sure to enliven the entire crowd immediately. The song, though, did make me a little sad. If this were still 1982, this song would absolutely dominate album rock radio in America, and TA would be one of the best selling artists and bands in music.
The fourth track, “Beyond the Sun,” the only song credited to a single member of TA, Neal, is best described as something Anderson and Wakeman could have written around 1989. Neal’s voice, of course, sounds absolutely nothing like Anderson’s, but this track is as ABWH as it gets.
As mentioned earlier, it blends perfectly into the final track, the grand epic, Kaleidoscope. Pure TA. As Mike said in one concert, “nothing but epics.” This is epic symphonic prog, to be sure, and it ends the album as well as “Into the Blue” opened it. The difference is that the lyrics of this song are as psychological as the lyrics of the opening are religious. Ultimately, this song deals with accepting the pains of the world and making the most of them. The interplay of Neal’s and Roine’s vocals is especially good, and it’s rather jaw dropping when Roine’s voice, in the third movement of the song, sings “And so the king of karma lost his only son.” It’s one of those just perfect moments that we proggers so often crave.
Covered and Uncovered
The bonus cd has 8 additional tracks all covers, featuring music from Yes, Elton John, the Small Faces, King Crimson, the Moody Blues, and several others. Clearly, Morse and Portnoy love covering their favorite tracks as so many of their albums attest. Generally, as is usual with Morse and Portnoy, the covers are not reimaginings of old songs (think of Glass Hammer’s reimagining of “South Side of the Sky”), but truly straight-forward covers of each. To my mind, the best covers on disk two are ELO’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” and “Tin Soldier” by the Small Faces.
The third disk, a DVD, has the Shine video and two vignettes. I only received Kaleidoscope, Saturday afternoon, so I’ve not had the chance to watch these yet. My apologies! I will, and I’ll either post something separately or add to this review.
Admittedly, I’m at a point, where there’s nothing from Stolt, Morse, or TA that I won’t buy, devour, and cherish. So, my view is probably not as objective as it could be. I can state this, though: this is a work of beauty, a work of four musical warriors taking on the music scene and doing so with integrity, class, and majesty.
Kaleidoscope is a more than worthy follow-up to The Whirlwind, contains some truly stunning moments, and returns us, at least in form, to the best of TA before the six-year long hiatus. Very highly recommended.