Over a decade ago, American cultural critic S.T. Karnick published a seminal piece on progressive rock and its third-wave vitality in the pages of William F. Buckley’s magazine, National Review. At the time, he noted especially the greatness of Spock’s Beard.
Karnick is always worth reading, but this (below) will be of particular interest to progarchists–a review of the latest Transatlantic album:
Although progressive rock has had a low profile in the music world since the rise of punk and disco in the late ’70s, it’s still very much alive today, even to the point that there are real stars of this musical style. Foremost among these are the members of Transatlantic, and their latest album, Kaleidoscope, is a production worthy of their major talents. Just as a kaleidoscope creates fascinating images by juxtaposing numerous bits of colors and shapes that contrast with one another, Transatlantic’s Kaleidoscope does so with sounds. Ranging from hard rock to classic rock to folk to classical, the sounds on Kaleidoscope shift and recur in patterns of real beauty.
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.
Mike Portnoy is excited that Transatlantic is becoming something more than just a side-project, but a great band in which all four voices are singing:
This is now our fourth album – we started in ’99, and so we’re into our 15th year. I think we’ve been promoted from side project to part-time band. In the beginning, it was this concept of mine to put together a quote-unquote supergroup of modern prog players. That was the initial thing from the get-go – it was a project.
The second album was kind of an immediate response to how successful the first one was; we wanted to do it again. Then we had a big eight or nine-year hiatus. When we got back together for The Whirlwind, it was like a big secret reunion. People didn’t know about it, so when we finally announced it, it was kind of a big deal.
Now, here we are with the fourth album, and after the reunion and the success of The Whirlwind, we feel like this can be a real part-time band, because our circumstances have changed. When we started this in the late ‘90s, I was obviously still in Dream Theater, and Neal was in Spock’s Beard. Those were our main things, and Transatlantic was definitely a side band.
But here we are in 2014: I’m no longer in Dream Theater – I’m a free agent, doing lots of different things; Neal’s a free agent and is doing lots of different things. So it gives Transatlantic as an entity a little bit more flexibility. I think that’s what’s promoted us from side project to more part-time band.
… In Dream Theater I did most of my singing. In Transatlantic I sing lead as well as lot of background vocals – same with Flying Colors, and the same with Yellow Matter Custard, my Beatles tribute. And like I said, I did a tremendous amount within Dream Theater. I did a tremendous amount of secondary lead vocals and harmonies, and I wrote a huge amount of lyrics and melodies within the band. You’d think a lot of people would know by now, but I guess not everybody pays attention.
For me, this is one of the great things about Transatlantic, that you’ve got four people singing, four distinct voices contributing to the music. All of my favorite bands have had all four members singing. Obviously, The Beatles are a great example; maybe a lesser example is KISS. In Pink Floyd, you had three of the guys singing; Queen had three of the guys singing. I’ve always appreciated the variety in those bands.
Transatlantic To Release New Studio Album Kaleidoscope on Jan 28, 2014
Announces World Tour Jan 31 – Mar 15, 2014
Cross Plains, TN – Good things come to those who wait. Transatlantic fans are accustomed to playing the waiting game, and their patience has been rewarded with the band’s fourth official studio album, Kaleidoscope. Steeped in vibrant prog rock organics, it’s a triumphant return to the band’s original creative style.
The beloved prog rock project featuring Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard), Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, ex-Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Transatlantic’s foundation was built in 1999 with the release of their debut album, SMPT:e, in 2000. A second studio album, Bridge Across Forever, solidified their position as prog’s definitive supergroup. It would be nine years before Transatlantic’s fans were rewarded with a new studio album: 2009’s The Whirlwind, the band’s most popular release to date. Following the subsequent tour, spawning two live DVDs, the band decided to record a new studio album as soon as they could.
“There was talk about a year ago about doing an album before we actually did it,” reveals Morse. “I was feeling it for a while. Some of the music that ended up on my Momentum album (2012) seemed like good material for Transatlantic. Roine and my schedules have a little more space in them, and Pete and Mike’s schedules finally aligned, so we were able to put this together. I’m just glad we got to do it again and I’m really happy with the way the album came out.”
Morse, Portnoy, Stolt and Trewavas shared equally in the songwriting, with Portnoy ultimately sifting through the material and picking out what he felt was best. For the most part, the music that fans hear on Kaleidoscope (and all of their previous albums) was created for Transatlantic. There are, of course, exceptions. “I wrote the second song on Kaleidoscope, “Shine,” before my Momentum album came out,” says Morse. “I thought about recording it for myself, but it just smelled of Transatlantic. I presented it with two other acoustic songs, and that’s the one the other guys chose, as well.”
The band convened at Neal’s studio in Tennessee; writing, arranging, and laying down the final drums and bass. Morse offers, “At this stage, we sketch out the house and build the foundation. Then Roine and I go off to our respective studios and do what we need to. We send those parts, including vocals, back and forth via the internet; but the writing is done together in Tennessee. We just go from the gut, and I think it’s an amazing process of trusting each other. There’s no shortage of ideas; it’s more like which ideas do we want to use?”
As the fans have come to expect, Kaleidoscope is also available as a Special Edition featuring eight uniquely Transatlantic cover songs. “I don’t know how it started,” Morse says of the cover song tradition. “But we’ve done it for every album. It’s a lot of fun because most of the time it’s simpler music than what we’re mainly involved with.”
There are points during the journey through Kaleidoscope where the listener will be reminded of artists like Yes, early Genesis, and even Styx. But in the end, the album is distinctly Transatlantic before it can be compared to anyone else.
“I think that comes from the different ingredients,” says Morse. “It’s the four of us from all over the world—with our different backgrounds, cultures and musical history—that makes this band totally unique.”
The band will embark on a six-week world tour January 31 – March 15, with an additional performance at the Sweden Rock festival June 4-7. They will be joined by Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw as a 5th touring member. The tour will include headlining the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 Cruise,February 18-22, alongside 22 other leading prog acts including Adrian Belew Power Trio, Devin Townsend Project, King’s X, Anathema and Spock’s Beard. The event will also feature a special performance of Yes material by Transatlantic with legendary singer Jon Anderson on vocals.
Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope (75:50)
1. Into The Blue (25:13)
I. Overture (Instrumental)
II. The Dreamer And The Healer
III. A New Beginning
IV. Written In Your Heart
V. The Dreamer And The Healer (Reprise)
2. Shine (07:28)
3. Black As The Sky (06:45)
4. Beyond The Sun (04:31)
5. Kaleidoscope (31:53)
I. Overture (Instrumental)
II. Ride The Lightning
III. Black Gold
IV. Walking The Road
V. Desolation Days
VI. Lemon Looking Glass (Instrumental) VII. Feel The Lightning (Reprise)
1. And You And I (Yes)
2. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (ELO)
3. Conquistador (ProcolHarum)
4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
5. Tin Soldier (Small Faces)
6. Sylvia (Focus)
7. Indiscipline (King Crimson)
8. Nights In White Satin (The Moody Blues)
Roine Stolt – Electric guitars, vocals
Pete Trewavas – Bass, Vocals
Neal Morse – Keys, Guitars, Vocals
Mike Portnoy – Drums,Vocals
An Evening With Transatlantic 2014 World Tour
Jan 31st – Los Angeles, CA – El Segundo Performing Arts Center
Feb 1st – San Francisco, CA
Feb 2nd – Seattle, WA
Feb 4th – Chicago, IL – The Arcada Theater
Feb 5th – Quebec City, Canada – Theatre Du Capitole
Feb 6th – Montreal, Canada – L’Olympia
Feb 7th – Boston, MA
Feb 8th – Philadelphia, PA – Keswick Theater
Feb 9th – New York City, NY – Highline Ballroom
Feb 11th – Mexico City, Mexico – Teatro Metropolitan
The Flower Kings have been an essential part of my life for the last thirteen years. In 2000, one of my students (now, rather happily, a colleague) lent me his copy of Flower Power. I’d never heard of the band up to that point, though I’ve been a progger since the age of 4, way back in 1972.
I’d purchased my first Spock’s Beard album (their first as well) when it first came out in the fall of 1994, and I knew that Morse had been working with a Swede (all I knew about him) in a new a “supergroup,” Transatlantic. I remember thinking, “Wow, this phase of progressive rock truly is mighty if it can have a ‘supergroup.’”
It’s almost humorous now to think there was a time when I didn’t know the work of Roine Stolt. Through Stolt’s work, I found out about The Tangent. And, really, life without The Flower Kings or The Tangent? Too weird to even contemplate.
From the opening few notes of Flower Power, I was hooked. I loved the packaging, the music, the dreaminess. I immediately purchased the back catalogue of The Flower Kings, and I’ve since purchased every release upon its release date. And, I’ve done the same with all of Stolt’s projects. I was also lead, of course, to Tom Bodin’s solo work, Agents of Mercy, Kaipa, and Karmakanic.
Be ware, gentle reader, the rabbit hole into the world of Swedish Prog is a winding but glorious one.
While there’s no album by The Flower Kings I dislike (quite the opposite), Space Revolver has always been my favorite. It has a perfect flow to it, and it only grows increasingly interesting with each listen. It served as a real life saver for me when traveling fourteen days for my job. I’d never been away from my family that long, and it was painful. This was back before I owned an ipod (did they exist then?; I can’t remember), and I only took about ten cds with me. It was Space Revolver that gave me the most joy and comfort on that trip. But, this is getting too long winded, and I’ll save this story for another time and another post. Let me just state here, Space Revolver is a desert island disk for me. I think it might very well be one of the top ten albums of the rock era. If you don’t own it, you should. In fact, you should stop reading this right now and order it now. Yes, it’s that good.
Admittedly, I’ve listened to the band so much, I’m really not sure I could even pretend objectivity when reviewing them. Nor at this point in my life, do I really want to be objective. All of the Birzers love The Flower Kings.
Additionally, whatever creativity I might possess, I owe a lot to The Flower Kings. Space Revolver served as the sound track for my first book, Unfold the Future for my second, and Paradox Hotel for my third. The Sum of No Evil and Banks of Eden have played a major role in the one I’m currently writing.
As I’ve stated too many times before, I dislike labels, as they’re almost always used to bypass real engagement with a person, an idea, or a work of art. But, even if I appreciated labels, I really don’t know how I’d label this band. The Flower Kings have produced so much beauty, and in such diversity, that they’re almost fully resistant to categorization. Well, that is, to label properly. For me, every Flower Kings album is a mood or a state of being.
The Flower King: Humanity.
Back in the World of Adventure: Exploration.
Star Dust We Are: Redemption.
Flower Power: Mythic.
Space Revolver: Appreciation.
The Rainmaker: Warning.
Unfold the Future: Righteousness.
Adam and Eve: Confidence.
Paradox Hotel: Tranquility.
The Sum of No Evil: Love.
Banks of Eden: Elegance.
Desolation Rose: ?
The most common description I’ve seen of the Flower Kings is “retro.” But, of course, this is meaningless. The band pays homage to those they love. Shouldn’t we all? I deeply admire my maternal grandfather, and I’ve tried to live my life in accord with the dignity he displayed. Does that make me “retro”? I speak the same language as my mother. Does that make me “retro”? The Flower Kings love Genesis and King Crimson. So do most proggers. At some point, labels become not only offensive, but absurd. But, enough of this rant. . . . If anything, pietist might be better than retro. Ok, now, really, the rant is over.
Through the good graces of Edge at Insideout Music, I was able to receive an advanced release of Desolation Rose.
The first thing to notice about this release is the darkness of the art as well as of the subject matter. The cover art depicts three tattooed human heads resting atop a deserted (and in a desert) classical structure. Above the heads blooms a bright red rose, surrounded by nesting birds of paradise intertwined in intricate greenery. From a distance, the image could be an explosion, possibly atomic. There are visual references to the cover art of Space Revolver as well as Unfold the Future.
The title could mean many things. Desolation almost never has a positive connotation, unless one might be referring to the landscapes of the American West. But, Rose? Rose is almost always good, at least as a noun and a proper name. Who couldn’t love a Rose? It’s the middle name of two of my daughters. And, traditionally, the rose is almost always associated with the mother of Jesus. She’s not exactly been absent from the art of The Flower Kings. She appears weeping in the lyrics of Space Revolver, and the devil hides from her in his playground in Unfold the Future. It’s worth noting again, the cover art of Desolation Rose refers to the albums that already have a reference to Mary.
Unfortunately, as with Eric and Tad, I don’t have the lyrics in front of me, and I’ve had to interpret them simply through listening to them repeatedly. I’m fairly sure that I am probably hearing what I want to hear, and I hope any interpretation I make will be taken with this caveat.
Though ten separate tracks appear on the main disk, the music flows from one song to another without a moment of silence. The album as a whole, however, ebbs and flows, and every track bleeds into the one following it. This only adds to the intensity and urgency of the record. A number of images and lyrics recur as well: revolution; false kings and false idols; mechanized man; the abuse of power; our place in the order of existence (“we’re the third from the sun”); our life as a game or a false dream; the soil of Eden; silent graveyards (where is the voice of the ages?); and, above all, the need to be individuals, unchained by the restraints of corrupt authorities and mass thinking.
All of the songs build to a climax in “Last Carnivore” and “Dark Fascist Skies.”
This has to rank as one of the darkest and most politically charged and angry (righteously so) of all Flower King’s tunes. It’s also absolutely brilliant. At the end of the song, the album rather quickly embraces a quiet denouement in the very short “Blood of Eden” and “Silent Graveyards.” In the end, the Flower Kings affirm that “we are stardust/we are sunkissed/we are brothers and still we’re strangers.”
Songs: Tower One; Sleeping Bones; Desolation Road; White Tuxedos; The Resurrected Jadas; Silent Masses; Last Carnivore; Dark Fascist Skies; Blood of Eden; and Silent Graveyards.
The album, itself, is flawless. Every instrument has a punctuated clarity to it. Upon my first listen, it was the bass I heard most. On the second, it was the guitar. On the third, it was the keyboards. On the fourth, it was the interplay of Stolt’s vocals with Frosberg’s vocals. On, probably, my fifth listen, I realized it was everything. Stolt has produced this album with an eye toward perfection. This album feels, at least at this point in my listening, less symphonic than other modern prog masterpieces, such as Big Big Train’s English Electric. In terms of urgency, it has a similarity to The Tangent’s latest studio album, Le Sacre Du Travail.
The only thing I find painful in Desolation Rose is the sampling of Richard Nixon’s voice in “White Tuxedos.” Don’t get me wrong. The song works, and it works well. But, having been born in 1967 and having been raised in a very politically libertarian family, Nixon was always the bad guy. His voice, to this day, makes me wince. And, as many times as I’ve listened to this album over the past week, I still cringe every time his voice pops up. Equally creepy, the voice from “Bavarian Skies” returns, but so does one of the coolest guitar lines ever (think The Good/The Bad/The Ugly meets Chris Isaak). Even the song, “Silent Masses,” makes me pause a bit, as Nixon continuously attempted to appeal to those he called the “silent majority.”
I can’t end a review with THAT man’s name in my conclusion.
So, on a much happier note, this year, 2013, has been nothing short of an annus mirabilis. When the new year hits, every prog lover will be, materially, worse off after having survived 2013. Every prog lover will be, also and more importantly, enlivened spiritually and intellectually after having survived 2013.
In the top of this astounding year of Prog is Desolation Rose. Empty your pockets. Another must–absolute must–buy.