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Transatlantic - Kaleidoscope CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.82 | 558 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars When the cover for Transatlantic's latest 75 minute opus `Kaleidoscope' was first released, with all the blue and green colours, it strangely made me think of the Santana band's `Borboletta' disc from 1974. I instantly thought `Wow, it would be cool if this turns out to be Transatlantic's jazz/fusion album', and even the spiritual lyrics from that Santana period would have more than fit in with Neal Morse and Roine Stolt's leanings! Sadly, this was not to be, and instead we have a perfectly decent but utterly unoriginal and even occasionally dull rehash of everything the band has given listeners before, even as good as I've felt those albums have been in the past. Of course it contains all the technical playing, sophisticated arrangements and pleasing melodies associated with the band of professionals, but there's an underwhelming sense of this being...perhaps mere product to hold the prog masses for another year or so?

Transatlantic certainly have their knockers. Those who grumble about the band being so completely retro focused are kind of missing the point at this stage into their career and their solo works. Fans generally enjoy exactly that about Transatlantic, that all four of the musicians pour plenty of their own character into their music, and those same fans admire the love that the band have for those defining vintage days of progressive rock. Those who complain that this is everything wrong with modern prog music, as if prog has ever been `fashionable' in the first place, are deluding themselves! I am perfectly happy to defend a band that is proud of its prog heritage and influence. Morse and Stolt's pride in their spiritual beliefs have inspired and strengthened my own for years, so I'm also more than fine with that element that emerges throughout this music. But sadly with `Kaleidoscope', it's all about diminishing returns, with the band seemingly just going through the motions. Perhaps because the previous album was a comeback they felt the need to prove themselves, as `The Whirlwind' had an urgency and positively crackled with energy and fire compared to this one.

The epics are certainly the strongest works here. The 25 minute opener `Into The Blue' is more or less exactly like the longer pieces on the previous albums, a hugely symphonic prog workout with extended instrumental sections, some orchestrated passages full of epic rises, grand builds, pleasant melodies (one thing Neal Morse can frankly write in his sleep) and a big finale. All the usual trademarks are well in place for this one, just without too much in the way of real excitement. The frantic instrumental opening is well done, and of course the charismatic Neal Morse, simply one of the most versatile and dynamic keyboard players in modern prog, is all over this. His voice, too, is in good form as always, it's just that once the vocals enter, the verse/repeated chorus melodies are not as strong as they have been before. Drummer Mike Portnoy sounds like he's having a great time during the Beatles flavoured section about 12 minutes in, and since he left Dream Theater, we've all been very lucky to have him playing more traditional prog in this band. Pete Trewavas's bass is mixed chunky and upfront like in the glory days of early Marillion and this thankfully avoids sounding like anything on his sleeping pill `Edison's Children' project. The slow- burn instrumental passage of electric piano, mellotron, murmuring bass and a ripping electric guitar solo from Flower King Roine Stolt that runs throughout the 13-17 minute mark is definitely the highlight. Sadly, I can't stand the finale with guest Daniel Gildenlow's overwrought and oh so emotional vocals (yet oddly I enjoyed his time when he was a member of the Flower Kings, go figure), and the verse/chorus reprised outro has a slightly plodding heaviness that doesn't quite succeed.

The 32 minute title track is the album standout of course. There's a foot-tapping quality to the snappy drumming and feel-good joyful vocal harmonies, with dreamy Floydian atmospheres, heavier King Crimson-like menace, thoughtful orchestrated moments and even some singer-songwriter acoustic introspection. Neal lets rip with endless heavy bursts of scorching Hammond, whirring Moogs and jazzy piano, and his lead vocals are very joyful and commanding. Roine's middle-eastern desert swept `Black as Gold' part is sublime with lots of darker tension and blissful group vocals, Mike Portnoy drumming up a tsunami of fury. Sadly despite the whimsical floating psychedelic backing, the `Walking The Road' passage is made excruciating by Pete T's unbearable vocals that make me cringe - great musician, dreadful vocalist. Unfortunately the climactic end is not very thrilling and lazily fades out leaving almost no impression, a bit of a shame. But overall due to the various instrumental runs having a strong build with a better use of reprises and recurring themes, this one is mostly a winner and the best thing here.

Sadly it's on the three `in between' tracks where the album almost grinds to a halt.`Smile' is a clich├ęd psychedelic acoustic semi-inspirational ballad just begging for a sea of cigarette lighters to be raised in the air at live concerts. Despite a tasty electric guitar solo from Roine in the second half, there's a strong whiff of Dad-Prog to this one that makes me nearly nod off. `Black as the Sky' is more up-tempo and almost playful, full of E.L.P-type keyboard bluster and a catchy chorus, but it's all a rather forgettable if pleasing time-waster - I'm sure it will be great fun at live shows though. `Beyond The Sun' is the obligatory "Classy Neal Morse Christian Ballad", filling much the same spot as the title track on Transatlantic's second album `Bridge Across Forever'. Personally I can appreciate the lyrics, less so the predictable vocal arrangement - nice cello and Yes `Soon'-styled pedal steel guitar though. Overall, the biggest issue is that these tracks aren't even a fraction as strong as similar `straight-forward' tracks on the last few solo Morse and Flower Kings albums. I went back and played several of those discs, and even the less interesting stuff on `Momentum', `Testimony 2' and `Desolation Rose' are all far superior to these.

`Kaleidoscope' is by no means a bad album, and there's certainly no doubting it's performed well by a bunch of musicians who are deserving of their high status in modern progressive music circles. I'd probably say that those who've never heard Transatlantic before will probably enjoy this more than regular followers of the band because it will all be new to them. Either that or it's a little worrying that some fans will adore that it's safe and `business as usual'. But I truly find this one lacking in much inspiration and clear signs of a group in need to a good rethink next time around.

At four albums in, Transatlantic shouldn't feel worried of losing fans by experimenting more and taking a few chances, as in the long run (if the plan is for Transatlantic this time to remain an ongoing project), it's albums that try different things and shake up the formula that are more appreciated than the predictable holding-pattern here. Given the talent of the four musicians, I hold out hope for something more exciting next time around. Come on Transatlantic guys, take a chance and surprise us all!

Three stars.

(Now if only Roine could please put me in touch with his tailor I'd be very grateful, that's a beautiful psychedelic shirt he's rocking throughout the photos in the CD booklet!)

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |


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