Sound — 9
transatlantic started as a side project in 1999 originally under the name Second Nature. The band includes Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater and a half dozen other more recent projects), Neal Morse (formerly of Spock's Beard and his somewhat Christian-rock solo career), Pete Trewavas (of Marillion and Edison's Children), and Roine Stolt (of The Flower Kings). The band "retired" in 2002, only to play together again in 2009 and remaining relatively active since then. "Kaleidoscope" contains five tracks with a total runtime of over 75 minutes, the lion's share of the time devoted to the 1st and 5th tracks which are multi-part audio epics. The "Special Edition" of the album contains a bonus disc with eight cover songs and a runtime of over 40 minutes.
The album opens up with the track "Into the Blue" which runs about 25 minutes and is broken up into five separate movements ("I. Overture," "II. The Dreamer and The Healer," "III. A New Beginning," "IV. Written in Your Heart," "V. The Dreamer and The Healer [Reprise]"). The track is largely instrumental, though there are some vocals at certain parts of certain movements. The next track, "Shine," was released as a music video in December 2013, making this the closest thing to a single that the album contains, though at over seven minutes it isn't really your average single. The song is an acoustic track that is slightly reminiscent of Pink Floyd's acoustic work for the first half of the song, such as "Wish You Were Here," but is much more piano/keyboard driven in the second half and an electric guitar shows up for a melodic solo. "Black as the Sky" is next up, which has a crazy little build up in the intro that reminded me a little bit of ELP. By the time the vocals come in then it is absolutely Transatlantic's own creation. "Beyond the Sun" is the album's shortest track by over two minutes, clocking in at only four and a half minutes. The album is largely carried by cello (played by Chris Carmichael) and pedal steel guitar (played by Rich Mouser) and the keyboard/piano played by Neal Morse. The album closes out with the title track, "Kaleidoscope," which is broken up into seven movements ("I. Overture," "II. Feel the Lightning," "III. Black Gold," "IV. Walking the Road," "V. Desolation Days," "VI. Lemon Looking Glass," "VII. Feel the Lightning [Reprise]") and clocks in at almost thirty-two minutes. I really enjoyed a lot of the keyboard on this track as it reminded me of a lot of classic prog albums from back in the day. This track has very long instrumental passages like "Into the Blue" but more vocals fill the track. There are a lot of really cool melodic guitar lines throughout the track, as well.
The bonus disc contains 8 cover songs beginning with "And You and I" which was originally recorded by Yes. The cover is pretty faithfully reproduced, with Transatlantic making it their own through more subtle ways such as their overall mastery of their craft than any outright gimmicky changes to the original recording. "Can't Get It Out of My Head" was originally recorded by Electric Light Orchestra, and once again this is a fairly faithful cover. "Conquistador" is a Procol Harum cover, and sounds the least like the original of any of the covers but not in a bad way - the Transatlantic version just seems to rock a little bit harder than the original. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," which was originally recorded by Elton John, and if I have any complaints it is that this cover sounds too much like the original. "Tin Soldier" was a cover of the Small Faces song, and it was a rockin' little cover. "Sylvia" is a cover of the song by Focus, and this wasn't a song I was familiar with before hearing the cover. Let's just say this cover was enough to get me interested in Focus' work and I'll be listening to some of their stuff now. "Indiscipline," which is a King Crimson cover, was different in that it didn't quite have the tribal vibe that the original recording had and the drums and lead guitar were treated completely differently. It wasn't a bad cover and it got me interested in going back to the original recording, as well. The album closes out with The Moody Blues cover "Nights in White Satin." The Moody Blues cover was a great choice to close out the album and was faithfully and beautifully done.
Lyrics — 8
At assorted times every member provides lead vocals except Mike Portnoy who consistently is relegated to providing only backing vocals. The vocals are pretty much spot on for the entire album. They serve as an instrument without detracting or stealing the thunder from the instrumental portions of the tracks. As a sample of the vocals, here are some lyrics from the track "Shine": "Tuesday okay/ but can't you feel there's something there/ waiting like a silent prayer/ cause this is all fading away/ and there's nothing we can do/ little we can hold onto/ but to let our lonely light come through/ and so we shine while this moment slips away from us/ shine while the skies are turning gray/ and so we shine like there's nothing they can take from us/ we want no one left behind/ while we shine, shine, shine, oh yeah/ Shine, shine, shine now." I don't really have any complaints about the lyrics as they were sufficient but they didn't blow my mind, either.
Overall Impression — 8
I definitely have to be in the right mind-space for prog albums such as this, and luckily I was in a good place to listen to this album over the weekend. While in that specific mind-space I would have to say this album is stupendous - the bonus disc or the main disc alone being worth the price of the full special edition version of the album. I've had a chip on my shoulder with Mike Portnoy and the way he quit Dream Theater and some of the things he was saying in the media, but with the exception of The Adrenaline Mob I've really enjoyed every project he's been involved with. My favorite tracks from the album were definitely "Into the Blue," the title track "Kaleidoscope," the cover of "Indiscipline" and the cover of "Nights in White Satin." I would love to see the band perform live.