Category Archives: Artist retrospective

Nightmare pop

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‘…The four biggest British bands of the mid-nineties – Radiohead, Oasis, Blur and the Verve – had yet to release their iconic albums which would shape the course of the UK scene for the rest of the decade … Had this album been released as planned, it would have had a major impact on UK guitar music, standing shoulder to shoulder with the breakthrough albums by the bands mentioned above…’

…So reads the blurb on the Bandcamp website, thru which – in collaboration with Flashback Records – was realised the two decades-delayed release of Levitation’s ‘difficult second’. Like dead rock stars, ‘lost’ albums have a propensity for coalescing about them an impenetrable miasma of hyperbole and partial affection, fueled by a generally small but disproportionately loud and loquacious clique of devotees. Levitation attracted such a crowd back in the early ’90s, and deservedly so, in this writer’s opinion. Their early singles and EPs showed great promise, and debut album, Need For Not stands as one of the finest 45 minutes of rock music of that decade.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine Meanwhile Gardens impressing the pop crowd in quite the same way as Definitely Maybe‘s meat-and-potatoes rock. Blur and Verve both played something of a long game, by contrast; taking their time to hone their sound for the masses (though not as long as Pulp!) as did Radiohead later. King Of Mice as Christmas #1? Nah.

It would be a shame, then, to allow such overbaked pontifications to obscure the fact that, yes, MG is a very good album and one which, like another unlikely group of one-time pop superstars, Marillion, deserves a fair hearing.

It’s a very different record to NFN. In some ways, it’s almost a backwards step: live favourites/single material such as Bedlam, Rosemary Jones and Purgatory had a looseness borne of the jam: not a million miles from early Verve, albeit angrier, more brooding. NFN by contrast, was a much tighter affair, albeit retaining that otherworldly feel which fans of ’60s/’70s psych/prog instantly latched onto. As an album it feels very complete; exploding out of the starting gates with Against Nature, World Around, Hangnail and Resist before settling into the ebbs and swells of a more melancholy second set. Closer, Coterie actually reminds me of nothing as much as Fields Of The Neph circa Elizium: all cascading drums and layered atmospheres, and a couple tracks aside, MG adopts that (latter) as an album-length blueprint. It has both sprawl and purpose in good measure.

When it falls down it’s not for the most obvious reasons: Food For Powder begins the album but feels like an ending; Even When Your Eyes Are Open is the sole concession to verse-chorus-verse-middle eight-chorus… ‘pop’ songwriting and so sticks out like a sore thumb. I would have relegated those tracks along with Never Odd Or Even/ Greymouth/Going Faster to the EP for a more harmonious feel acrosss both discs.

Those gripes aside, all the qualities a fan would expect and want to hear are present and correct: Dave Francolini and Laurence o’Keefe are/were the best rhythm section in indie rock, and their instinctive interplay underpins and propels this album much as it did NFN (and Dark Star‘s 20-20 Sound all the more seven years after). Bodiless, King Of Mice and Imagine The Sharks are brilliant examples of ‘songs’ that hang on questing, dynamic rhythms augmented by atmospheric touches from guitar and keys; not to mention some characteristic orchestration courtesy of CardiacsTim Smith during Magnifying Glass and Burrows.

And over all hangs Terry Bickers’ calculated anguish: background noise in his House Of Love days, now swimming gloriously to the fore.

MG is both recogniseably NFN‘s sequel but so much more, though ironically, it’s the judicial layering and sequencing of sound that takes it into – ethereal – new territory: like Talk Talk before them, and Radiohead a few years later.

Coolly sidestep nostalgia but make a point of (re)discovering this band before interest wanes. They need to regroup and get some gigs together.

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Re-sized

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Pre-ordered my copy of Vennart‘s debut album week before last. Pretty excited. For those unfamiliar (no pun…) Mike Vennart achieved artistic, if not financial longevity as singer/songwriter/guitarist with indie-rockers, Oceansize. Negotiating a scarcely-categorizable line between Post Rock, Nu Prog and Art Metal, this sadly-short-lived, Manchester-based crew infiltrated the hitherto-unimagined no-man’s land between Elbow and Mastodon, jamming to fondly-remembered tales of Cardiacs, Faith No More, Tool and Radiohead; refreshed by lashings of mushroom tea. Heady brew? Fuck yeah! And a finely-balanced one too: heaviosity aplenty for die-hard metalheads and cool for the too-cool Guardian fashionistas.

The best rock band to come out of Manchester for a decade.

A year to the day following that band’s dissolution, Vennart and fellow Oceansize cohort, Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram launched British Theatre: a canny proposition, streamlining the distorted, glitchy and lush atmospherics of the former, whilst substituting a full backing band for laptop dancing. Not a million miles from Radiohead‘s Kid Amnesiac days, albeit grimier, more louche, sordid.

Ingram, and former Oceansize guitarist, Steve Durose both contribute to the new record, The Demon Joke, but to all intents and purposes it’s a one man show now. He launched the new tracks – or some of them at least – at a gig downstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar here in Brighton last week and I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt the same way the first time I heard Effloresce (much like Trout Mask Replica, Angel Dust, Second Toughest In The Infants and Spirit Of Eden: sometimes brilliance takes time to absorb and process, even when it’s presence is instantly recognizeable).

In interview, Vennart references (second Oceansize LP) Everyone Into Position, both musically and personally, suggesting ‘I’ve not believed in a record as much since…’ which is good news for me, since EIP is my favourite ‘Size album, though follow-up Frames comes bloody close, and Trail Of Fire (from Frames) is not only my fave Oceansize track but perhaps my favourite song of all time. They didn’t play that at the gig, though they did pull a few classics out of the bag, including Music For A Nurse, Ornament (The Last Wrongs) ‘really long and fuckin’ hard to play’ and Part Cardiac. Even the deceptively-basic, Sabbath-y grind of the latter – from Oceansize swansong, the uneven, Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up – conveyed more emotional depth than their support act, Lithuania’s Mutiny On The Bounty, whose selection of sub-Depeche  Mode b-side material merely served to confirm the futility of industrial, post-rock instrumentalism. The wank dripping from a sea of dumbly-nodding post-hipster beards. The ‘Size stood out from the crowd and one has a feeling that Vennart‘s new collection – written whilst on the road as Biffy Clyro‘s live utility guy, studio-enhanced and mixed by Gambler and Durose will too, thanks to a lifetime of musical geekality absorbed from Maiden to Radiohead. The live presentation was augmented by Durose on guitar and b/vox, Gambler on bass and keys and newkid Denzel on drums, who along with Jo Spratley (Spratley’s Japs) also appear on The Demon Joke. The latter is winging it to me as I type, whereupon the chance to make fuller sense and fall once-again in love will surely present itself…

Can’t wait, chaps 😉

Another track, Infatuate is also available upon preordering here

You know you want to…

Style. Over. Substance.

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One step forward and three steps back…

The slow arrival of a new Steven Wilson record has established itself as an event to be savoured: the guy set the bar high from the off; before the off, even, if one factors in his musical pedigree as bandleader – Porcupine Tree – and collaborator – numerous. The Tree‘s output has been variously rewarding, if rarely less than interesting, Bass Communion and Blackfield have mostly left me cold. Never, though, could one accuse Wilson of being lazy, unimaginative or of taking anything for granted. Each successive release has broken ground that is, at least for him as writer and performer, new.

By contrast, Hand. Cannot. Erase. shapes up as something of a throwback; a project in the same vein as PT‘s ultimate release (The Incident, back in 2009) an ugly, overwrought, heterogenous; if not entirely unrewarding collection. Much like the granddaddy of prog rock operas, Pink Floyd‘s 1979 opus, The Wall, it played as something less than the sum of its occasionally considerable parts. In both cases one might feel justified in feeling surprised and a little let down: both bands had previous for handling the form (concept album; rock opera – call it what you will) with applomb: Animals and Fear Of a Blank Planet are both masterpieces in this writers’ opinion.

Perfect Life sounded rightaway to me as close to the ghost of PT as Wilson has sailed since his solo voyage began in earnest (let’s not forget that the former began as himself-in-bedroom-studio, sans backing band). Not that it sounds quite like that band, but the mood of the track, its apparent ‘interlude’ quality harks back to the piecemeal feel of The Incident. In that sense it’s quite a departure from his recent solo and collaborative output. As far back as Grace For Drowning and Storm Corrosion, Wilson has been favouring texture and exploration over narrative. The Raven…. signposted a move back in the opposite direction…

And so it is with H.C.E. as a complete statement. The allusions to Dreams of a Life* as the seminal inspiration might lead one to believe that this is a flowing, seamless storyteller of a record: it’s none of those things.

It really doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with Vincent‘s, or any woman’s life. Whilst there are pretty (and hummable) melodies scattered thruout, and fragments of a story, the overarching juxtaposition of brooding atmospheres and jagged shards of aggression contrives to create an air of decidedly masculine indulgence.  Wilson, one feels is coolly observing the pain of Vincent and others like her without offering the listener much by way of understanding or insight. It is, to The Incident, what Queensryche‘s Operation Mindcrime II was to its antecedent, in a way: more of the same, without the heart or the commitment. Not since Michael Rutherford‘s treatment of (Peter Currell Brown‘s) Smallcreep’s Day has a musical interpretation fallen so far short of justice to the written word.

Interestingly, Wilson recently spoke of the possibility of a PT reunion with Prog magazine,

“I would have to say to the guys, ‘Look, there’s no point in me writing the material. If I were to do that I might as well do it for a solo record. Let’s try writing together, or writing in partnerships.”

…Which sounds, in a roundabout sort of a way – and factoring in also his scaling back work with NoMan and Blackfield – like he feels the well is running dry for him as a writer. His most notable work of late has been as go-to-guy for remix work for the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull and XTC; as interpreter of others’ work. It would be refreshing to hear the results of a more fully-collaborative incarnation of PT, if this is where following his current muse is taking him.

Offering up such a seemingly comprehensive slagging kinda behoves me, I think, to point up what is right about H.C.E. The title track is a successful detour into accessible pop-rock, rightly-compared in a Prog review to mid-period Manic Street Preachers. Adam Holzmann (keyboards) gives of his best in a sublime solo spot in Regret #9, an exceptional moment on an album where Wilson‘s crack unit rarely get a chance to bring their indisputable virtuosity to the fore. And Wilson (and KScope) shine as never before in the packaging stakes: the box-set is a beautiful thing, showcasing wonderful attention to detail with its myriad artful photographs, collages and inserts (courtesy of Lasse Hoile and Hujo Meuller). There’s a wealth of extra material for conisseur/geek; including album demos and visuals on dvd and Blu Ray.

If you’re a fan of Wilson‘s work over the last two-or-so-decades, there’s much here to enjoy – it’s as much ‘signature Wilson’ as ever – with the caveat that returns appear to be turning in the direction of diminishing, as opposed to accruing; which isn’t what one feels his departure from PT et al in favour of ‘solo’was supposed to about.

*p.s. if you live in the Brighton area, Dreams of a Life is being screened as part of the 2015 Brighton Festival.

 

 

What’s in a name…

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What indeed?

In the case of prog-pop supergroup, Flying Colors, one might argue the case for a moniker that promises more than it can reasonably hope to deliver. Factor in the title of sophomore release, Second Nature and the musical nostrils detect an air of, what? Complacency? Pretencious indulgence? If the latter is the former, less so.

In point of fact, the (album) title has been hanging around on the substitute bench for quite some time. Aficianados of the neo-prog revival will doubtless be aware that two members of FC have previous together: Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse have collaborated extensively over the last decade and a half; as the American half of Transatlantic; on most of Morse’s solo records and also in tribute acts such as Yellow Matter Custard, paying homage to their shared love of The Beatles. Second Nature was a working title for what eventually emerged as Transatlantic in 2001 (S.M.P.T.e) and was also mooted as a name for that band’s second (and best) album, Bridge Across Forever. It’s perhaps not coincidental that that two-words cliché has finally come to rest on the sleeve of a record that, at times, bears more than a passing resemblance to the project on which Mssrs Morse and Portnoy first joined forces.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda.

Open Up Your Eyes also opens the album, and there’s no denying a more than passing similarity to TA and solo- Morse material. It’s a 12-minute ‘epic’ that wouldn’t have been out of place on a TA album and more than justifies its running time: full of melody, harmony and hard-rockin’ hookiness…

The album also finishes with a long-form piece, albeit one quite unlike any previous. Cosmic Symphony is an, er, symphony in three parts; the first of which comes closest thusfar in living up to Portnoy‘s boast that FC dip their toes into the nu-prog/indie-art-rock waters occupied by Muse/Radiohead. Casey McPherson‘s vocal and the timbre of the song bear an uncanny resemblance to Muse circa The Resistance. As a piece, the languid mood reminds me particularly of Montréal, the narrative-based centrepiece of Marillion‘s Sounds That Can’t Be Made.

In-between, the album ploughs, for the most part, the same hooky, hard-rock groove as FC‘s eponymous debut. McPherson is a stronger, rockier singer than (Neal) Morse; Dave LaRue a less melodic, less conspicuous low-end presence than Pete Trewavas and (Steve) Morse : in short, FC adhere closer to rock convention than TA, which is no bad thing following the – relative – disappointment of Kaleidoscope, which generally found (Neal) Morse‘s superior melodic gifts sidelined in favour of fancy, less-memorable arrangements.

Bombs Away irritates me, featuring a melody that feels familiar yet I can’t place.

Points are lost – lyrically – for The Fury Of My Love: it’s the kind of misogynistic, ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ crap that one hoped rock might have deserted decades ago. On the plus side – melodically – it echoes vintage Tears For Fears. But in the main, Second Nature rescues victory from the jaws of a defeat that seems pre-ordained in the title of both album and band. It’s an album that manages to balance – like the aforementioned TFF – virtuosity and accessibility very well indeed. Lead single Mask Machine perfectly exemplifies this, whoaoahwhoahwohoah: singer McPherson achieving the kind of leg-up Ray Wilson ought to have been granted when he briefly fronted Genesis in the late ’90s.

Not without problematic aspects, FC have managed to deliver one of the most interesting. listenbable rock albums of 2014.

 

Reverb Nation (Bzzzzzzzzzz)

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Further to my last post – God, they’re pretty few and far between these days; but that’s a good relationship for ya – I’ve had Terra Familiar in my grubby little mitts for three weeks now, and in the very best way possible, I’m unsure of what to make of it. It’s long been something of a cliché to talk of hearing something new in each listen.

I like it. Very much. I hear new things every time…

It doesn’t much feel like a continuation of Mikrokosmos i and ii. It stands very much apart. Those albums consisted of 15 tracks – and that word is undeniably apposite, more so than songs – apiece; some of them very short, little more than sketches, interludes. iii features just 9, several of which hover around the 6-7 minute mark. Unsurprisingly, the ideas herein feel more developed, luxuriated-in, albeit stopping short of sheer indulgence for the most part. Still not ‘songs’ to the same degree as much of Hayes‘ work with Levitation or Dark Star, mind.

Where those were albums of fragments collected, this one ebbs and flows. One almost feels the nine tracks ought to bleed more completely into each other; in the manner of Edison’s Children‘s The Final Breath Before November or Faithless‘ No Roots.

If Psychedelia can be simplistically divided between that which is anchored by beats and a more free-floating variety then this album ticks both boxes. Unsurprisingly the legacy of The Beatles looms large; also Can: not so much in and of themselves but Echoes (no pun 😉 ) of the bands that followed them down the rabbit hole: Floyd, Early Verve; Primal Scream (circa XTRMTR/Evil Heat); Tool without the aggression, the pathos; Underworld; Secret Machines…

And if you feel that by piling on the references I’m on a hiding to nothing; that it’s journalism as lazy as it is ultimately useless; then you’re maybe on the same page as me. You’ll maybe recognise the ghosts of these lofty antecedents and quite possibly like the record, whilst concurring that Terra Familiar is uncannily well-named: the sum of its parts and yet so much more besides. It’s a journey well worth taking.

Stream or buy this (and previous) albums here

 

 

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As mentioned in my previous post, 2014 heralds the release of Pixies’ first LP in over two decades, and I can’t pretend I’m not excited. A few tracks osmosised via 6Music and thru the hubbub of my works kitchen aside, I’ve assiduously avoided hearing anything from the new record, though: I haven’t even dragged the download of EP3 that came bundled with my advance purchase of the all-singing, all-dancing special edition out of the download box into my media library.

Why? The closing clause in this Steven Hyden article for Grantland, sums it up neatly enough ‘…because my [anticipated] disappointment in what they’ve become has more to do with me than with them.’ The same might be said of the second Star Wars trilogy, or my assessment – see also my previous post – of the last Opeth album. Hot on the heels of the realization that George Lucas/Pixies/Opeth are not the same people today that they were when they recorded their most treasured artifacts comes the secondary one that we are not the same people either. This makes for a complicated, fragmented relationship with our favoured artists’ ever-expanding catalogs of work, tainted by nostalgia and changing expectations.

When Hyden writes ‘I would guess that before the Pixies’ reunion in 2004 (and the subsequent run of endless tours in the decade since), the majority of the group’s fans had never seen them live. Much of the Pixies’ fan base got into the band after it broke up in 1993.’ he could be writing about me, or as good as: I ‘discovered’ the Pixies around the time Trompe Le Monde was released.

‘If all that mattered were the music, I wouldn’t even bother writing about Indie Cindy. It is thoroughly pedestrian, exceptionally unexceptional, and spectacularly slight. But I am writing about Indie Cindy, and the reason is, it is the first full-length album by the Pixies since 1991’s Trompe le Monde. Like that, Indie Cindy suddenly seems important. If lifestyle reporting didn’t exist, Indie Cindy would have virtually no reason to exist, either…

…Curiously, the baggage that justifies Indie Cindy’s existence also ensures it will be regarded as being much worse than it actually is. Judged solely as a self-released MOR rock record made by musicians in their late forties and early fifties who haven’t worked together in a creative fashion for nearly a quarter century, Indie Cindy is merely inoffensive. But as a Pixies record, it’s easily the worst entry in a celebrated discography. The more you love the other Pixies LPs, the less you’ll be able to tolerate Indie Cindy.’

This pretty much sums up my feelings re Heritage as I was writing yesterday, and it was this realization that prompted me to listen to it again mid review and soften my verdict. The music hadn’t changed but my relationship to it had, along with my way of listening and my apprehension of myself.

I’m sure I will tolerate Indie Cindy well enough, but I never became a fan by merely tolerating my favourite bands.In my 20s it seemed that they reached out and grabbed me: these days it seems like the job of reaching out is mine, and on occasion I feel a great reluctance to do so, for fear of falling out of love? Teachable moment is the popular vernacular, I believe.

Truth is I don’t really expect Pixies to ever sound as vital as this again:

Just as I don’t ever expect Opeth to record anything as vital as this now:

So really there’s nothing to be disappointed about, is there? And no shortage new music to be heard for what it is. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say…

 

Out of ‘The Whirlwind’…

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Prog supergroup Transatlantic‘s 2009 album The Whirlwind is that rarest of musical beasts, the double-album with nary a dull moment. To say that this is no mean feat is an understatement: it might be cliché to mention Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Beatles, …And Justice For All…, Use Your Illusion and Be Here Now but aficianados of classic rock will surely get the point: 80 mins is a long time in music – to paraphrase another cliché – and the potential for misstep and indulgence is high. Actually, unless you’re one of those listeners harbouring a pathological aversion to all things prog, you might perhaps concede that Transatlantic have a pretty solid track record for recording and releasing music of remarkable quality in behemoth-sized chunks. The band’s debut attracted many accolades including “some of the best progressive rock music ever written” (Robert Taylor in Allmusic)). I’ve been a huge fan since I discovered the band via Marillion‘s website in 2004 and especially since seeing them perform The Whirlwind live three years ago: to say my expectations were high would be an understatement…

..and initial signs weren’t encouraging. The band released Shine as an album trailer back in December 2013 and after a five-year wait for new material  I wasn’t impressed:

‘…Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say I don’t like the song, it’s by far the least immediately-impressive tune released by the band thusfar: not since Asia‘s 1982 debut has the ‘super’ been so conspicuous for its absence in output from a group so deserving, talent-wise, of the appellation. The collective talent in Transatlantic is indeed an embarrassment, yet had this been my introduction to the collaboration I can’t say I’d have been won over…’

I still don’t particularly like the song: it’s a big power ballad with Floyd-ey knobs on and kinda uninspired by TA standards.The second album trailer was Black As The Sky (which follows Shine on the album) and I like this rather better: it bounces along at a good clip, propelled by Pete Trewavas‘ groovy, thunking bass, and Neal Morse‘s synth figures are catchy, building excitement from the off.  Around three minutes, there’s an instrumental breakdown which adds interest with some tricky time sigs, more nifty runs up and down the ivories, topped off with guitar flourishes from Roine Stolt – very ‘Cinema Show‘ – before the song concludes with a triumphant return to the chorus. All in all it showcases what the boys do best – catchy, melodic prog which demonstrates musical skill without succumbing to indulgence. And following on from that, Beyond The Sun is a lilting Neal Morse piano ballad in the vein of Bridge Across Forever. the title track from their second album. Accompanied by some lovely pedal steel guitar – courtesy of mix engineer, Rich Mouser – and a tasteful string arrangement – by longtime Morse collaborator, Chris Carmichael – it’s four minutes of understated, faintly-psychedelic bliss.

Which leaves two ‘songs’, or rather, song-cycles. TA have returned to a tried-and-trusted format with this album, namely opening and closing the record with extended symphonic workouts with two or three more compact numbers in between. The first two TA albums – SMPTe (2000) and Bridge Across Forever (2001) set the bar high with tracks such as All Of The Above and Stranger In Your Soul. If you’re a lover of classic symphonic prog epics such as Supper’s Ready and Lizard, and/or more recent variations on the form such as Milliontown or Gaza then you owe it to yourself to hear these brilliant pieces. Kaleidoscope, and particularly Into The Blue are, I’m pleased to report as good as if not better than the aforementioned. The latter opens the album with a string theme which is instantly recognizable as Neal Morse/TA – variations of which recur thruout the song and album – which gives way two minutes later to some dirty guitar and organ riffs reminiscent of vintage Purple or Crimson at their earthy, weighty best. Interesting aside, Elbow detoured into very similar KC-inspired territory on their recent album-trailer Fly Boy Blue which is well worth a listen. Over the course of 25 minutes and 13 seconds Into The Blue takes us on the kind of twisty, predictably-unpredictable musical journey that is the hallmark of symphonic prog rock. Detractors of bands such as TA will point out that their music is derivative to the point where progressive is scarcely an apt moniker, and it’s an allegation I shan’t even attempt to refute – it’s impossible to listen to a song like Into The Blue without making mental comparisons to the likes of Crimson, Yes or Genesis – all I can say is that the band tear into their job with such evident relish and aplomb that I can’t help but be carried along. The title – and closing – track is even longer at nearly 32 minutes and yet the time seems to fly by, immersed in the rich soundworld the four musicians create.

And the album is a handsome thing to behold, coming dressed in suitably progged-out attire:

The four discs (r-l) CD1 Kaleidoscope (stereo), DVD1 Kaleidoscope (5.1), CD2 8 cover versions recorded during the album sessions, DVD2 ‘Making of’ documentary.

The image doesn’t quite do justice to the full psychedelic effect of the lenticular sleeve design (also reproduced inside in postcard form) or include the Kaleidoscope t-shirt included with pre-orders, all of which makes the package a snip at around £40 for the discerning prog-nerd. TA, who have courted this element in their prospective fan-base with limited editions from album one, have really outdone themselves this time; producing a package that stands comparison with previous KScope high-end releases from the likes of Steven Wilson, not to mention Marillion‘s plush campaign editions. Musically it arguably lacks the freshness and back-to- front consistency of previous releases: their stall is set now and the element of surprise regarding ‘what will the collective efforts of these four veterans sound like’ is long gone. Kaleidoscope sounds just as one might imagine: well-crafted and impeccably-played, unashamedly-retro prog rock. The more complex compositions are still agreeably leavened by keen melodic sensibilities, albeit those are a little less to the fore this time around, and this still sets them apart: by way of comparison/contrast listen to their cover of King Crimson‘s willfully-gnarly Indiscipline on the bonus disc. Like all the covers – including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Nights In White Satin – it treads a line between being faithful and distinct and as with previous efforts it gives a peek behind the curtain of the band’s influences. Only And You And I slightly misses the mark, sounding somehow bereft without Jon Anderson at the helm (attendees at the recent Progressive Nation At Sea festival were treated to hearing the latter join TA for a ‘proper’ run at the song, amongst other classics from the Yes canon) but I digress…

The Indiscipline and And You And I covers highlight, in different ways, what Transatlantic don’t offer: music that’s genuinely challenging or possessed of a single, focal, unifying voice. They recreate the bombast of the prog of yore for an appreciative audience and they do it very well: to quote Mike Portnoy/Adrian Belew ‘I like it!’ But for all its occasional highlights, Kaleidoscope hasn’t surpassed The Whirlwind to these ears. It’s good – very good at times: those dirty Purple/Crimson chords, and guest performer Daniel Gildenlöw‘s ‘Demis Roussos‘ vocal on Into The Blue – but the melodies are generally less memorable; the performances somewhat less impassioned; and where there was a clear progression of ideas and approach across the first three albums, the return to the familiar track-listing formula of earlier releases seems like a – literal – step back.

If you notice something of a decline in enthusiasm on my part between the beginning and end of this review, then there’s a reason for that: I started it a month or so back when it hadn’t long arrived. Real life has left me with increasingly less time to myself over the last year or so – no bad thing: my relationship and social life is going from strength to strength – and blogging has taken a back seat and as a result I’ve been working on a number of posts piecemeal without actually publishing much. In the interim the ‘Shine’ has worn off: I’m listening to The Whirlwind now – as I’ve also unearthed Bridge Across Forever – and the contrast is not flattering to Kaleidoscope! There’s nothing here as spine-tinglingly sinister as Roine Stolt‘s vocals on A Man Can Feel; as emotively epic as Neal Morse‘s elegiac Rose Colored Glasses; as climactic as Is It Really Happening? (and perhaps more worryingly, as joyous as their Beatles knock-off, Suite Charlotte Pike). And the band commit the cardinal sin of ending the album on a fade-out. Symbolic maybe? Can we expect a TA hiatus such as that which followed Bridge…? Those 8 years set the stage for The Whirlwind so maybe a break to refresh the creative juices might be in order?