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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Flower Kings

Paradox Hotel

Review by Steve Alspach

You gotta admire the Flower Kings' work ethic. On the heels of Roine's solo album "Wall Street Voodoo" comes the latest album from Sweden's no. 1 progressive group, and it's a 2-CD set to boot. Some folks may find the Kings' 2-CD sets to be a bit too much music to handle, but on this one the songs all hold their own, and there is little (if any) "filler" here. This time around Roine Stolt, Tomas Bodin, Jonas Reingold, and Hans Froberg are joined by new drummer Marcus Lillequist. Hasse Brunuisson is also around to add an occasional percussive thump or ding here and there. (If you're also into CD art, a tip of the hat to Andres Pablo Valle for some excellent, albeit humorous, drawings. With oversight by Thomas Ewerhart, this is one of the best Flower Kings CD packages in quite some time.)

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Check In
A twisted, ninety-eight second pastiche by Tomas Bodin, this has the voice of a NASA engineer counting down from sixty seconds to ignition, but the final "blast-off" is not what you'd expect. You'll have to hear it yourself - I'm not giving away the ending!
Monsters and Men
The one big "epic" on this album (at 21.19), "Monsters and Men" has what you'd expect from the Kings. After a lengthy intro, Froberg grabs the lead vocal in the first part, "Seasons of War." This traditional verse-chorus movement builds gradually before the keyboards calm things down to a slightly calmer instrumental passage before the second vocal section, "Prophets and Preachers."
Jealousy
Roine gets a solo spotlight with this ballad - yes, a ballad - with piano and synth backdrop.
Hit Me With A Hit
A tongue-in-cheek paean to the music business, this sounds like it could be the single from this album if not for its 9/8 time signature.
Pioneers of Aviation
The theme to "Pioneers" gets a grand opening with Bodin on keyboards playing a multi-layered keyboard solo, including a Wakeman-like bit of buzzsaw synthesizer, and this intro is more to set the mood than to display Bodin's considerable flash. Reingold and Lillequist jump into the fray, and Reingold kicks the theme around during an effects-treated bass solo, but at 3.21 Stolt's guitar lays down the melody unquestionably. Bodin finally gets the last word with his "Phantom of the Opera" organ.
Lucy Had A Dream
The first of two songs where Bodin writes the music while Stolt contributes lyrics, "Lucy" deals with a woman who seeks validity in all the wrong places.
Bavarian Skies
Stolt and Bodin throw a chill down your spine with this dark piece. Stolt's masked vocals are those of Hitler who dreams of "Bavarian skies and mountain views beneath." Bodin plays keyboards in what sounds like a cabaret style and Stolt adds mellotron and some guitar in a gentle-yet-evocative coda.
Selfconsuming Fire
Many Flower King songs seem to have multiple chord changes to them, but this one seems to get lots of mileage out of the same 4-or-5 chord pattern. Bruniusson adds some bongos for a slight Latin flavor, but this exploration of a woman caught in a corporate world demands a few listens for full appreciation.
Mommy Leave the Light On
Another Stolt solo piece (he plays all the instruments), this delicate composition combines Hackett-like delicacy with a slightly Floydian-Freudian theme.
End on a High Note
True to musical convention, "End on a High Note" sends the first CD out with a bang. The song starts off with a mandolin and gradually builds up steam, and that steam pretty much gets released at the 4-minute mark. After a short section with some metal sock to it, the Kings then go into an extended-yet-rather complicated instrumental section (how does Stolt bring these ideas to the table?). The song then goes back to the verse and then into an extended end section where Bodin's synth soloing plays counter to a basic vocal chant. This end section is reminiscent of something Yes may pull off.
Disc 2
Minor Giant Steps
Continuing the Yes-like song styles (at least for the first few minutes - think Keys to Ascension-era Yes), "Minor Giant Steps" has Anderson-like optimism in the lyrics and Stolt's octave soloing and Bodin's Wakeman-like rapidfire soloing. The lyrics, however, take a turn for the cynical but the song loses none of its warmth, even going through an acoustic guitar-based section. "Minor Giant Steps" finishes out with an instrumental section that is more of a "landing" than a close to this 12:13 suite.
Touch My Heaven
This Bodin-penned cut starts softly enough with muted vocals, gentle keyboards, and some tasty fills from Stolt. The song cuts open halfway through and Stolt flexes his chops as the rhythm section cranks things up.
The Unorthodox Dancing Lesson
This is a bit of a cockeyed instrumental. Echoes of Zappa exist in the goofy medley and Bruinisson's marimba playing. In the middle, as Reingold lays down a simple yet dark bass pattern, Stolt builds a solo about as raucous as anything he's played.
Man of the World
Reingold and Bodin come up with the music, including a "listen closely" pattern of 11 in the verse and during Bodin's solo, to match Stolt's lyrics. The band keep to a more conventional 6 in the chorus section, though.
Life Will Kill You
If Hans Froberg is going to keep writing tunes like this, he may want to consider a solo project - songs like this are too good to appear one at a time. This is a killer track with a catchy syncopated guitar riff, sounding a bit like an Alex Lifeson concoction. The chorus has an '80's-like metal crunch to it.
The Way the Waters Are Moving
Things have been pretty beefy for the better part of this disc, so a respite is in order. Dedicated to the victims of the tsunami (and perhaps you can add the folks of New Orleans to the list), this is a heartfelt tune. Bodin wrote the music and played the lion's share of the keyboards while Stolt sings and plays mellotron and acoustic guitar.
What if God Is Alone
After a slow build-up intro, this piece finds its footing in a 5/4 groove. Kudos to Jonas Reingold for the music while Stolt and Froberg share both lyric and lead vocal duties. After two passes of verse-chorus, the song peels itself back a bit but dramatically builds to its climax.
Paradox Hotel
Perhaps not as phantasmagoric as the "Hotel California," the title piece here sounds a bit like Stolt's '70's-rockout excursions in "Wall Street Voodoo." Bodin puts some grunge on his organ sound, the guitar and bass match notes in their strut, and Froberg has the lungpower to carry things through.
Blue Planet
The wrap-up to this effort is a reprise of some of the themes in "Monsters & Men." You sense that this is the last song of the CD with its slow build from the start. The last two minutes or so are of an astronaut describing the view of planet earth from waaaaaay up there in space, and one may wonder how small we all seem when viewed from the ionosphere or how interconnected we are. I think the message here is the second of those two possibilities.
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