Flower Kings - Space Revolver - Round Table Review
Tracklist: I Am The Sun (Part One) (15:03), Dream On Dreamer (2:43), Rumble Fish Twist (8:06), Monster Within (12:55), Chicken Farmer Song (5:09), Underdog (5:29), You Don't Know What You've Got (2:39), Slave To Money (7:30), A Kings Prayer (6:02), I Am The Sun (Part Two) (10:48)
I Am The Sun (Part 1)
Joakim: Roine Stolt and his comrades start the CD off with the longest track, I Am The Sun (part one), which clocks in at 15:03. Lately, I have been a bit annoyed by the attitude within prog which seems to produce lengthy songs for the sake of length rather than for the sake of the song (Spock's Beard's last couple of excessive efforts being a case in point). It is therefore quite nice that this song shows more cohesion and builds up an organic whole. Maybe some bits could have been cut away, but on the whole the mixture of good 70s Genesis-influences combined with some flavours of King Crimson works for me. Some bits, especially in the beginning, which also returns in the last track, remind me of Jadis at their better moments. The most Crimson-esque moment, being a saxophone-based bit in the middle, did not go down well with me at first, I must admit, but it has definitely convinced me of its place in the tune when listening to it a couple of times. Closer to the end of the song comes a very good section in the vein of Sting around ...Nothing But The Sun, and it works superbly.
Derk: The intro to this track is pretty atmospheric, reminiscent of parts of the epic
Garden of Dreams from the previous studio album 'Flower Power'. After a while the Hammond kicks
in and you know it's The Flower Kings. The first part of this song is based on a type of guitar
riff that Ayreon seems to favour as well. What struck me immediately is the abundance of analog
keyboard sounds that characterizes The Flower Kings' music in particular and Scandinavian prog
in general. I get the feeling there's sometimes just a little bit too much Mellotron in this
track, or that it is too up front in the mix. It sometimes tends to dominate where it should
Early Van Der Graaf Generator (circa 'Pawn Hearts') presents itself in the chaotic middle part after which a powerful instrumental section leads into refined piano and Mellotron keyboard work. Vocals and acoustic guitar leads us gently to the ending of the song.
Dream On Dreamer
Joakim: As if to show that they know that length does not equal quality, Stolt and the others offer us the less than three minutes long Dream On Dreamer after the long opening track. It works with the Sting elements from the previous tracks and once more brings ...Nothing But The Sun to mind. In fact, the track could have been taken from that album. It is refreshing to hear a prog group like the Flower Kings make use of a non-prog influence and show themselves more than capable in doing that. To be honest, it seems that it was quite some time since Sting himself wielded his talent in such a satisfactory manner. The track runs into the following instrumental piece Rumble Fish Twist.
Derk: Short and gentle ballad with sampled brass sounds (or maybe it's meant to be a harmonica). A quirk at the end: a short piece of classical music is played on one of those little metal playing devices that work on the principle of slivers of metal being dragged along a cylinder covered with spots.
Rumble Fish Twist
Joakim: Rumble Fish Twist is a roughly eighth minutes long instrumental piece. The beginning quite clearly betrays an influence from Spock's Beard (or at least Neal Morse, which is not that hard to conceive of, given the Transatlantic project). The track is rather eclectic and quite a few times the Spock's Beard reference feels present. It is quite interesting to note, however, that Stolt and company seem to make something much more interesting out of this reference than Spock's Beard themselves. All this said, I must confess that the track, though by all means OK, is no favourite of mine.
Derk: To wake you up after "Dreaming on", this track kicks in with heavy Hammond and
energetic drumming. In the first half of this driving track the keyboards have the leading role,
with some great moog soloing not unlike one of the masters of that instrument, Patrick Moraz,
did on Yes' 'Relayer' album.
A veritable bass solo (accompanied with crowd cheering!) leads us into the quieter Camelesque (circa 'Moonmadness') second half of the song, which features lots of guitar. Great track!
Joakim: The fourth track, Monster Within, starts off with some church bells which make me think of the beginning of Freddie Mercury's Barcelona. After that, hard and heavy riffs which remind me of Ayreon take over. Some nicely distorted vocals as well as some harmonies make the first minutes of this song really interesting. A longer instrumental section follows. The band goes through flutes (or most likely flute samples) and church organs (and much more) and show their skills at handling their instruments. The section is a bit too long and the return of the vocals are really welcome. A heavier part once more reminds me of Ayreon, but the song moves on into a repetition of a rhythm theme from I Am The Sun (part one). The Genesis-influences make themselves known in this track again as well as some more of the Crimson-esque flavour. Another nice long track, even though the composition is not quite as tight and cohesive as the first (and actually longer) track. There are bits that do feel out of place here. This track also runs into the next one.
Derk: This song starts uplifting, but then turns into a pretty dark track, which is
mainly caused by the heavy guitar work and distorted vocals, reminding of Roger Waters. A
little bit of harp playing (!) then breaks the song, and we hear a voice declamating something
(some dictator by the sound of it) over lots of Mellotron. Delicate organ playing (think Yes'
Awaken) and church bells create a dramatic atmosphere. This is clearly no flower power song!
Halfway into the track we are treated with a fast guitar solo, and Hasse Froeberg takes over the lead vocals from Roine Stolt for the higher parts. One of the better tracks of the album.
Chicken Farmer Song
Joakim: Chicken Farmer Song starts off with an insistent guitar thing which reminds me of the beginning of A Pleasant Shade Of Gray Part XII by Fates Warning, but then breaks out into something much lighter and very Yes-like with beautiful harmonies. It is a very melodic track and I like it a lot. With its roughly five minutes it shows that a progressive rock song does not need to be extremely long to be very good.
Derk: The Flower Kings are sometimes called the modern Yes, that is, the modern day
equivalent of early seventies Yes (there still is a modern Yes of course!). A typical TFK
song like Chicken Farmer Song is why. It is very reminiscent of early Yes (pre 'Close to the
Edge') and Steve Howe is probably one of Roine Stolt's most important influences because their
styles are a lot alike. This song has that typical TFK signature, it's cheerful, uses multiple
vocals and has a nice vocal melody. The middle piece is different though, a great driving
rhythm with ditto guitar and keyboard work.
BTW, I've tried not to pay too much attention to the lyrics: Chicken Farm Song indeed. ;-)
Joakim: The sound of bluesy guitars and bagpipes open up the sixth track, Underdog. Acoustic guitars give the song a feeling of folk music but combined with some pop rock. Once more Yes comes to mind. The last minute and a half brings back the Crimson-esque element in the music. A sound experiment with sampled voices and 'noises'. A pretty good track.
Derk: At the beginning this track has the feel of a Sixties/Seventies folk song, which is largely due to the use of (sampled) bagpipes. But fear not: this is no Ye Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond or something! Apart from the bagpipes this is actually a pretty straightforward rock track, with some unusual (sampled) instruments added in like the aforementioned bagpipes and also trumpets. The ending of the track is remarkable as well as I cannot call it anything else than metal!
You Don't Know What You've Got
Joakim: You Don't Know What You've Got opens with a short comment in Swedish which seems to be a residue from the studio work while recording (I doubt that it is a mistake though). This leads into acoustic guitars and a gentle harmonica which produces a rather upbeat and poppy track, bringing Mike & the Mechanics to mind. It is the shortest track on the album (2.39), but once more it clearly shows that quality is not in length. This song also runs into the following.
Derk: Poppy track, based on acoustic guitar and tambourine, with lead vocals sung by Froeberg. Roine Stolt providing backing vocals reaches high as well and sounds like Bono (U2) as he does.
Slave To Money
Joakim: The song which is possibly my favourite on the album must be the nicely melodic Slave To Money. With clear Genesis-references and some more Yes-like harmonies, Stolt and his band show that melody and power can be combined in a nice way. The last minutes of the song form a wonderful instrumental section allowing guitars and keyboards to soar beautifully.
Derk: Another lead vocal for Froeberg, this track could be listened to as a musical history of the first decade of Genesis. The timeline goes backwards, starting circa 1980, with guitar and drumwork reminiscent of the 'Duke' era. But the following keyboard work harks back to 'Wind and Wuthering', while the organ takes us back to really ancient times (circa 'Nursery Cryme'). A long guitar solo and angelic voices coupled with church organ end this excellent song.
A Kings Prayer
Joakim: A King's Prayer starts at the end of Slave To Money, and opens with twittering birds, acoustic guitars and piano. The song has elements of Toto, Queen, Genesis and previous Flower Kings music. There is a nice instrumental section within the same line, leading the song to a nice ending with brilliant guitars and keyboards in a crescendo. The Ayreon-influences also return once more. It all leads into the final track.
Derk: A straightforward rock song, one of those during which you hold your hands in the
air and wave with burning lighters if it was played live.
Part of the track is orchestral, which in the rock world always tends to remind of ELO (a lot of strings), and so it does here. Another excellent guitar solo follows and ends the track.
I Am The Sun (Part Two)
Joakim: The twittering birds are back again. Nice flutish keyboards open I Am The Sun (part two), the final track on the album. The beginning resembles some of the music by Simon and Garfunkel. Nice and simple, but then working its way into more complex layers. Jethro Tull also comes to mind more than once during the almost eleven minutes long track. Partly because of the vocals sounding a lot like Ian Anderson's at times. The saxophone returns in the music in a very likeable fashion. The bits in I Am The Sun (part one) which reminded me of Jadis return and tie the two pieces together. This track is much calmer and melodic than the opening track, however. With its long instrumental ending softly taking us to the silence after the CD, it must be said that it is an end track without any doubt. And as such it works excellently. To make a point, I would also like to congratulate the Flower Kings for having the sense to make the two parts into two separate tracks (and placing them at the beginning and end respectively) rather than falling for the temptation of creating yet another 25:51 minutes long epic song, with much less feeling of fluent and organic composition.
Derk: The way Stolt sings the first two minutes of this track make it sound a little bit
like country (just a little bit, though: don't be afraid). This doesn't last long and (sampled)
brass instruments take over, followed by Latimer inspired guitar. Halfway into the song, I Am
the Sun part one is revisited through the Ayreon-like guitar riff. The feeling is once again
early Seventies, due to the warm analog keyboard sounds.
The long ending of this track is majestic and features great interplay between guitar and keys. One of the highlights on the album.
- Conclusions -
The Flower Kings have produced a very varied, not too easy to digest album. It takes a lot of listenings before one gets into it. But it's worthwile: at least it doesn't turn boring after a day or two. I think some tracks rank among the finest compositions they have made so far, others among the worst. I think most people will really enjoy this album, as did I. The artwork is again quite nice. Oh and did I mention that the new bass player is really excellent ? ;-)
Joakim: I must admit that I have never really been a fan of the Flower Kings. Having seen them live twice, it is not so much a question of not liking their music as never really having been entirely caught by it. Bits and pieces have always been attracting, especially some of the heavier ones. One of my problems with the earlier stuff (and also to some extent with the new) is that Stolt and his merry men only seem to use the heavy sections for instrumentals, and I think that harder vocals can sometimes add quite a bit to this kind of music. All this said, Space Revolver has captured my ear and I would clearly recommend it to people interested in progressive rock. Especially to those who appreciate the clear references to the prime of the 70s, but also to anyone who thinks that length by necessity equals quality. I think that the Flower Kings, if nothing else, show that good music is good music regardless of influence, genre or length. This is song writing with some definitive strengths.
Derk: What?!? No double CD? Nope, and I think that's a good thing. There's a risk of
overkill, what with the three preceding albums all being double CDs. Not that I think that
there's so much crap on those double CDs that they could have easily made it into a single
CD, but it's just a lot to digest and I for one have still not entirely digested 'Flower Power'
and the live album Alive on Planet Earth.
Anyway, 'Space Revolver' is quite unlike its predecessor 'Flower Power'. I'd say it's slightly less adventurous than that effort was. There was (is) a lot to discover in a track like Garden of Dreams (from 'Flower Power') and I miss that a bit on 'Space Revolver'. Having said that, it cannot be denied that The Flower Kings have once again delivered a quality product, and I have no wish to do so. This is a good album, but it is not a very remarkable album. A must have for the fans, but for those who are new to TFK, I'd recommend 'Flower Power' or 'Stardust We Are' over this one.