Round Table Review
Tracklist: Love Supreme (19:50), Cosmic Circus (3:00), Babylon (2:41), A Vampires View (8:50), Days Gone By (1:10), Adam & Eve (7:50), Starlight Man (3:30), Timelines (7:40), Drivers Seat (18:22), The Blade Of Cain (5:00)
Very often, an artist can be judged successful by how well he or she defies an audience’s expectations, and I for one never know what direction The Flower Kings will ever take from album to album. This sentiment is especially true after the controversial Unfold the Future, an album of such diversity and scope that it garnered as much strong praise as it did heated criticism. For that release, the material was extremely diverse in its stylistic sensibility whereas on this new one, Adam & Eve, we find TFK's establishing a much more cohesive symphonic art rock zone, in the vein of Retropolis say, or Flower Power. The focus of the album is on strong song writing, over the high experimentalism of Unfold the Future. Lush vocals and grand symphonic instrumental arrangements take precedence over instrumental pyrotechnics and improvisation. But although the style does stray from the jazzy adventurousness of Unfold the Future, the music still runs a grand expanse of textures and moods, and the musicianship is, as always, remarkable.
For Adam & Eve, The Flower Kings chose the single disk format – keeping it to a cool 78 minutes, instead of venturing into another double disk studio project. Once again, Roine Stolt has taken on the lion’s share of writing, combining the familiar with the unfamiliar into a delicious stew. This time out however, he has left a larger part of the lead vocal work to Hasse Fröberg, who produces some of his finest work to date, and to the dramatic vocal stylist Daniel Gildenlöw, who made his studio debut with The Flower Kings on Unfold the Future. As with its predecessor, Adam & Eve consists of two lengthy pieces (of which TFK are masters) Love Supreme and Drivers Seat which bookend a variety of shorter works. Cosmic Circus and Starlight Man, are shorter, inspiring, up tempo progressive pop pieces. Listeners will also find deep, mid-length pieces. A Vampire’s View is a dramatic and beautifully melancholy song based on Anne Rice’s novel “Interview with a Vampire” and features Daniel Gildenlöw on superlative lead vocals, as does the heavy rocker Adam & Eve. The marvellously soulful Timelines juxtaposes a heavy, bombastic intro with a mellow acoustic blues verse and a grand chorus - one of my personal favourites on the album. There is even time on the CD for a few instrumentals such as Tomas Bodin’s little gems Babylon and Days Gone By, and the coda piece Blade of Cain.
Whereas there is without doubt the trademark feel and sound to Adam & Eve of TFK's albums past, there is something a bit different as well. This CD took me quite some time to get used to. Some of the music I found instantly likeable, such as Love Supreme, which initially I found mildly enjoyable but which now thrills me more and more with each listen. Other aspects of the album took much more getting used to (primarily the pieces that feature Gildenlöw on lead vocal). But after living with it for a while, and having become more familiar with the flow and feel, the sounds and sensibilities of this magnificent work, I can say that it now ranks as one of my all time favourite releases from The Flower Kings, and may also be their most consistent work to date. Works like Drivers Seat, the aforementioned Love Supreme and A Vampire’s View, are certainly destined to go down as classics. Special mention should also be made of the impeccable production and engineering. If you’ve had trouble with TFK's output before (for whatever reason) or you’ve never heard the band, I would definitely recommend giving this one a shot. And for my fellow ‘Flower Heads’, well if you don’t have it already, what are you waiting for?
The Flower Kings have always been one of those bands that have delighted and infuriated me in equal measure. Delighted, because they’ve written some of the best prog rock epics of the last few years, and whenever I’ve seen them live they have been a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining spectacle. Infuriated, because they seem to lack any kind of quality control, unleashing albums padded out with filler at an alarmingly fast rate when a bit more time and some judicious pruning would make the end product much more palatable. I certainly found this to be the case with the Kings last studio effort, Unfold The Future, which I felt could have lost at least a third of its bulging 140 minutes of content and been none the worse for it.
Adam & Eve, by contrast, sees the band return to the single disc format of Unfold’s two immediate predecessors (Space Revolver and The Rainmaker), although like those discs the Kings make sure every inch of space on the disc is used, and the album is probably only 10 or 15 minutes longer than most band’s double efforts!
Some changes are certainly noticeable on this effort. Roine Stolt had commented before that the jazz fusion elements that were all over Unfold The Future would not form a part of the new record, and that certainly proves to be the case – this is a much more ‘traditional’ sounding Flower Kings record. At the same time, the album marks the studio return of Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw. Although it would be wrong to say that Gildenlöw has had an excessive influence on the direction of the music, there are certainly parts of the album which sees the band move down new musical alleys – one track in particular springs to mind, which I’ll cover in more detail later. Lastly is the cover art, a striking and slightly comical painting by Ciruelo Cabral which makes a refreshing change from the usual covers that prog bands utilise these days.
Inevitably perhaps most people will focus on the two ‘epics’ that are contained on Adam & Eve, so I’ll deal with this first. Whilst it left me a little cold initially, repeated listens have led me to the conclusion that opener Love Supreme is one of the Flower Kings’ best epics. We’re certainly in familiar territory, and all the Kings’ trademarks are here in force – atmospheric intro (this time featuring gentle chiming); a strong, harmony laden chorus, great mix of mellow, pastoral sections and more powerful, symphonic parts; wonderful guitar work from Roine Stolt (including a marvellous, Floydian solo on the extended outro), superb lead vocals from Hasse Fröberg (one of his best performances) and some nice unexpected touches, such as the short Spanish guitar piece early on, and a nice breakdown around the half way point where Stolt plays some fine soaring notes over a very jaunty Jonas Reingold fretless bass rhythm. The Yes influences are, as might be expected, out in force (parts of the song reminded me in particular of moments on (the tracks) Going For The One and Close To The Edge) but I imagine fans won’t mind a bit. Its also worth noting the superb, soulful backing vocals used throughout the track which really add to its power and effectiveness. Love Supreme is bound to feature on the forthcoming tour, and fans will surely greet it like an old friend. This is the Flower Kings at their best.
The high standard is kept up on the second epic, Drivers Seat. This is more of what I would call a ‘widescreen’ epic, and sees the band fuse elements of symphonic rock, traditional hard rock and AOR to produce a very powerful whole. Influences I spotted here (in addition to the usual ones) include the likes of Kansas, Queen and Deep Purple. The band work up a strong groove in the verse sections, and the more melodic chorus is a strong one. In common with most of The Flower Kings’ epics, however, there are plenty of different moods evoked; particularly effective is the breakdown around the half way mark where a freeform, slightly ambient section changes the atmosphere of the piece very effectively. Another high quality work.
However, these two epics only form roughly half of the running time. What of the shorter songs? These have often been the point where I’ve felt the band fall down, using fillers to pad out the album to use every minute of playing time available. So are things any different on Adam & Eve?
Encouragingly, I would say that that the answer is generally ‘yes’. Most striking of the ‘shorter’ tracks (‘shorter’ being relative, you understand!) is A Vampires View, which sees Daniel Gildenlöw take a lead vocal in a Flower Kings song for the first time. An excellent job he does of it too; his emotional, very dramatic performance is just what this song requires. Musically, this shows a different side to the Kings; this is a slow burning, atmospheric number that really does earn the epithet ‘eerie’, and would work well as a soundtrack to those silent Hollywood horror classics. The tension is built and sustained superbly, with the eventual ‘release’ being very effective.
Elsewhere, both Cosmic Circus and Starlight Man are more conventional Flower Kings ‘shorties’; jaunty, slightly twee pop rock numbers that in bygone days might have seen the band get some radio play. They do both, however, boast insidiously catchy choruses, and provide a nice break from the more weighty material. Babylon is a pleasant keyboard-led instrumental that might perhaps have been more at home on a Tomas Bodin solo album, but works fine here. The other main instrumental is The Blade Of Cain, which majors on some more fine Stolt guitar work and is a fitting grand finale to the album.
The two tracks I’m not so sure about are the title track and Time Lines. The former is an edgy hard rocker with a good groove; however it sounds more like a track designed for endless jamming in a live scenario than as a strong piece in its own right, and goes on at least twice as long as it needs to. Time Lines starts off as a rather chaotic blues jam, before settling into a more sedate, soulful piece. It has its moments, but again doesn’t seem to have been fully worked out before the band hit the studio.
Overall though, Adam & Eve is a pleasant surprise – a Flower Kings album which calls for very little application of the ‘skip’ function on the stereo. Yes, there are a few moments where some pruning may have sharpened the albums’ impact, but overall the quality is high – the epics hit home, there is a successful diversion into new territory (A Vampires View), and the shorter songs don’t (as a rule) sound tacked on to make up the numbers. Adam & Eve, in my opinion, is one of the most consistent albums that Roine Stolt and Co have released. For fans it’s a ‘no brainer’ purchase, whilst its accessibility, consistency, and the fact that many of the bands’ trademarks are present and correct, make it a good purchase for first-timers. Recommended!
One of the highlights of the year (in my life) is the release of a new album from one of my favourite bands or artists. Much to the annoyance of my family members (wife, cat and rabbits) the dust on the 'replay' button of my CD-player is wiped off thoroughly until I almost get fed up with this music and begin to long for other music again. So all this also happened with the new release of The Flower Kings. My expectations were pretty high since I had read in the fanclub magazine (click here for more info about the fanclub) a lot about this album before its release.
It was said that The Flower Kings were going back to their more classic roots and had left their previous jazzy experiments behind them again. Roine Stolt said in an interview that they had realized that they had better stick to what they do best and not so much go in the jazz direction which doesn't suit them best: "It's too much to ask from the audience really". He said that Adam & Eve is the most, or one of the more accessible Flower Kings album altogether. So I was very much looking forward to this new album a lot and I was ready and prepared to have my mind blown out by it, ... but it didn't happen!
Literally spoken that's of course a good thing since I have still a good use for my brain, but as I meant it of course figuratively it clearly indicates that there was some disappointment when I first played Adam & Eve. Basically what I missed at first was some reasonable amount of mind-blowing epic themes, some keyboard end guitar extravaganza and amazing sounds never heard before as I'm used to hear from The Flower Kings. Don't get me wrong, it was still a real pleasure to listen to this CD and it's definitely one of their better works and indeed much more accessible than most if not all previous albums of The Flower Kings, but the fireworks just didn't go up! Can happen, but just one listening session often does not offer the thorough insight in any music, so of course the CD occupied my CD player for several days and kept flooding my ears. By now, listening to it with no pre-opinions and expectations I can judge this album for what it really offers and that's really a lot!
But first some background and additional info: the line-up of the band has changed again slightly with this album, Ulf Wallander who did appear on Unfold The Future is not on board here, but Daniel Gildenlöw, from Pain Of Salvation is now presented (even on the sticker on the slipcase) as the new band member in the role of the third vocalist beside Roine Stolt and Hasse Fröberg.
The artwork of the CD is simply great, made by a Spanish artist, Ciruelo Cabral, and it features a very interesting image of the name givers of this album, with both traditional, but also modern (barcode, piercing and carkeys) elements. On the original complete artwork the both figures are standing in water in between some water-lily's and with the faint contour of some big building (mosque?) in the background. Remarkable fact is the liner note in the booklet by Roine Stolt in which he thanks Joni Mitchell (!) for her masterpiece Travelogue that has inspired him tremendously: "No music have touched me so profoundly in 30 years!!!"
But now about the music - the title track that kicks off the CD is directly the longest track on the CD with a length of just under 20 minutes, to Flower Kings standards a relatively middle-long track. Originally this was also intended as the title track of the album, but in the end Adam & Eve appeared to be more appropriate and for promotional reasons more useful as the album title. It's a great song with some very nice elements and indeed some little musical surprises for the listener.
Another one of the highlights on this album is A Vampires View, a song that directly stands out because of the almost theatrical singing by Daniel Gildenlöw and the Bolero-like structure of the song. It's partly based on the famous Anne Rice's book "Confession of a Vampire" or actually more the film-version "Interview with a Vampire". The song fluently flows over in Days Gone By which could be regarded by the listener as just the ending of A Vampires View, short as it is and just consisting of a sort of eastern European piano piece.
A song to give a special mention is definitely The Blade Of Cain, the last song from the album and also my favourite (obviously for me since it's an instrumental which I always prefer), a truly brilliant and fine song with a great tune! Saying that the other songs are not worthwhile to mention would be a bit blunt and harsh and that's not my intention, but it's my opinion that they're all not so remarkable and outstanding, only just alright and agreeable.
For my taste there could have been less singing on this album and some more instrumental segments, but hey, what can you expect from a band with 3 singers! The album does not really have any weak moments, although by Flower Kings standards it sometimes tends to come close to being almost dull, in a "more-of-the-same" sense of way. Of course more-of-the-same is not bad when it concerns high quality music as in this case, but when you're looking to discover new things and want to be amazed this album won't do it for you, unless you're not yet familiar to the music of The Flower Kings.
So in conclusion, my opinion is that this is a great album in itself and absolutely a recommendation for anyone who wants to start to explore the music of The Flower Kings, but to the already avid Flower Kings lovers this album won't offer so much enjoyment and excitement as several older albums by them!