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The Flower Kings - Stardust We Are CD (album) cover

STARDUST WE ARE

The Flower Kings

 

Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 444 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This was my first foray into double-CD land with the Flower Kings and it's pretty much what I expected. Over 126 minutes of high-quality symphonic progressive rock that runs the gamut from average to absolute brilliance. Could it have been edited down to a single disc and been a gem on par with their exquisite "Space Revolver" that would come a few years later? Perhaps, but why go there? This is prog and one of the most appealing traits of this genre is a total disregard for commercial shackles or limitations so I really don't have a beef with this band's prolific nature. The fact that I can put this on and not have to employ the skip button even once as I enjoy two hours of uplifting music is testimony enough to recommend this set. I can also assure you that the embarrassingly garish cover art in no way, shape or form represents the integrity of the contents. (Come on, fellas, did you owe a favor to the local mafia godfather or something? Gee whiz!)

Opening with "In the Eyes of the World," a rolling rocker containing a Deep Purple/ELO attitude, they draw you right into their unique realm. The big Hammond organ presence on this song is a definite plus, Roine Stolt's guitar is on fire throughout and the overall depth of sound is what I crave to hear. Lyrically I've started to realize that English most likely isn't their native language and I think much of what they're singing is getting lost in translation but overall they still make more sense than say, Jon Anderson of Yes. The tune makes for a smokin' beginning but it's not as auspicious as on some of their other CDs.

They intersperse various short instrumental pieces along the way and "A Room with a View" is a lovely keyboard air from the highly talented Tomas Bodin. "Just This Once" starts with some alarming noises but soon settles into a powerful groove and goes on to make the most of a very dynamic, aggressive progression where Stolt's jazz influences are showcased. The first sign of the extraordinary comes in the form of "Church of your Heart," a slower-paced but power-packed ballad that shows their ability to perform a well-written song with class. They never shy away from grandeur and when the cavernous cathedral pipe organ makes its entrance the hairs on the back of my neck bristle. The vocals are superb and the no-holds-barred ending defines symphonic prog. I love this kind of stuff!

The sounds of a storm serve as the intro for the beautiful acoustic guitar composition "Poor Mr. Rain's Ordinary Guitar" as it marks the onset of four consecutive instrumentals. The blustery aura continues as they segue into "The Man Who Walked with Kings" where the rest of the group joins in. The group's uncanny ability to create memorable melodies is apparent here as they introduce a madrigal spirit to lift the mood. But the headliner here is the thrilling "Circus Brimstone" that starts out with a spooky calliope and evolves into a King Crimson-ish, Mellotron-led carnival of notes, slowly building in intensity while demonstrating their admirable skill at arranging intricate musical themes into a cohesive whole. Following a peaceful duet of guitar and Mellotron things get wicked with some odd backwards utterances, then they jump into a funky segment that reminds me (in a good way) of the cool riff from "The Munsters." Another towering melody line brings the track to a close as another short bit with accordion and synthesizer entitled "Crying Clown" serves as a bookend to this instrumental jag. The darker "Compassion" finishes the disc and it's a highlight not to be overlooked. A strained, distorted voice is joined by monk-like chants and Roine injects a passionate guitar solo that will tear your head off. This dude can flat-out play with the best of them. (If you linger about a minute after the end a synth freak-out happens but it has little significance.)

A heavenly, room-filling pipe organ track called "Pipes of Peace" initiates the second CD and Bodin previews things to come with variations on the "Stardust We Are" theme during this wonderfully indulgent piece. (Move over, Wakeman, Tomas is gettin' busy in the sanctuary!) "The End of Innocence" has a promising onset but it soon drops into a heavy blues-rock stride, losing some momentum but on an album of this length a lull was inevitable. The uninteresting vocal and structure of the song becomes laborious after a few minutes and, despite Bodin's gallant attempts to liven things up on the baby grand, it marks the nadir of the journey. But don't be discouraged because "The Merry- Go-Round" is next and its thrilling, Zappa-inspired start, furious three part harmonies and lively Irish jig-sounding airs get the show back on track in a hurry. Salazar grabs a few admirable moments in the spotlight before the band brings the tempo down for a dramatic change of pace that teeters briefly on the brink of schmaltz but ultimately leads to a fierce guitar ride and a gargantuan closing.

"Don of the Universe" is the best instrumental I've heard from this band. Curious percussion spasms leads the listener to lush, deep acoustic 12-string guitars that envelope your senses and whisk you blissfully away from the trials of the world. The uncomplicated design of the song allows it to float like a cloud over a land where sitars, tablas and soprano saxophones are not considered out of place. The short "A Day at the Mall" with its wild Rhodes piano noodlings and bustling shoppers rouses you from your serenity and transports you to "Different People," a folksy pop tune that has Beatle-ish overtones and then onward to "Kingdom of Lies" that pun-fully begins with the buzzing of flies before turning into an energetic, arena-rock zinger where everyone turns in a hearty effort but the song sorta leaves me mystified as to its intent. "If 28" follows and it's another pristine piano piece from Bodin to be savored. "Ghost of the Red Cloud" is a decent number but I have to admit that I'm one of those people who have no affinity or interest in the reggae beat that this tune is built upon. So sue me.

"Hotel Nirvana" is acoustic guitar played over a deep synthesizer drone, setting the table perfectly for the magnificence that is the album's namesake and marquee song. I rank this epic right up there with those from both Genesis and Yes and I don't say that lightly, being a dedicated fan of both groups. After a sumptuous curtain-raiser, Stolt's Steve Howe-ish licks launch you on a marvelous 25-minute trip through progdom that doesn't let go for a second. The singing from Roine and cohort Hans Froberg is spectacular, the middle instrumental section is staggeringly awe-inspiring and, once they arrive at the central "Stardust We Are" theme, they approach pure sublimity. At about the 15 minute mark Tomas' adroit multiple keyboard work provides a rapturous bridge to the opulent chorus and climactic finale. If you think I'm wandering into overstatement territory I'm here to tell you unequivocally that it just doesn't get much better than this. Wow!

In the final analysis this bountiful collection of 20 tunes is far above mediocre and, in several instances, scales the lofty heights of Mount Prog and plants the Flower Kings' flag at the very peak. I'm so pleased that I discovered this band and can only invite other fans of symphonic progressive rock to delve into their artistic endeavors without hesitation. These guys are the real deal and, when it comes to this album, the title song is well worth the purchase price alone. 4.2 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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