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The Flower Kings - Retropolis CD (album) cover


The Flower Kings


Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 568 ratings

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3 stars Just one year after releasing their debut album "Back in the World of Adventures", The Flower Kings unleashed their sophomore record "Retropolis". The line-up is the same as the one that had recorded the debut, with Roine Stolt on guitar/vocals, Tomas Bodin on keyboards, Michael Stolt on bass, Jaime Salazar on drums, and Hasse Bruniusson on percussions. On "Retropolis" we also have for the first time vocalist Hans Fröberg joining the band on two tracks ("There Is More to this World" and "Silent Sorrow"). The alternation between Fröberg and Stolt behind the mic will become one of the trademarks of the band in future releases.

"Retropolis" travels along the same path that the band had first opened with their debut record. The songs are a mix of instrumentals (6 out of 11) and tracks with vocals. The music is strongly influenced by the classic progressive rock of bands like Yes, Genesis and King Crimson, a style that The Flower Kings reinterprets with personality and gusto, avoiding sounding exactly like any of these bands while at the same time conveying their spirit and inspiration. There are distinctive echoes of jazz and blues into quite a few compositions, which is another trademark of the Kings' sound. Moreover, some tracks, like "The Judas Kiss", have a harder edge, foreshadowing the slightly more metallic sound that the band will embrace in later albums. But here the heavy rock influences are really only sporadic and mostly restricted to "The Judas Kiss", while most of the album navigates more tranquil and symphonic seas.

There are a few innovations on "Retropolis" relative to its predecessor. Tomas Bodin takes charge of songwriting in a couple of songs, albeit these are little more than tiny instrumental noisescapes ("Rhythm of Life", "Romancing the City", "Retropolis by Night"). It nevertheless marks the band's transition towards the more choral and collaborative compositional style that will characterize their later albums. Hans Fröberg's presence also marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the singer and the Kings. Fröberg had already featured on Stolt's solo album "The Flower King". His presence here is mostly notable on the splendid "There Is More to This World", and indeed Fröberg contributes more than a little to the greatness of the track. Stolt is a fine singer, whose voice suits well the type of music The Flower Kings play, but he does not have a particularly powerful set of pipes. Fröberg instead belongs to a whole different league of vocalists, and the beautiful ad libs of "There Is More to This World" are the proof.

Perhaps the biggest difference between "Retropolis" and "Back in the World of Adventures" is that the new album is more cohesive in terms of quality of the compositions. "Back in the World of Adventures" was marred by a few tracks that were frankly subpar ("My Cosmic Lover", anyone?) and one had the feeling that the 71+ minutes of that album could have been easily trimmed down to a healthier 45 minutes without losing much in terms of quality. "Retropolis" is somewhat more homogeneous in this respect, showing that perhaps Mr Stolt had tightened a bit the quality control of his material. The album also flows better, there are no particular points where it slumps down like it happened in the middle of "Back in the World of Adventures", with that imprudent sequence of three bland instrumentals in a row ("Oblivion Road", "Theme for a Hero" and "Temple of the Snakes").

Nevertheless, "Retropolis" is not yet the perfect album and shows that the Kings are still on a learning curve. One of their struggles in these early albums is to find memorable melodies for their compositions, which is the case also for many of the songs on "Retropolis". Stolt will become much better on later albums to find those catchy, sing-along melodies that can transform a difficult prog track into an instant masterpiece. Another struggle - which unfortunately will not wane in later years - lies in the band's tendency to overindulge in instrumental noodling that at times does not really seem to go anywhere, thus needlessly overcomplicating the structure of the songs.

Despite these youth problems, "Retropolis" represents a step up relative to the debut album and is the first album to contain a classic Flower Kings track that will stay in the band repertoire for years to come. I am talking about "There Is More to This World", a strongly Yes-influenced piece in two parts that are pierced together by a tasteful instrumental detour. The first part of the song is quirky and jazzy, and revolves around a great melodic verse and a whimsical chorus. The second part (with Fröberg on vocals) is instead more serious, epic and symphonic and sports a terrific cathartic conclusion. It is a great track, one that I always want to listen multiple times when I put on the album. There are another couple of tracks on "Retropolis" that stand out. One is the edgier "The Judas Kiss", which reprises the lyrical theme of "Go West Judas" from the debut and recreates the earlier track's heavy rock style. It is as dark and sinister piece that almost veers into proto-metal at times, but then surprises with a cool 1980s disco-rock interlude. The other highlight of the album is the instrumental "The Melting Pot", which is probably the first great instrumental track to appear on a The Flower Kings' album. It's another sinister piece, driven by an oblique piano motif and a great sax part, that brings to mind King Crimson.

Overall, "Retropolis" is a very good album, more assured and more consistent in terms of quality than the debut "Back in the World of Adventures". It is not yet a top The Flower Kings' album, but it does clearly show that the band is on an upwards trajectory. Indeed, already with their next album "Stardust We Are", the band will manage to write one of the greatest records of their discography.

lukretio | 3/5 |


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