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The Flower Kings - Retropolis CD (album) cover


The Flower Kings


Symphonic Prog

3.73 | 492 ratings

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4 stars Way back to 1995 for the next in my series of TFK reviews for Retropolis, this is an early example of a series of solid releases by this great band.

It opens with a somewhat pointless 28 seconds of ping pong, before gliding into the first epic of the album, the title track itself, which is a fantastic instrumental. This has just about every classic prog influence going without ever sounding anything other than original. Retro, yes, but derivative, no. Full of incredible guitar, organ, synths, and bass solos, this one starts at a cracking pace, at times wholly symphonic, at others more avant-garde. Then, for the last couple of minutes, we get the most lovely acoustic guitar passage, when the whole tempo slows down to a chilling effect to the close.

Rhythm of the Sea follows, this one clocking in at just over six minutes long. The first minute consists of some rather aimless noodling, rather like the opener, before we get another lovely acoustic guitar passage backing a sensitive Stolt vocal. The synths introduced almost three minutes in are clearly influenced by Banks in his mid-70's period, as are, I suppose, the electric guitar passages that follow ? very reminiscent of Hackett. The band seem to be able to change style and tempo almost voluntarily at will, though, and there follow more jazzy sections, followed by pure symphonic joy, followed by a beautiful end again where a delicate piano competes with bass & gentle electric guitar for our attention. A very good piece of music.

There is More to This World follows, and this is the next epic track, weighing in at just over 10 minutes long. It is dominated at the opening section by a swirling organ, and there are some solid vocal harmonies backing Stolt's lead vocals. Once the track moves into its mid-section we get an extended instrumental section which is the first one on the album clearly influenced by the band who they are perhaps most associated with in terms of style ? YES, very much around the Yes Album & Fragile era. The musicianship is never anything less than accomplished and, again, the tempo is fantastically upbeat. That is one of the main features of why I love this band ? they are capable of cheering me up in even the most downbeat mood. Witness the fantastic organ solo at five minutes in. Then at six minutes in, we get the most lovely vocal backed by another beautifully flowing acoustic guitar piece, and the closing section then takes this to a wholly symphonic level, with wall to wall sound that is quite incredible and wholly original to boot. Stolt is also spot on lyrically ? there is, indeed, more to this world than we see. One of my all time favourite TFK tracks, this is a fantastic track and worth the price of the album alone.

Romancing The City is a pleasant 53 second long piano solo. Filler, yes, but pleasant filler at that.

It flows into The Melting Pot, and many passages contain a great soprano sax solo. There isn't enough sax in this world, and this is an example of what many bands are missing! This is a very jazz orientated track, certainly in terms of the clear improvisation that is taking place. I am not a keen jazz lover, but I most certainly am of intelligent improvisation and instrumentalism. This track has them in spades. More traditional symphonic prog reasserts itself towards the close of the track, and I have to say that Bodin has rarely sounded better than he does on this album. His keyboards really soar.

Silent Sorrow follows at seven & a half minutes long. The opening passage is led by vocals and keys, very upbeat and very solid in a bluesy fashion without being wholly remarkable. It is certainly, to my ears, the weakest vocal passage on the album. However, just prior to three minutes in, there follows the most incredible guitar solo, backed by heavy bass, which are, unfortunately, interspersed by more of the rather grating vocals.

The Judas Kiss (what a great title!) is another track just short of eight minutes. Stolt's vocals at the commencement, backed by powerful keys and guitars, are very strong. He's also backed by some dogs, a la Floyd! There follow some incredible bursts of classic musicianship, especially Stolt's guitar solo. One of the finest tracks they have ever recorded.

Retropolis By Night follows. At just over three minutes long, this is a more spacey contribution that I find interesting, especially in terms of the clear African influences prevalent in the vocal chanting. With the exception, maybe, of some of Gabriel's work in terms of the vocal chants, this is unlike most anything that you will come across in a symphonic prog band. No worse for that, either. Interesting, but not stand out.

Flora Majora is another instrumental piece, coming in at just short of seven minutes long. Dominated at its start by more extremely accomplished keyboard work, backed by some solid guitar work and good rhythm section work. The tempo at this stage is on the slow side, but then the relentless upbeat nature of the music on this album reasserts itself, with very clear and defined Crimson influences, before the track becomes wholly symphonic again. Enjoyable.

The album closes with The Road Back Home, nearly nine minutes long. It starts off in a rather slow and meditative mood, with thoughtful vocals backed by sensitive guitar and keyboard work. The guest soprano sax is back on this track three minutes in, and it is another lovely passage, with some more intricate guitar, backed by delicate swirling keys which lead to a more dominant keyboard solo passage, again somewhat reminiscent of Banks in his pomp glory days of the mid 70's. Stolt has rarely sounded better in both vocals and guitar as he leads the song to a lovely, grandiose, conclusion. An excellent piece of music.

Along with Stardust We Are, this is a Flower Kings album that I would recommend to all readers of this review who have yet to take the plunge into the band's incredible output, but are not sure where to start. There is something here for all prog fans, especially those who really appreciate a band who can play and lift the mood, with influences, though palpable, never blinding us away from the originality on display.

I rate this album a very strong four stars, deprived of the perfect five only by the couple of pointless throwaway tracks and the disappointing Silent Sorrow. Highly recommended, and an excellent addition to any prog rock collection.

lazland | 4/5 |


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