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The Flower Kings - Unfold The Future CD (album) cover


The Flower Kings


Symphonic Prog

3.90 | 540 ratings

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2 stars To be a loyal fan of a particular artist or group one must be willing to follow them into whatever unexpected territory they lead you. That's what The Flower Kings have done to me with "Unfold the Future" and that event leads to my theory #1: Sometimes a band will take me where I just don't care to go. That's part of the problem I have with this double CD set. They've always had a tendency to dip their toes into the jazz side of the pond (and it's an important ingredient of their charm) but it's the symphonic prog emphasis in their sound that I adore. Here their jazz rock/fusion mentality takes over and it makes for a less-than-enthralling affair for me.

The intro to "The Truth Will Set You Free" is intriguing but once the singing starts their focus starts to blur a bit. Try as I may, I can't get into the spirit of the centerpiece of this epic, the "heart bigger than America" chorus. I just don't think it's strong enough to support a 30-minute epic. The first instrumental interlude is intricate, skillful and very dynamic with underrated bassist Jonas Reingold turning in a masterful performance (as he does throughout the album) but when they arrive at the harmony-laden third movement the momentum staggers. The later instrumental portions, led by the admirable Zoltan Csorsz on drums, fly crazily all over the place with nothing substantial to latch onto. They wrap it up neatly at the end and the "big sound" is there yet I come away feeling that their muse let them down this time. But the next cut, the incredibly funky "Monkey Business," goes a long way in making up for it with Roine Stolt's beefy guitar tone filling in the gaps. It's a fun tune with some very tongue-in-cheek lyrics but towards the end they make things overly complex when they should have left well enough alone.

Which brings up my theory #2: The FKing boys had gotten bored with their normal creations and made a concerted effort to shake things up whenever they spied an opening as they put this one together. I enter "Black and White" as evidence. The song starts with a solemn, stately vocal before they transition to a lively, up-tempo instrumental segment led by Jonas' fleet fingers. It's followed by a strange detour into weirdness for a while till they return to the faster pace once again, ending with a ferocious flurry from Hasse Brunisson's fiery percussion. Sorry, I fail to see the point. "Christianopel" begins with almost four minutes of random noises until a beat finally appears and then the meandering interplay between the band members goes nowhere interesting. Look, I can dig avant garde jazz as well as the next progger but if I'm in the mood to hear it I know where to go in my music collection and it's not the shelf where The Flower Kings sit.

"Silent Inferno" is an undeniably colorful kaleidoscope of prog rock and it fits right into my theory #3: What I love about these guys is not necessarily the same thing that the bulk of their fans love. The tune's driving pattern is exciting enough, the vocal melody is decent, the bass tone is monstrous and Stolt's guitar mannerisms remind me of Alan Holdsworth on this cut but they also throw in some odd accents that don't work. They even introduce Latin rhythms where Zoltan shines that nonetheless seem very out of place to me. It leaves me scratching my noggin rather than engaging me. "The Navigator" is next, a light tune with the simplest structure on the album. "Vox Humana" is a pretty ballad but just not what I'm craving at this juncture.

Disc 2 starts with a bang as "Genie in a Bottle" comes roaring through with a rockin' 5/4 beat that cleverly evolves into the best melodic sequence of the whole project, then they go back to the infectious opening riff and offer up a scorching guitar solo from Roine. It's the highlight for me and instilled hope that they were about to dazzle me as they always do but, alas, it wasn't to be. "Fast Lane" is a return to the jazz angle, featuring an unmemorable melody and abrupt changes around every corner. The rock & roll vocal seems inappropriate, as well. "Grand Old World" has a keyboard- generated Kalimba effect and it's a sweet vehicle for Ulf Wallander to display his virtuosity on soprano sax as the number maintains a gentle groove throughout. The instrumental "Soul Vortex" is nothing more than a fade in and out of a jazzy studio jam session followed by "Rollin' the Dice," a hard rock song in 6/4 where the group seems to be attempting to juxtapose a metallic, "scary voice" with something you'd expect from a Broadway musical. To say it's unusual is an understatement. "The Devil's Danceschool" is more wild, free-form modern jazz that showcases guest Anders Bergcrantz and his electronically-altered trumpet. Despite Csorsz's amazing drumming this ditty does very little for me.

By now I had to consider my theory #4: Like someone who has discovered a new, delicious treat I had overdosed by indulging too much too soon into this band's catalogue and had suffered burnout. (No, I went back and listened to their stellar "Space Revolver" just yesterday and it's still awesome so I seriously doubt the validity of theory #4.) Tomas Bodin provides some nice keyboards at the start of "Man Overboard" and the diffuse, jazzy melody is reminiscent of Bill Bruford's early solo work. The piano-driven ballad "Solitary Shell" also demonstrates Bodin's artistry as his orchestral score gives the tune a deep gloss and resonance. This brings us to the closing epic, "Devil's Playground." On their slightly hit-and-miss "Stardust We Are" double CD I found that the grandeur and brilliance of the title track dramatically elevated the album above the realm of the mediocre and I hoped that this cut would do the same but, unfortunately, it doesn't. After a promising symphonic prog beginning they reintroduce a harsh, King Crimson-ish theme from earlier in the proceedings that detracts from the thrilling "This is how you raise the Cain/this is what you teach your children" chorus. There are various twists and turns along the way with everything from heavy rock riffs to extended forays into avant garde jazz coming and going but by the time they've taken me back to the stirring chorus I've lost interest and it makes the uplifting finale a wasted effort.

A fellow reviewer on this site that I respect very much warned me that "Unfold the Future" was an "experiment" so the fact that I'm disappointed by it is nobody's fault but mine, I guess. Don't misinterpret, however. The quality musicianship and engineering are up to their usual lofty standards and shouldn't be undervalued. My final analysis is this, though, and it's not a theory but a fact: You can be the best musician the world has ever known but you are still only as good as the songs you perform. And that shortcoming is what makes this album below average. Maybe Stolt had exhausted his current inventory of symphonic prog melodies while composing with his pals in Transatlantic and this exploration into the land of jazz rock/fusion was the only alternative. I don't profess to knowing but I do know this: The high marks other reviewers have bestowed upon it convince me that it appeals to the majority of their fans and that should not be ignored but, despite repeated efforts to get into it, I just don't share their enthusiasm. 2.4 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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