The Prog Life - July 25, 2004: A Flower Kings Special Edition
by Clayton Walnum

Back in the golden years of prog, I was obsessed with music. So much so that, on the eve of a new Yes release, I could barely sleep at night. My friends thought I was pretty weird. We'd go into the record store, and they'd watch perplexed as I frantically pawed through the new releases, looking for Fragile, Close To The Edge, or whatever the new Yes album of the time was called.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" they'd ask.

"I can't help that I've got feathers growing under my arms."

"No, not that!"

"Is it the webbed fingers then?"

"No. Why do you get so worked up over a new Yes album?"

I never had a good answer. I guess I didn't know myself. All I knew was that bands like Yes, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant always transported me to amazing places in my head. It was a natural high. I was a prog junkie! Although at the time I don't think I'd yet even heard the term "progressive rock."

The second time I saw Yes (at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT, where they were sharing a three-way bill with, of all people, the J. Giles Band and the Edgar Winter Group), before the show I was so excited, I couldn't eat. Everybody shook their heads and moved away from me on the bench. But to be honest, that was probably more to do with the feathers than because I couldn't eat.

The funny thing about a new Yes record is that, after all the excitement, I hardly ever liked it on the first listen. A new Yes album always had to grow on me. I hated Close To The Edge the first time I heard it. I hated it at first, as much as I adored it a few weeks later. Good prog is like water to a sponge: it has to sink in.

The Flower Kings - Adam & EveSo here we are in 2004, and the Flower Kings, one of my current favorite prog groups, has just released a new album titled Adam & Eve*. And, as with those earlier Yes albums, I was disappointed with the first listen. Much of this disappointment had to do with expectations. To me, the Flower Kings excel at symphonic fare, and I often don't care for their more song-oriented pieces. Again, this has to do with expectations. I don't have a problem with straight songs, just not from the Flower Kings.

Of course, you already know where this is headed. The more I listened to the album, the more I appreciated not only the songwriting, but also the fact that the so-called straight-forward songs were more complex than they first appeared.

As I listened to the album the first time, I took notes. This isn't because I'm an incurable geek, but because I knew that I'd be reviewing the album. Okay, I'm also an incurable geek, but that's beside the point. With each listen, the notes changed in subtle ways. Not the notes the Flower Kings were playing, dummy. My notes.

So, after about five listens, here's what I've written down:

Track 1, Love Supreme: Almost every Flower Kings CD starts with a viable nomination for prog song of the year, and this album is no exception. Most of this 20-minute epic sounds so much like Yes, if Jon Anderson were singing, you'd be completely fooled. The guitar solos, though, are signature Roine Stolt, and the instrumental breaks drip with the Flower Kings' style, both things wonderful to behold.

Track 2: Cosmic Circus: A nice enough, straight-forward track (yawn).

Track 3: Babylon: Here, the FK take on a Genesis-flavored instrumental track. Makes me think a bit of "Los Endos" from A Trick Of The Tail. Great stuff! Too bad it isn't longer.

Track 4: A Vampire View: The vocals go out on limb here, in an amazing way, sort of channeling Roger Waters' theatrical, Broadway style. Very expressive, but unusual for the FK. The song itself didn't really grab me at first, but it's got to be the most theatrical thing the FK have ever done. Taken on its own terms, impressive work.

Track 5: Days Gone By: More of a piano interlude than a song. Suitable mood tag for "A Vampire View."

Track 6: Adam & Eve: A rocking, kind-of-boogie number that brings Deep Purple to mind. A Zappa-ish instrumental section pops up about a third of the way through the song, but that soon resolves into classic FK playing. Awesome instrumental section! Jonas Reingold turns in some of the fastest bass playing I've ever heard.

Track 7: Starlight Man: Overly complex instrumentation in the verses sometimes rob the main melody of its effectiveness and contribute a weird dissonance. Took some getting used to. All in all, another straight-forward FK song that, except for the complex background playing, is not particularly progressive.

Track 8: Timelines: Here, FK turns in a multi-part song with cool melodies, plenty of dynamics, and great playing. Although often laid back, in a bluesy sort of way, the tune cranks way up when it gets going, especially in the very proggy closing. A terrific Stolt vocal and solo bring this one home. Love it.

Track 9: Drivers Seat: Clocking in at over 18 minutes, this is the second of the album's epics, although this track isn't as effective as the album's opener. The verse melody, for example, doesn't seem as well developed. Perplexing middle part where the song ends for 10 seconds or so and then comes back in with weird keyboard sounds before building into a totally crankin' section. The main guitar theme is awesome. I love to hear Stolt play. He's one of today's best prog guitarists.

Track 10: The Blade Of Cain: A mostly instrumental track that's signature FK. Cool.

Rating: If this were an album by a group with which I was unfamiliar, 5/5, but given my expectations for the Flower Kings, I have to go with 4/5.

So that's the new FK album. I know I said that I'd continue with the independent releases in this edition of "The Prog Life," but I tend to lie a lot. My wife really hates that, almost as much as she hates my Slipperman costume. The truth is that the new Flower Kings album sidetracked me. We'll get back to the independent releases next time. I promise. Sort of. You see, I have an appointment to have those feathers removed, and you know how long a procedure like that can take.

Until next time, send me your proggy thoughts via email at Most importantly, keep on proggin'!

*The release date for Adam & Eve is July 26 in Europe (hey, that's tomorrow!**) and August 3 in North America -ed. ** this column was originally published July 25, 2004 which, depending on when you're reading this (Clayton will be ever so pleased that you are reading the column) is either today or not. -ed.

King Crimson
Gentle Giant
Flower Kings

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Published on: 2004-07-25 (2355 reads)

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