The Prog Life - December 2, 2002: Unfolding _Unfold The Future_
by Clayton Walnum




So, there I was in the restaurant, waiting to be seated, when this guy comes up to me and says, "Dude, I see you dressed for the occasion." He was referring to the fact that I was outfitted in my usual attire, which comprises -- besides a few odds and ends like shoes, socks, and a stun gun -- a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Sure, I was miffed. I mean, at least they were a clean T-shirt and pair of jeans. Anyway, I finally had a chance to use that stun gun.

What's the point of this tale that I just completely made up? Style. Specifically, as evidenced by my classy wardrobe, style is something of which I have none. More to the point, though, music has style in abundance. In fact, if you recall my last column, we were discussing the different styles of progressive rock. (Okay, I was doing the discussing, and you were doing the snoring.) I promised that this time around, we would look at the many different styles of progressive rock the Flower Kings used to create their magnificent new album, Unfold The Future. And I always keep my promises -- unless doing so is inconvenient or, worse, means that I have to stop ogling girls in bikinis.

The Flower Kings - Unfold The FutureSo, if you have a copy of Unfold The Future, mail it to me so I can sell it for a profit. If that suggestion doesn't appeal to you, another idea is to put the CD into your CD player, and follow along as we discuss the album track by track. When you're finished, then you should send me the CD, so I can sell it for a profit. You may, of course, purchase a second copy after you send the first one to me.

Those of you who don't have Unfold The Future will have to send me a different CD, of course. But you should still pick up a copy of Unfold The Future soon, so that you can follow along with this issue's fun. In spite of the rumors, though, reading the following discussion without owning a copy of Unfold The Future is not a violation of your country's laws and doesn't lead to stunted growth, elongated fingers, or an urge to yell "I'm wearing clean socks!" at passersby.

How about a game: How many styles of progressive rock can you identify on Unfold The Future? I'm kinda kidding. Still, there will be a short quiz next period. Seriously, one thing I love about the Flower Kings is that their influences are all over the map, drawing not only from the classic 70s symphonic sound, but also fusion, ambient, neo-progressive, and more. To close our talk about progressive-rock styles, I offer the following track-by-track stylistic analysis. Note that the album is a two-CD set, but I've numbered the tracks consecutively as if they were on one monster-big CD.

This analysis is mostly aimed at prog newbies (you know who you are). Still, you experts out there might enjoy the following as a kind of album review. At the very least, if you haven't yet heard the album, my song descriptions will give you a good idea of what you're in for when (that's right, I said "when" not "if"; no self-respecting prog nut can be without this one) you get your copy. Here we go.

(1) "The Truth Will Set You Free" -- Some of the bass playing sounds a lot like Jaco Pastorius, an influential bassist whose group efforts included the fusion group Weather Report. You can't hear this style of bass playing without thinking of fusion. (Well, I can't, anyway.) Still, on this track, Yes's Chris Squire is the strongest influence on bassist Jonas Reingold. In fact, this whole track screams Yes, from the harmony vocals to Stolt's often Steve Howe-like guitar playing to the way the piece is structured. And that's not to mention the Wakeman-like church-organ sound that makes an appearance at about the 14-minute mark. In short, this one falls neatly into the symphonic category, especially considering that it's nearly a half hour long. All in all, this just may be the progressive-rock track of the year.

(2) "Monkey Business" -- A fairly straight-ahead, funky rocker but loaded with little proggy bits, especially the guitar solo with the dramatic keyboard washes near the end. Runs only about 5 minutes. I would place this one is the neo-progressive category. In this case, I'm using a more liberal interpretation of the term neo-progressive to include groups that are less overtly progressive (i.e. Porcupine Tree, current Marillion, IZZ), but don't model themselves after Genesis the way many of the groups considered to be neo-progressive do (i.e. Pendragon, early Marillion, IQ).

(3) "Black And White" -- All the makings of symphonic prog here, including abrupt changes in meter, as well as complex instrumental melodies and interplay. However, the track is mostly instrumental and reminds one more of a group like Happy the Man than Yes or Genesis. The bass playing on this track is amazing and again has a very jazzy, fusion feel. The clever middle part (the weird stuff) is close to RIO with a taste of Zappa. This is a tough track to place in any one category, but symphonic is close enough.

(4) "Christianopel" -- Leaning toward the experimental, this track is a kind of sound collage that brings to mind some early King Crimson, as well as Yes's "The Ancient: Giants Under The Sun" from Tales From Topographic Oceans In fact, a couple of the cymbal crashes (hi-hat) sound like they were lifted directly from that piece. Elements of the ambient style here, as well, especially in the beginning. The track is more improvisational than composed, which pretty much leaves out any connection with the symphonic style. The mood of the piece builds to a guitar solo that brings Zappa to mind in a couple of places, although Roine Stolt's playing is in a generally different style. Interesting stuff.

(5) "Silent Inferno" -- Back to the symphonic style here. Stolt's masterful guitar work really stands out on this track, especially in the solo about six minutes into the piece. He also gets the lead vocal. Complex melodies, frequent mood changes, sudden switches in meter, choir- and string-like keyboard chords, almost everything here screams symphonic, although the instrumental section about ten minutes in brings to mind the fusion of Return To Forever. Being nearly 15 minutes long is also a hint to its symphonic nature. Great track. Have I mentioned how amazing the bass player is?

(6) "The Navigator" -- This one is a mellow treat, but difficult to describe and even more difficult to place within a prog style, even though few could argue its progressive roots. Hints of the Canterbury style show up, with the keyboards reproducing an old English flute sound, but the track in general doesn't fit well in that category. Guess we'll have to resort to the trusty neo-progressive style or maybe art rock.

(7) "Vox Humana" -- This song starts off in a Yes-ish vein, but turns out to be more poppish than proggy. The sweet vocal on this one may be cloying for younger listeners weaned on Dream Theater, even though Hasse Froberg is clearly an excellent vocalist. The track brings to mind the sentimental side of Yes's Jon Anderson. I hesitate to place this track in any prog category, but I suppose you could make an argument for neo-prog.

(8) "Genie In A Bottle" -- Starts off as a near-prog, strutting rocker but soon tones down when it gets to the atmospheric vocal bridge. Just as quickly, the band powers up again for another verse/chorus, but then switches pace for a vocal section unlike those that came before. Next is a fairly sophisticated instrumental break followed by a return of the songs main vocal themes. The simpler song structure (but still much more complex than mainstream rock), spiced up with proggy bits, make this a definite candidate for the neo-progressive category.

(9) "Fast Lane" -- This one is Yes-ish in a few places, but the song itself is a fast-beat rock song that, if it weren't for the orchestral keyboard sounds, not to mention the synth and guitar solos, would be tough to position into a progressive category. Definitely elements of fusion in the instrumental sections, though. Neo-prog is probably the best category for this one, as the required progressive elements are here.

(10) "Grand Old World" - No question about the fusion style that opens this track, thanks in great part to the horn solos. Okay, maybe fusion "lite," along the lines of Sting's early solo work. This is a jazzy vocal track with a strong pop flavor.

(11) "Soul Vortex" -- Another improvisational number in the fusion style, albeit simple fusion. A pleasant enough listen, though not an essential addition to the album. Still, if you gotta have filler, this will do just fine, thank you.

(12) "Rollin The Dice" -- Another funky rocker, but still with that Flower Kings trademark sound. Very cool lead vocals on this one, as well as some great melodies. Love the short break with the wah-wah guitar backed by mellotron. The Flower Kings have a way of making things sound progressive even when, in the final analysis, maybe they're not. Neo-progressive?

(13) "The Devil's Danceschool" -- Definitely fusion. I should also point out that this track sounds a lot like one of the top fusion groups of yore, Weather Report. This is a cooking track, but yet again mostly improvisational. If I had heard this track on its own without knowing who it was, I never would have guessed it was the Flower Kings.

(14) "Man Overboard" -- Another progressive number, but more neo-progressive than in the classic symphonic style. One can hear a bit of Genesis in there, but the melodies are lighter than one might expect from Genesis. Ironically, some of the melodies make me think of King Crimson, a band that often (except on their very early albums) goes for a darker sound.

(15) "Solitary Shell" -- A short acoustic number, the vocal supported mainly by piano, although a lot of string sounds drift in and out throughout. A well-written song, but not really progressive. An excellent vocal by Stolt. Really beautiful.

(16) "The Devil's Playground" -- This is another big track, running to nearly 25 minutes. Starts off very symphonic with an almost orchestral intro. About three minutes in, the pace goes into overdrive, giving us symphonic delights in the style of Yes. Calms down for the vocal by Stolt, followed by excellent harmony vocals. In spite of the very Yes-ish style, the track is still trademark Flower Kings and the sort of thing they do best. Lots of changes in meter and mood, complex instrumental sections. Can hear some Zappa-like bits, and definitely King Crimson in the darker sections. Concludes with dramatic and crescendo-like flair, another characteristic of symphonic progressive rock, especially that developed by Yes. Great stuff and my second favorite track on the album. A perfect example of the symphonic style. (Still, they can't seem to avoid some fusion thrown in!)

Whew! That's an immense hunk of music to absorb all at once. I hope you managed to stay with me. (By the way, I've skipped the bonus track that's included on the limited edition version of the album. If you're interested, it's another fusion piece.) Listening to such a huge album, even when it's great, is a challenge for just about everyone, especially when the music is complex and requires a lot of your attention.

Let me leave you with this enticing and controversial statement: There's no such thing as bad music. Has Clay lost his mind? You'll have to wait until the next column to find out.


See also Keith Hannaleck's, John "Bobo" Bollenberg's, John Stout's, Davide Guidone's, Karyn Hamilton's and Stephanie Sollow's reviews








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Published on: 2002-12-02 (1274 reads)

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