Flower Kings, The - Desolation Rose

Year of Release: 2013
Label: InsideOut Music
Catalog Number: IOMLTDCD 393
Format: CD
Total Time: 01:32:00

It has been quite a while since I listened to the Flower Kings (my last review was in 2005), though I haven't lost sight of what they've been up to. Release-wise, at least. While Waiting For Miracles is the most recent release, it was to their previous release, Desolation Rose, (2013) that I went to last June when starting this review to coincide with their Midsummer Prog Festival appearance. Although mainman Roine Stolt did release Manifesto Of An Alchemist in between (in 2018), under the Roine Stolt's The Flower King moniker and it is considered a solo album (with Hasse Fröberg and Jonas Reingold among his guests). As a full blown - in full bloom? - Flower Kings release, this was then the last of that variety. In fact, I had thought that The Flowers Kings as going concern were kaput; that the "Revisited" shows were to be focused on back catalogue to tour the music one last time before Stolt and company moved on to other things. Maybe that was the case and things changed...

Anyway, about Desolation Rose. It goes without saying, but I will anyway - the sound production on this release is fantastic. Music as richly orchestrated and arranged as this needs to be well-produced to bring out all the elements. I don't think before I have compared the Flower Kings to an actual flower garden, but darn if that's not what comes to mind this go 'round. Brilliant, rich colours, the sun shining right on those petals; an overwhelming bloom. But lest I take this analogy farther than it should it go... let's leave it at that. Stunning sound, full marks for that.

It also goes without saying, the music here is epic. The lengths aren't epic, but in a shorter space of time Roine Stolt and the gang are able to capture the same size of sound. The opening track is 13 minutes, but everything else seems contained. Not constrained; not as if they ran out of ideas and put out a pop album with throwaway ditties. Just that what they needed to say could be said in 4-6 minutes (the average length). Sometimes writing a 20-minute epic is 15 minutes of filler or just to show off how well you can play "widdly bits" on whichever instrument. Nothing here seems to me like it comes and goes without saying anything. Nor is anything here just fodder for a cool guitar solo or keyboard solo or whatever. There are cool guitar solos, keyboard solos, etc., however. These are songs. And for all that, I feel like the title track seems to go by too fast. Like: "that's some good stuff there... oh, it's over?"

Even as I feel like they are trying some new things out ("White Tuxedos"), there are no musical surprises here. They are not retreading glories past either. I just mean that fans will feel comfortable here -- there's the jazzy elements ("Last Carnivore"), vast symphonics ("Tower One," "Sleep Bones," a.o.) -- but also not be bored by the familiarity. This is what we hope from the artists we like. Grow but don't go off the rails (or in tv jargon, "jump the shark."). Here we have growth.

Twice I was brought to mind of King Crimson, and to the same track specifically, as it happens. In both "Sleep Bones" and "Dark Fascist Skies," I hear hints of "Red," and those signature ascending/descending notes. Almost the same, but not quite. A nod maybe; coincidence more likely. On the other hand, in the darkly strutting, near-marching tune "White Tuxedos," there is moment in the vocal phrasing - sing-songy as in children's music - where it is of "Everyday People" (Sly And The Family Stone) that I think. But, that singy-song bit just makes the sinister aspect of this track even more sinister. Lyrically, it is, too; I'd say the subject is war, but it is more those caught up in war than the combatants - the "collateral damage."

Wow, there is a lot to explore here on Desolation Road. Beyond the fantastically lush arrangements of most tracks, a deeper listening will yield much more -- study the lyrics and find the connections to wider world outside, how the tracks reference each other. There is a dystopic view of the world, which I'm sure many of us feel (regardless which side of the fence you are on). And so we also have an album that will not only make you listen to the pretty noise that The Flower Kings make, it will also make you think. Roine Stolt has been quoted as saying about the album, "Being somewhat of a political statement, the epic theme of Desolation Rose is a logical step in a time where perpetual war, famine, environmental threats, religious conflicts dominate the media and our minds. This is a time to wake up and the music on this album takes you on a journey where you are forced to question what the mainstream media feed us and to rethink your whole worldview on all of the above." This was released when "fake news" referred to actual fake news and not the appropriation of the term to define "news about us we don't like." But what was true in 2013 is true today in 2019. We are living in a world very much imagined by Orwell. It might have come a little later than 1984, but it's here...

I'll nip my editorializing the bud, as it were, lest it flower. I will say that the lyrics do require some extrapolation and interpretation on the part of the reader/listener. There may be a specific point, but your own world view may colour how you understand it.

"Tower One" is the most "typical" Flower Kings track - a multi-part suite of shifting tempos, always finding its way back to main theme. although it is not divided up as a multi-part suite. It is a concept album in 13-minutes. And in that, it is a concept album full-stop -- you will find lyrics in one track repeat or be reflected in tracks elsewhere -- lyrics in "Tower One" recur in "Dark Fascist Skies," for example. Or a phrase in "The Silent Masses" becomes the title of the final track, "Silent Graveyards."

Like a Flower King song can be, I can too also noodle on and on. So, rather than give you a track by track run down, I will mention one last track, because it is, again, different. Not necessarily different from anything they have done before, but from the rest of the album. "Blood Of Eden" is a mellower track, and maybe because they've been on my mind of late, I think of the Eagles, such that Hasse Fröberg sounds a bit like Don Henley. Of course, it would not be The Flower Kings without the symphonics and these do come in about midway through. "Resurrected Judas" is also mellower than elsewhere, less symphonic and epic, yet filled with the touchstones of The Flower Kings.

There was also released a special edition with a bonus disk, featuring a further 8 tracks. Most are short - 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes long. The pieces range in style from the expansive ("Interstellar Visitations," the longest track almost 8 1/2 minutes) to the whimsical ("Lazy Monkey" which channels the Beatles both musically and in the winking humour) - though these two happen to come back to back. In between there is a noodly guitar workout in "Burning Spears," while "Psalm 2013" is moody and reflective and the "The Final Era," which closes out the bonus disc, is wistful. "Badbeats" is burnished brass in a 70s, jazz-inflected rock kind of way. Not exactly psychedelic, but it would not seem out of place underscoring a light-hearted panning shot documenting something where movement is the focus.

More than one track harks back to Pink Floyd: There's the spacey "Interstellar Visitations", which by its title suggests some space rock. The piece takes you on an audio journey with a clear beginning, middle, and end... what part of the cosmos you visit is entirely up to you. As Sagan noted, there are "billions and billions" of stars out there. Then there is the equally spacey, guitar-centric "The Wailing Wall," which a more contained view of space. I don't think the intent is space rock, however. I suspect Stolt had something more or different in mind- a literal reference the THE Wailing Wall? Nonetheless, the effect is space rock... space atmospheres would be more apt for both, rather than rock.

The only track with vocals is the first, "Runaway Train," which is an aggressive, percussive piece that recalls Yes (nothing new for this group, of course). Here we have sweet harmonies in uplifting tones. Maybe it's me, but I hear a bit of Kansas' "Lightning's Hand" in the phrasing of the main part of the song (again, coincidence, I'm sure). It is where prog and pop meet in that the chorus is quite accessible - ear-worm worthy? - , and yet the arrangement is far from "simple" pop.

Some other notes I couldn't fit in the main text: The opening notes of the first track, "Tower One" seem to channel the Beatles. And Hasse (I think it's Hasse) sounds like at times like Paul McCartney, at times like Rod Stewart on "Desolation Road."

There is an interview that Roine Stolt conduction with Get Ready To Rock, which you can read here where he talks about the album.

Single CD IOMCD 393; 2LP 2CD edition IOMLP 393 (LP excludes The Final Era)

Tower One (13:37) / Sleeping Bones (4:17) / Desolation Road (4:00) / White Tuxedos (6:31) / The Resurrected Judas (8:24) / Silent Masses (6:18) / Last Carnivor (4:22) / Dark Fascist Skies (6:05) / Blood Of Eden (3:13) / Silent Graveyards (2:52)

Bonus Disc: Runaway Train (4:41) / Intersteller Visitations (8:25) / Lazy Monkey (2:25) / Psalm 2013 (2:11) / The Wailing Wall (3:19) / Badbeats (5:25) / Burning Spears (3:16) / The Final Era (2:58)

Tomas Bodin - grand piano, keyboards, Hammond B3, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog
Hasse Fröberg - vocals, guitar
Felix Lehrmann - drums, percussion
Jonas Reingold - bass, vocals

Guests: Declan Burke, Daniel Gordon, Edgel Groves Sr, Edgel Groves Jr, Michael Stolt, Nad Sylvan, and Andy Tillison - chorus vocals (10)

Roine Stolt - The Flower King (1994/2001/2004)
Back In The World Of Adventures (1995)
Retropolis (1996)
Stardust We Are (1997/2000)
Scanning The Greenhouse (comp) (1998)
Edition Limitée Quebec (1998) (only 700 copies!)
Flower Power (1999)
TFK fanclub disc (2000) (free CD exclusive to fanclub members only)
Alive On Planet Earth (2000)
Space Revolver (2000)
Space Revolver Special Edition (2CD set) (2000)
The Rainmaker (2001)
The Rainmaker - Special Edition (2001)
Unfold The Future (2002)
Live In New York: Official Bootleg (2002)
Fan Club CD 2002 (2002)
Fan Club CD 2004 (2004)
Adam & Eve (2004)
BetchaWannaDanceStoopid (2004)
Harvest (fan club CD) (2005)
Paradox Hotel (2006)
The Road Back Home (2007)
The Sum Of No Evil (2007)
The Sum Of No Evil (Special Edition) (2007)
Banks Of Eden (2012)
Roine Stolt's The Flower King - Manifesto Of An Alchemist (2018)
Waiting For Miracles (2019)

Meet The Flower Kings - Live Recording (DVD) (2003)
Instant Delivery (DVD) (2006)
Instant Delivery - Limited Edition (2CD/2DVD) (2006)

Genre: Symphonic Prog

Origin SE

Added: November 30th 2019
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.roinestolt.com
Hits: 5194
Language: english


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