In just two days, one of my all-time favorite albums will turn 10-years old. Happy birthday, PARADOX HOTEL (Insideout Music, 2006).
I still remember well the day it arrived from amazon.com. I had thought the previous album, ADAM AND EVE, outstanding, but I was looking for something a bit more expansive in terms of music as well as lyrical scope. Given that this new album would be a return to a two-disk format, I’d assumed that Roine and Co. would not disappoint.
Not only did the band NOT disappoint, but they soared.
If forced to rank this cd within the Flower Kings’ discography, PARADOX HOTEL would sit very comfortably in the second best position, just below their best album, SPACE REVOLVER.
Interestingly enough, when PARADOX HOTEL came out, Stolt expressed some concern. Usually, a band hypes its latest album as its best (well, “hype” it too strong, as bands earnestly believe this to be true, as they should), but Stolt argued that he had thought the music of ADAM AND EVE more interesting and complex. Yet, the fans had not responded to ADAM AND EVE as the band had hoped, so they had returned to a poppier sound with PARADOX HOTEL.
As is always the case with The Flower Kings, the band alternates between incredibly complicated and tight jazz-fusion-esque music to more loose and open progressive-pop and rock. If ADAM AND EVE tended toward the former, PARADOX HOTEL certainly embraces the latter.
And, yet, while the complexity might not exist track by track, it does overall. It contains some of the darkest music the band has ever written, such as track seven on the first disk, “Bavarian Skies,” but it also reveals the most expansive and joyous the band has ever been with tracks such as “End on a High Note.”
This is a fascinating album in terms of its flow and its story. Though I do not know exactly what the album is about, I have interpreted it—from my first listen to it a decade ago—as a rather Dantesque examination of some form of purgatory. The Paradox Hotel is not quite the Mansion with Many Rooms of Heaven, but it is certainly a way station between this world and the next. After all, immediately upon checking in we meet monsters, men, U2 (I think, in “Hit Me With a Hit”), aviators, the young, Nazis, moms, the jealous, the violent, and the egotistical avaricious. Yet, through all of this, hope remains. Dreams and lights keep us centered on the end of the journey.
Disk two, by far the more experimental of the two disks, gives us even more glimpses of heaven, allowing us to touch, step toward, and dance in anticipation. Further, we learn that life will kill us and come to the nearly penultimate doubts in asking the most theological existential question ever offered: what if God is alone?
Finally, on track eight of disk two, we meet many of the dead who have moved through the hotel from time to time (or time to eternity, more likely), and we end with the glorious “Blue Planet,” seeing what voyages yet remain as we get caught in the revolving hotel doors.
It really could get no more C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce or J.R.R. Tolkien and “Leaf by Niggle” than this. Indeed, if the Inklings had made prog albums, they would’ve made PARADOX HOTEL.
Or, maybe it really is a Swedish meditation on Dante’s Purgatorio.
Truly, this is some of the most satisfying, thought-provoking, and comforting music I have encountered in my own 48 years in this world. Yet one more reason to praise Stolt and Co. for the glories they see and reveal to all of us.