A review The Flower Kings, UNFOLD THE FUTURE (2002; remastered and reissued, 2017). Tracks: The Truth Will Set You Free; Monkey Business; Black and White; Christianopel; Silent Inferno; The Navigator; Vox Humana; Genie in a Bottle; Fast Lane; Grand Old World; Soul Vortex; Rollin’ the Dice; The Devil’s Schooldance; Man Overboard; Solitary Shell; Devil’s Playground; and Too Late for Tomatos
Grade: A+. Glorious. Full. Enchanting. Mesmerizing.
As noted last week on progarchy.com, the Flower Kings released its first boxset, A KINGDOM OF COLOURS (Insideout Music), in very late 2017. Granted, we’re more than a bit late coming to the news, and I (Brad) only realized that the boxset had come out when seeing an advertisement for the forthcoming second boxset.
This set—a gorgeously packaged one at that—is part 1 of 2, re-releasing the band’s first official seven studio albums. Missing are any b-sides, extra tracks, live releases, and the album that started it all, Stolt’s 1994 solo album, THE FLOWER KING. But, these absences are certainly fine, as the boxset is what it is. The next set, according to Insideout, will have three full disks of new or previously unreleased material. Additionally and spectacularly, of those original albums re-released for A KINGDOM OF COLOURS, the final one, 2002’s UNFOLD THE FUTURE, has been completely remastered by the Flower King himself, Mr. Roine Stolt.
The older I get, the more I love the past, even as I’m profoundly enjoying the present. 2017. It has a nice sound. 2017. Looking back over the years of which this current one is an important anniversary (ok, not the best writing in the world), I can’t help but think of several important years and albums that spring to mind immediately.
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.
On April 4, 2006, the Flower Kings released PARADOX HOTEL, not just a seminal album for the band, but a seminal album for third-wave prog.
At the time of its release, Roine Stolt expressed some reluctance with the album, noting that it had not been as complicated, complex, or nuanced as the previous release, ADAM AND EVE (2004). PARADOX HOTEL, he sighed (or, so I’ve interpreted the interview he gave to/with DPRP.net), was just another release of a prog album, but not as progressive as the 2004 album.
While everything the Flower Kings does is excellent, it’s hard not to rate PARADOX HOTEL as extraordinary, even for an extraordinary band. In hindsight, PARADOX HOTEL is probably regarded as a much stronger album than ADAM AND EVE.
Regardless, we’ll be giving PARADOX HOTEL close scrutiny as we celebrate its tenth birthday.
There are few bands that perform as well live as they do in the studio. And, of course, there are some for which the opposite is true.
One band that only gets that much more interesting live is Andy Tillison’s ever-evolving The Tangent. This year, amazingly enough, is the tenth anniversary of the first live The Tangent release, PYRAMIDS AND STARS. Looking at the line up for that tour, one has to wonder if one is caught in some kind of heavenly time-loop or fantasy prog game. Andy Tillison, Roine Stolt, Jonas Reingold, Sam Baines, and Zoltan Csorsz. The lineup could be for a Flower Kings album or, perhaps, a Steven Wilson album.
The ever, endlessly talented Ed Unitsky painted the cover, and, of course, it’s gorgeous.
Only six songs make up this 77-minute feast: The World That We Drive Through; The Canterbury Sequence; The Winning Game; The Music That Died Alone; In Darkest Dreams; and the only song under six minutes in length, a cover version of (ELP) Lucky Man.
The songs—all of which come from the first two The Tangent albums—sound as gorgeous as Unitsky’s cover art would suggest. This is The Tangent, but it’s The Tangent fully alive. What happened in the studio is merely prologue. That the embryo, this the fine young man come of age.
Andy and Roine are especially playful and open to the spirit of the muses. Their love of this music is palatable.
Sadly, this live album is extremely hard to find, and I made it a point several years ago to dig deeply across and through the internet to find a copy. It was well worth the hunt, for I treasure this album like no other. It’s a precious thing to behold.