In the modern Progressive Rock world, The Flower Kings are one of the biggest names, if not the biggest.
In my world, they are my all time favourite group. Today, I want to pay tribute to them and their music, and what their music has meant to me in the last eighteen years.
July 2001, St Petersburg, Russia
My best friend and I are on a school trip - our guide tells us that we are able to have a look around St Petersburg, but to be back at the coach in one hour. After picking up some super cheap cigarettes from a cigarette booth, we find a dark alley with a posterboard at the entrance - "Cheap CDs!". Naturally, we headed in the direction of the big arrow.
Down the alley is a tiny room. Inside this tiny room is a man behind a desk. All around him are piles of CDs. Clearly all pirated, but they're pretty good knock offs. We start picking out CDs - Dream Theater, Judas Priest, my best friend even picks out Cannibal Corpse (a bit too extreme for me). As well as finding David Bowies new album "Hours...", another album stands out from one of many tall piles - Back in the World of Adventures by The Flower Kings. I recognise the name - Roine Stolt. "He was in Translatlantic wasn't he? Hmmm, I'll give this a go". 20 CDs later, we are out of the store and back on the coach.
Back at the hotel, my best friend falls asleep. W're travelling back to the UK tomorrow, so we try for an early one. Though, I'm not quite ready, so I get my portable CD player out, place Back in the World of Adventures in, place my headphones on and press play. I close my eyes and rest my head, and my journey begins. I initially like the sound, but my heavy metal ears haven't quite adjusted yet to this new, melodic, almost hippy like sound. By track 3, I am asleep.
Around 50 minutes later, I wake up and I feel like I'm not where I'm supposed to be. I'm somewhere else - somewhere magical, even mystical. I am just coming up to the last track of the album, and I feel changed. This music has somehow found it's way into my soul, set all my previous doubts and worries aside and whisked me away. This music is talking to me, guiding me. Once lost in a sea of music, I have finally found my place. I feel right at home. The music of The Flower Kings has extended its arm and pulled me aboard. I am now on my journey.
February 2019, UK
It's been two months since Roine Stolt released the new Flower Kings album, Manifesto of an Alchemist. As always, it's a fabulous album that takes a good two or three listens to in order to fully appreciate the music. It has however reminded me that I haven't listened to the other albums for a long time. I've been far too busy with children, work, music, writing. My recent obsession with The Cardiacs is slowly dying off, and I'm really not in the mood for Steve Wilson or David Bowie. So starts my back to back listening of all The Flower Kings albums, from beginning to end (excluding The Flower King, 1994, and all other solo albums).
Back in the World of Adventures
Back in the World of Adventures, as you've read above, was the first album I heard from TFK. It's also the first album they released as "The Flower Kings", way back in 1995 - even before I purchased my first album. If you were to compare this to later albums, you'll notice that it is mellow, gentle experience, uplifting at times. But don't go comparing this to their later stuff - consider it as a unique album in it's own right and you'll get far more out of the experience. As the title suggests, from beginning to end, you feel like you are in a different world, but quite what that world is up to you. All the tracks are wonderful, but the one that really sticks out for me is the last one, The Big Puzzle. It's one of the prettiest progressive rock tracks out there, and the ending just fills me up with happiness (and now nostalgia) every time I listen to it. Showing it's age now, but I have a lot of love for this album.
Their second album I remember special ordering at HMV at some stupidly crazy price - Flower Kings albums were hard to come by as they weren't exactly mainstream, but I made the effort. Remember kids, E-Commerce was in its infancy in the early 2000s - Amazon was still selling just books! Anyway. Retropolis has similar vibes to BITWOA, but tries out some interesting ideas, taking some influence from world music on tracks like Retropolis, and The Melting Pot. Another uplifting experience, the track that stands out for me here is There is More to this World - in fact, I'd argue that this track sets the precedence for where The Flower Kings were to take their music for future albums. And yet, in the passage of time, I find that Retropolis has been largely forgotten among the TFK catalog. Still, it remains an excellent album.
Stardust We Are
Arguably the album that put TFK on 'the scene', Stardust We Are is a 2CD extravaganza of everything TFK brings to the genre. I can only imagine what TFK fans of the time and the Progressive Rock world thought when this album arrived - it must have been a mindblowing experience. Every track is completely unique, it's moving fast (In the Eyes of the World), it's slowing down (Poor Mr. Rain's Ordinary Guitar), it makes you feel elated (Church of your Heart), it gets super spooky (Circus Brimstone), it speeds up again (THe Merrygoround), it...you get the idea. There's even some Reggae in there (Ghsot of the Red Cloud)! The whole thing is just an amazing experience. The title track at the end though, what an epic piece of work that is. It's the one that get's played at every gig (in my experience, anyway). If you are new to the Flower Kings, then this, in my honest opinion, is where you start. That said, it's not my favourite...
THIS is my favourite. Not because of its fame of being "the album with the one hour long" song (Garden of Dreams, 59:56 to be precise), but just because I love everything about it. Garden of Dreams is a masterpiece that must have been a stupid amount of effort to pull together to, not only to compose, but also to produce. My only regret is I never got the chance to see Garden of Dreams live - I missed it by 2/3 years.
I've never been able to easily describe what to expect from the second CD. I can only describe it as "mainly fun". Well, it is fun. Stupid Girl, Psychedelic Postcard, Magic Pie, Calling Home, there are some real fun tracks. But there's also some serious ones, and they don't get more serious than my favourite TFK track of all time - "Deaf, Numb and Blind". Oh man, that song. It works on a number of levels, but the premise really is how we all seem to be completely oblivious to our own destruction, and the sad part is - we are the ones causing it. While humanity makes great advances, those advances bring new dangers, but we continue to ignore those dangers, and if we are not careful, we will continue to walk the path to our own oblivion. Recent events, both politically and environmentally, is evidence to this - it's almost like TFK had predicted it twenty years ago...
Flower Power I feel was an end of an era for TFK, and a new one begins here. Michael Stolt has left the band, and a fresh faced Jonas Reingold arrives. You can almost instantly hear the change in Space Revolver. This was actually the second album I bought of TFK, largely because it was the most recent TFK album out when I first heard them. It was also a heavy influence on me as I was in Music College at the time, so again I have a lot of love for this album for different reasons than the other albums. Even so, Space Revolver is fresh, light hearted, a lot of fun throughout. It never really slows down until the end, where Roine starts singing about being a fish and what have you (that is of course after singing about running a Chicken Farm). Kings Prayer is the song that stands out the most for me on this album - it's a thoughtful, heart warming song that descends into an epic guitar solo over your usual rock out chord sequence. It's like they took Hey Jude by the Beatles and made it their own. And I'm OK with that.
To end Part 1 on a darker, sombre tone - The Rainmaker. By Roines own admission (both at gigs and somewhere on the internet), The Rainmaker is clearly not his favourite. I seem to remember him saying this was when TFK almost split up, and that you can hear that in the album. Yes, it's darker, and yes the spark of the earlier albums had clearly fizzled out, but by no means would I say this is a bad album. In fact, I like this album a lot. Maybe it's because it was the first album to come out after finding TFK. But either way, I like every song on this one, but World Without a Heart and The Rainmaker stick out for me. Serious Dreamers too. I also got the special edition, and the bonus CD is....odd to say the least. However, Tomas Bodin clearly wanted to demonstrate some of his solo stuff, and that's great. However, One Whole Half is just an epic piece of jamming, and Jonas' bass playing, crikey. Fantastic stuff. Don't be put off by what Roine says about The Rainmaker - it's a good album. My personal least favourite TFK album is still to come...