I have been listening to a lot of progressive rock recently, partly by mistake due to the vagaries of the TINAS ‘For Review’ list and partly out of a desire to get to understand a music which is having a bit of a revival, exposure-wise. As it’s a genre I’m largely unfamiliar with I’m at the mercy of the bands biogs a lot of the time, which can be a rather misleading source of information. Sweden’s The Flower Kings biog claims that their mainman Roine Stolt is an astronaut and chef, as well as guitarist. I’m doubtful about that but you’re left in no doubt as to their progressive rock leanings, with a whole paragraph excitedly detailing all the keyboards and synths used on “Desolation Rose” as well as the vintage recording equipment employed on this, their thirteenth studio album in their 20 year career.
And so to the symphonic rock of ‘Tower ONE’ – an ominously long opener and although it has lush Pink Floyd-esque guitar solos and plenty of hooks it is rather too pleased with itself. It has too many time changes and mood swings to easily digest. It’s like the gifted child in the classroom who won’t sit still that you want to clip round the ear. Thankfully it’s not all like that: ‘Sleeping Bones’ is heavier and creepier and much less challenging to non prog fans, but still full of majestic keyboard work from Stolt and Tomas Bodin. Next up ‘Desolation Road’ is more laid back still, with a more soulful, poppy vocal and actually reminds me a bit of Europe. It does get OTT at the end with massive Hammond solo but who doesn’t like a Hammond solo?
You may have noticed from the song titles that this album deals in some pretty heavy subject matter and lyrically the band are very angry – all of “Desolation Rose”is grounded in the real world, the musical flights of fancy often coming as a relief from the ire and despair in the verses. Particularly effective is ‘Dark Fascist Skies’ which despite the whiff of musical theatre is stirring stuff, with dark stabbing keys and a guitar solo Zakk Wylde would be proud to call his own. ‘White Tuxedos’ is the real revelation of the album though, and a welcome side step into stranger territory. It could almost be an outtake from Ry Cooder’s “Chavez Ravine” album, albeit replacing the earthy Mexicana for dazzling Steely Dan style prog-funk. The heavily vocodered vox and snippets of news broadcast are menacing but arch.
The epic ‘Resurrected Judas’ kind of blows it with an extended musical flourish of fretless bass and parping keys, going straight back to the cliched prog pomp I’m familiar with. However when the chorus finally kicks back in you have to admire the bands melodies. All the actual songs here are catchy and memorable, but such is the nature if this oeuvre that that often is not enough for musicians of this calibre and bent, and thus the rest of the album follows a bit too close to the pompous Yes template for my liking. There is certainly enough quality and variety to appeal to rock fans of most inclinations, and if you like progressive rock then perhaps Roine Stolt will fly you to the moon.