Just when you thought the workaholic Roine Stolt might be taking a break from activities, or concentrating on the next album with Jon Anderson, he suddenly announces work starting on the next Transatlantic album, and the imminent release of a new Flower Kings album. I’m never sure how our top Prog musicians manage to juggle several projects at a time, but it’s always good to have Mr Stolt back at the helm of his baby, The Flower Kings, truly the one project over which he has pretty much complete control.
This is the first proper TFK album since 2013’s Desolation Rose, which was not entirely in tune with the rest of the catalogue in many ways, being rather dark and pessimistic in outlook. Last year’s Manifesto of an Alchemist was obviously a Stolt solo album, although released under the banner ‘Roine Stolt’s The Flower King’, no doubt at the suggestion of InsideOut’s marketing guys. It was enjoyable enough, but it wasn’t The Flower Kings. Waiting For Miracles is quite different, and from the start it is clear that TFK are back; this is a band album, and fans will be hanging out the bunting in celebration. So to be clear before diving into the contents, if you are familiar with the band and have been thus far unpersuaded by their symphonic grand progressive rock stylings, this album won’t win you over, so you may as well move on now. For everyone else, there is a veritable feast for the ears here, so let’s have a closer look.
The cover has a delightful painting by Kevin Sloan of an elephant balanced impossibly on a house of cards, and it’s the House of Cards piano-led melody which briefly opens the album before giving way to Black Flag, a song about pirates oddly enough. No sight of any vampires though, so Stolt’s partner in crime in Agents of Mercy, Nad Sylvan, hasn’t had any influence here. This is however a marvellous song which on the surface seems to be a fun take on Pirates of the Caribbean, but actually appears a bit darker with modern ‘state of the world’ themes at play. In fact, it’s quite obvious that Roine and the band are taking the state of the world as a starting point for quite a few themes on the album.
Next up is the centrepiece track, Miracles for America. Stolt has a bit of a thing about America, it has cropped up in so many TFK songs that it’s become something of a recurring theme. Well, the U.S. is the premier superpower after all, and if any meaningful change is going to happen, it needs to happen there, so we are exhorted to “save our miracles for America”, and by extension, the world of course. Strident organ stabs the piece into life before the band come in with a very solid riff, and the song evolves in a muscular, but very Flower Kings way into a real tour de force, veering between helplessness and hope, with the latter winning out it seems. The contrast between Roine’s voice and Hasse Fröberg’s higher register singing is outstanding. The longest track on the album at a few seconds over ten minutes, and you get the idea that this version of the band is able to be a little more succinct than they’ve managed in the past. That doesn’t mean they have jettisoned all jammy noodling, it’s those passages which allow the songs room to breathe for my money, but they seem to be reined in somewhat here. Having said that, Vertigo does threaten to outstay its welcome slightly perhaps and could have been a little shorter, but the interplay between Jonas Reingold on fretless bass and Stolt’s lead guitar lines are gorgeous, so all is forgiven.
Some fans will tell you that this can’t be TFK without Tomas Bodin on keys, but this album should truly put that myth to bed as Zach Kamins’ contributions on Waiting For Miracles are superb, as anyone familiar with his work as An Endless Sporadic would expect. Likewise, Mirko DeMaio on drums is rock solid, gelling well with Jonas throughout. Next song, The Bridge is a beautiful ballad which provides the album title in the lyrics, Roine rather sadly intoning that he’s “waiting for miracles”, seemingly helpless to provide them – but no! As the song draws to a climax, he pulls off the solo of the album, a masterful and inspired couple of minutes of playing which underlines just what an intuitive guitarist he is. Absolute magic.
Ascending To The Stars has to be the most different track on the album, an inspired instrumental piece which evokes Holst’s Planets interwoven with a 2001-style space soundtrack. It sounds like it was made for a sci-fi movie, and highlights Zach’s keyboard contributions in dazzling fashion. Wicked Old Symphony is back to a traditional TFK song in style, and one gets the impression that Stolt could write this sort of thing in his sleep. It’s slightly quirky and yet warm and comfortable, and quite typical of the band.
Circuses seem to be another of Roine’s recurring themes. One wonders if Zappa’s ideas around ‘conceptual continuity’ have been deliberately employed here, or if it’s just coincidence? Anyway, Rebel Circus is another tasty instrumental, interweaving very modern ‘bleepy’ keyboard sounds with more old fashioned guitar breaks and insistent bass, and almost jazzy moments. Yes, we’ve heard it before, but we love it! I don’t know if the band were all in the same room in Benny Andersson’s studio in Stockholm when they recorded this stuff, but it sure sounds like it, the empathy clearly evident.
Sleep With The Enemy again highlights the two distinctive voices of TFK, with Stolt’s verses contrasting brilliantly with Fröberg’s soaring chorus. It works so well, it’s hard to imagine either of these guys not being involved in the band, as a key dynamic would be lost. As we work to the climax, crushing church organ builds the intensity underpinned with deft piano flourishes and guitar licks, but Hasse rules this song. The Crowning of Greed closes the first disc with another lyrical theme familiar from earlier albums, and a lovely melody from Stolt’s guitar. And if that was the end of the album, nobody would be complaining.
There is a second disc though with a further 20 minutes of music. Was that strictly necessary? Probably not, but it does contain one really good song, We Were Always Here. Elsewhere we have a return of the House of Cards theme, Spirals which reprises some of the earlier themes, especially from Miracles For America, and a nice little busking style outro, but in all honesty, one disc would have been enough. A minor gripe!
So overall, as I said at the start, if you’re a fan, you’ll love it. It’s not going to trouble their career highlights such as Stardust We Are, but it’s better than many others. I think on the strength of Waiting For Miracles the band may yet have one more solid gold classic album in them. For now, this will do just fine, and I very much recommend catching them when they return to these shores later in the year.
01. House of Cards (1:58)
02. Black Flag (7:42)
03. Miracles For America (10:03)
04. Vertigo (9:59)
05. The Bridge (5:32)
06. Ascending to the Stars (5:45)
07. Wicked Old Symphony (5:47)
08. The Rebel Circus (5:50)
09. Sleep With The Enemy (6:02)
10. The Crowning of Greed (4:50)
Time – 63:28
01. House of Cards Reprise (1:21)
02. Spirals (5:06)
03. Steampunk (6:34)
04. We Were Always Here (7:35)
05. Busking At Brobank (0:52)
Time – 21:28
Total Time – 84:56
Roine Stolt: Lead Guitar, Lead Vocals
Hasse Fröberg: Lead & Backing Vocals
Zach Kamins: Keyboards, Guitar
Jonas Reingold: Bass
Mirko DeMaio: Drums, Percussion
Michael Stolt – Bass, Vocals
John “Zach” Dellinger – Viola
Paul Cartwright – Violin
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 8th November 2019