So, The Flower Kings unleashed album number sixteen, Look At You Now, on 8 September. I imagine most prog fans will have made up their minds some time ago as to whether TFK were for them, and to be honest, I rather doubt that this release will change anyone’s mind one way or the other. To the devotee, it is a wonderful collection of songs, lovingly crafted by as fine a bunch of musicians as you will find; an uplifting and positive combination of symphonic sweep and melodic hooks, and an optimistic and modern spin on their familiar sound.
To anyone who has yet to dip their toes into the Flower Kings waters, this is as good a place to begin as any, as this sounds as strong an album to me as they’ve released for a few years. It is accessible, with no gratuitously long epics, and only one song over the ten minute mark, so short attention spans are catered for. But in some ways, that is a moot point. Most songs seep into the next with hardly a pause, and the subtle use of repeated themes and melodies gives the impression of a continuous suite of songs. I discussed this point with Roine Stolt in a recent interview, and he likened the approach used here with that employed when recording the hour long epic Garden of Dreams way back on the Flower Power album in 1999. The only difference was that on the new album, the individual parts have been separated into discreet tracks. To my mind, it’s a valid point, although on Look At You Now, the individual songs are more obvious than the different sections of Garden of Dreams. But ultimately, does it matter? The band fully expect listeners to pick and choose their favourite songs and consume new music in whatever format or medium they like, and many of us will listen to playlists rather than entire albums. However, an old school listener like me still thinks immersing oneself in a new record from start to finish takes some beating, and in this particular case, it is well worth doing so. The natural flow of the songs becomes apparent, the recurring themes and motifs add a pleasing extra level of interest, and there is always something new to pick up on with repeated plays, such is the rich detail imbued in the album.
Opening track Beginner’s Eyes starts in typical Flower Kings fashion, with a flamboyant intro which could be nobody else. Mirko Dimaio is crisp and precise on drums, locking together with Michael Stolt on bass, forming a rhythm section to be reckoned with, whilst Roine Stolt provides his trademark guitar theatrics and layered keyboard fills. In fact, it’s not terribly obvious which keys are his, and which are provided by Lalle Larsson. Previous keyboardist Zach Kamins is sadly no longer in the ranks, as it proved too difficult to fly him over to Sweden from the US for rehearsals and recordings, but it seems Lalle, an old friend from Agents of Mercy days, has stepped in, at least for this album and tour. Roine and Hasse Fröberg provide the vocals, and as always, their voices complement each other so well. This song is actually as old as the hills, being something Roine wrote before the Flower Kings even existed. It has been rediscovered and dusted down, and is a sumptuous slice of prog which sounds fantastic.
It melts into The Dream, an anthemic rallying call. Hasse’s impassioned vocals soar, and Roine’s guitar scales the heights. This acts as a prelude to Hollow Man, where Fröberg takes the lead vocal on a piece which is deceptively simple, yet complicated in its arrangement, and utterly engaging. The lyrics are typically flowery, innocent and oblique.
You’re just a flicker of light.”
Yes, well it might look daft on paper, but in context it sounds great, trust me!
Dr Ribedeaux is a scatty instrumental with a synth solo so slick it has to be the work of Lalle Larsson. Exquisite stuff. Then we are hurled into Mother Earth, and some more obvious lyrics with real meaning which aren’t really open to interpretation.
What’s been seen can’t be unseen.
Hold your breath, clear your mind,
She was our first, she’ll be our last.
There are no shortcuts in this world,
How will we be remembered?”
How indeed? Being The Flower Kings, we end the song on a note of hopefulness:
It’s not too late.”
This clarion call leads into a regal instrumental, all pomp and circumstance, appropriately titled The Queen. Some of the guitar work aptly sounds not a million miles away from Brian May, which is a nice touch. We segue into The Light in Your Eyes, another helping of rich velvety progressive rock with another outstanding vocal performance from Hasse Fröberg, deft guitar touches from Roine and some bass gravitas from brother Michael.
If anything, Season’s End is even better. A slightly ominous undercurrent is cut through with some of the best guitar playing on the album. This slice of symphonic grandeur is shot through with a sinuous rhythm and superb drums and percussion. This atmosphere is further developed on Scars, a robust jazzy workout, complete with Zappa-esque embellishments which make me smile every time! Stronghold sounds similar to some of the Roine Stolt contributions to Transatlantic, being a slightly darker song than its predecessors, and an excellent contrast in tone and mood. Too much optimism might make for a rather dull listen, and this is a well placed piece with an outstanding guitar solo scrawled across the sky as if plucked from the heavens. Father Sky picks up on previous themes again, providing continuity and interest, and helping bind the album together, and proving that it’s far better to hear it in the context of the rest of the album rather than in isolation. It also picks up the pace prior to the quaint and fragile Day For Peace, where lead vocals are shared with Marjana Semkina of Iamthemorning, on a piece which could have been written for her. Again, threads from previous songs are interwoven into this new piece, and it works brilliantly.
Finally, we come to the big finish, and the only really long song on the album. If you found the last couple of albums rather over long, both being double CDs, you might be pleased to hear that this time we are limited to a single disc, and I think it has paid dividends in that there are no flabby extras to judiciously prune when playing the album. It has left us with more quality, and the title track is no exception. At 12-minutes, it is by far the longest track, but it certainly isn’t long for the sake of it, and by Flower Kings standards, it’s a babe! It’s a wonderfully crafted exercise in positivity and hope, and the climax is a ‘lighters in the air’-style piece of pure magic.
Light the king, light the crown,
Like the sweetness of sounds,
How they echo and will resound,
Carry on, carry on – a brand new day has begun.”
The vibe is very Yes like, and we fade away slowly and gently, rather like Soon at the end of The Gates of Delerium. Total class. And that’s it, no need to put on a second disc of filler, it’s all top notch. The only remaining thing to say, I suppose, is that it is a bit of a grower. It took me a number of plays to appreciate the depth within this collection of songs, but once it clicks, you’re away. It’s without doubt their best album in a few years, and I’m confident they are headed in the right direction. The upcoming live shows will prove that, I’m sure.
[You can read Graham’s interview with Roine Stolt HERE.]
01. Beginner’s Eyes (4:37)
02. The Dream (4:39)
03. Hollow Man (5:02)
04. Dr. Ribedeaux (3:04)
05. Mother Earth (4:18)
06. The Queen (5:28)
07. The Light in Your Eyes (5:48)
08. Seasons End (5:27)
09. Scars (5:29)
10. Stronghold (6:46)
11. Father Sky (3:08)
12. Day for Peace (3:14)
13. Look at You Now (11:49)
Total Time – 68:49
Roine Stolt – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Hasse Fröberg – Vocals
Michael Stolt – Bass, Vocals, Keyboards (track 5), Guitar (5)
Mirko Dimaio – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards (track 12)
Lalle Larsson – Keyboards
Hasse Bruniusson – Percussion (track 3)
Jannica Lund – Backing Vocals (tracks 1,2,3,5,7,11 & 13)
Marjana Semkina – Vocals (track 12)
Jörgan Sälde – Nylon Guitar (track 6)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 8th September 2023