Just a little time before our summer holidays began, The Flower Kings left us a sweet&sour taste with the release of their last album. More than one that with no doubt must have bought such a CD, will have realized what I am pointing out. It is the kind of record which wants to sound different from TFK, but it sounds to TFK, and wants to follow the TFK style but is different from everything they made before. In my modest point of view it pleases nobody.
Let it be clearly understood that the one writing this review really admires this band that I consider the best band of the nineties and without a shadow of doubt I place "Stardust we are" among the best albums in the whole history.
Up to now we were used to an style with its own identity but in the line of the classics and capable to astonish releasing incredible melodies in grounds that seemed to be already exhausted. What we have found now is a CD with an impressive instrumental power, great quality recording (in fact with the profits got with Transatlantic, Roine have invested in new material for the recording studio), but which lacks of melodic beauty, TFKs banner.
According to R.Stolt, a new sound with reference to The Beatles, Doors, Zappa, Hendrix, ELP, Genesis, pop music wanted to be offered. Furthermore, staff previously planned for Transatlantic project, and rejected then, is used.
The result: naturalness and spontaneity of previous works are definitely lost and that benefits to experimentation, sound barriers and to wonder along the wide space that music allows.
The release of this CD includes two different and limited editions: the European and the Japanese. The European differs from the normal just in the album binding in the style of Transatlantic, keeping the same tracks than the normal edition. The Japanese edition includes one bonus formed into five songs ("The Meadow", "A good Heart", "Dream on Dreamer" with Tomas as leader voice-, "Venus Fly Trap" and "Last Exit" instrumental version of "The Kings Prayer").
They maintain the same lineup, returning Ulf Wallander on the sax and leaving the bass on the hands of Jonas Reingold, who yet joined the band in 1999 tour. Ah!, dont be afraid if you dont find Jaime Salazar on the list of the band members; it is just because of a mistake. The very weight of the composition rests once again upon Stolt, although Bodin and Fröberg also take part composing some of the songs, while Reingold pushes hard from behind to highlight.
The album begins with the first part of a suite divided in two for stylistic reasons. Therefore "I Am The Sun (part one)" (15:03) tries to create the sense that we are again in the presence of another TFKs classic song. But when you reach the second minute or so, you suddenly realize that it is just a musical wall, with rhythms close to "Go West Judas", which progresses nowhere, repeating again and again to saturation. Then you get to some kind of "nightmare tunnel", lack of control, from which you want to emerge to find the beauty and the calm, that you can just see at the end of it. They come shaped like sax and vocal melodies as well as Bodins piano almost ending the first dosage of the theme.
It is followed by two Bodins songs. "Dreamer on Dreamer" (2:43) is a single ballad that includes voice-sax-bass dialogs covered under a synthesizers net that we should be glad for after last track overdose. "Rumble Fish Twist" (8:06); is an instrumental theme pretending to live recorded, but voices of the audience actually come from a baseball match. Jaime Salazar playing a hell rhythm leads to Reingold and Bodin. This could remind us of "Eye for an eye" from Reingolds "Universe" or Bodins "Into The Dreamscape", and finally evolves towards a bass solo in the style of the one that Jonas performed in Caracol Hall in September 1999. It finally results in a calm full with descriptive beauty. Roine is right when says that the ultimate improvements in equipment have far benefit to Jaime: drums are heard with impressive transparency.
"Monster Within" (12:55) is a theme thought for the project Transatlantic. It begins with vocoders games - Hitler voice included- in the style of "Psicodelic Postcard" or "Circus Brimstone". It can rather remind of S. Hackets "Darktown". Its structure is somehow disconcerting, it seems as if a shorter version of a double-lasting suite had been done. Instrumental developments remind of the ones employed in songs like "Retropolis" with master moments in which the deployment of every king of keyboards makes you really enjoy somehow. Anyway they are also accompanied with moments in which voices and guitars sound too loud and could saturate you.
"Chicken Farmer Song" (5:29) is a quite single track that reminds somehow of Beatles. It says nothing new, however it is well constructed: each instrument sounds where it should do. It is properly produced and its development although predictable, involves some instrumental surprises between the third and the fourth minute. It stylistically links with next theme "Underdog" (5:29) and could be even said that is a part of it, however the latter includes something new: synthesised pipes at the beginning and at the end which seems to be one song of Saviour Machines "Apocalypse".
"You Don´t Know What You´ve Got" (2:39), is a melody composed by Hans Fröberg, developed with an acoustic guitar, beach percussion, harmonica and a voice- voices in the style of The Beach Boys. Catchy and thats all.
"Slave To Money" (7:30), begins with a march in the military style which rapidly links to a sound closer to TFK, although quickly a change of the rhythm makes it to go along different environments: church, rhythm&blues, even S. Wonder It finishes with a guitar solo in the style of Gilmour. That is the other theme that Stolt took with to the recording of Transatlantic.
"A Kings Prayer" (6:02). Ladies and gentlemen I´m sorry but this is the best song of the album, a wonder possible just for these great genius. Acoustic guitar and voice opens a song in which the piano is the base of a precious melody and the voices of Roine and Hans fill the space. An instrumental crescendo is reached about minute four which finishes as one of the beginning sections of "Monster Within".
"I Am The Sun (part two)" tries to leave the good taste in mouth that every record of this band has left before, and somehow it succeeds. The happiness identified first with Stolts voice and then with Wallanders sax, leads now the musical development, and commands the rest of the instruments. Certain Spanish guitar moments on the wave of McCartney relay with Bodins delights. The end: to enjoy calmly, reminds of the environments that Wakeman gifted our ears with themes in the style of "Awaken" or "Mind Drive".
To sum up, a "good" record that will leave no one indifferent. On one side the unconditional admirers of the band will blindly speak about it saying that it is an evolution, a progression The ones who criticized them because of looking like classics, may find some interest in this new job, but surely will not provoke any reaction. Anyway there is something crystal clear: The Flower Kings are alive.