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Flower Kings – Top Ten List March 25, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Flower Kings, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Uncategorized.
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This is the first of what will be a series of posts offering Top-Ten lists of selections from various progressive rock bands, past and present. (When I started this blog, I said it would be mainly for writing, but with some surprises. I have now posted a number of times about music, including a few posts specifically about progressive rock: The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes, The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, Flower Kings – Top Ten list. I released my own mystic jazz CD “Issa Music” late last year.)

My first two posts will be about two more recent progressive rock groups, my favorite contemporary (within the last decade or so) groups. The first is a Top-Ten list for Flower Kings. (The next Top-Ten post will be about Spock’s Beard. Those familiar with this music know that key members of Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard, Roine Stolt and Neal Morse, combined their prodigious talents in the progressive rock super-group, Transatlantic.) I am not sure why we don’t hear a lot more about Flower Kings. I sort of stumbled on them a number of years ago when playing around at CD Universe, looking at “customers who bought this also bought this.” Flower Kings have produced album after album of fresh, dynamic material, big-themed, sophisticated development of musical themes—everything we can ask from progressive rock groups. I think their style resembles most closely the progressive rock group Yes, but also includes elements of Gentle Giant and King Crimson within their influences. And make no mistake about it, they have their own unique style!

Coming up with this list was not easy! It was mainly a challenge of narrowing things down.  I’ve included a second ten as well. (I won’t do that in every post.) I limited myself to the studio albums of the 1990s and 2000s (no live cuts included). I included Roine Stolt’s “The Flower King” album which includes many of the same personnel of the Flower Kings group—it really seems like a first Flower Kings album. It was not easy comparing shorter songs with longer ones. (In the case of Flower Kings, we’re talking about songs under six or seven minutes as short.) But, all disclaimers and explanations aside, here is my list. Of course, offer your own at the comment page! Or your quibbles…

10 – “Driver’s Seat” from “Adam and Eve,” 2004, 18:22
A rock epic about taking control, getting back into the “Driver Seat’s.” The middle section brings us a really wonderful alliance of a driving harmonic and rhythmic momentum carrying vivid lyrics, dramatizing how out of control our circumstances can get. This sets us on a musical journey ending with a repossession of the “Driver’s Seat,” “a million options chiming,” but ending with an ambiguous line—“Time is such a bitch and fate its little liar”—did we get into the “Driver’s Seat,” or was that impossible from the start?

9 – “I Am the Sun” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, Part I, 15:03; Part II, 10:48
Progressive rock at its best, with motivic and thematic development, shifting moods, twisting and turning through various sonic-scapes. There is a nice section in the middle of Part I with the repeating phrase “break down doors,” which then moves into a hard-edged riff and off to some hard-driving rock guitar work. Part I ends with a haunting, utterly gorgeous section, minor key shifting to major chord cadences:

            “In time our heart will open, you’ll let her in
            To see we are one, this one that we are
            In time your eyes will open, time will tell
            ‘Larger-than-life,’ ‘revolve among stars’”

Part II acts as a long coda, as if it is a few comments after the journey in Part I. This starts as a gentle, casual coda, and finishes with a final statement of the main theme, followed by an extended musical journey moving through synth, bass and guitar lines migrating over continually shifting chords.

8 – “The Flower King” from Roine Stolt’s 1994 album “The Flower King,” 10:28
Roine Stolt, the undoubted first among equal artists in the Flower Kings, says in the liner notes of “The Flower King” album that he recorded this song as a counterweight “to the flood of destructive, dark ‘n-evil-hard-core-death-trash-speed-black ‘n suicidal metal music’ out at the time.” Basically this is a simple anthem, with some progressive rock type development, but at its essence a simple positive statement, lyrically and musically. It can be considered nothing less than the theme song for this great progressive rock group, a group with the courage to reach out with some positivity during a time when cynicism often rules and optimism is often thought of as a synonym for naivete. This song also displays one of Roine Stolt’s big strengths as a songwriter; he creates anthems—this song would be the first of many for “Flower Kings.”

7 – “Monkey Business” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 4:20
This is the shortest song on this Top Ten list, essentially a modified blues progression song with a bridge. This made the list because the verses are catchy; it’s a tight little song. Each of the four verses starts out with a protestation of what the singer is not, followed by some clever phrases about what he is—better than a monkey, but not better than much of anything else.

6 – “Devil’s Playground” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 24:30
Here is one of those epic song/pieces characteristic of progressive rock. “Devil’s Playground” is about making a deal with the devil to survive. The Flower Kings call us out in this one:

            “This is how you raise the Cain
            This is what you teach our children
            Back on duty, dog eat dog
            Clueless in the Devil’s Playground”

The music backing this section is memorable and effective. They use it frequently within a number of musical settings. They seem to implore us to reconsider our activities on the “Devil’s Playground,” after working us through a musical journey. The 24 minutes holds together as a unified whole—provocative, evocative and musically satisfy.

5 – “In the Eyes of the World” from “Stardust We Are,” 1997, 10:38
A brilliant song about that insecurity people have all felt, that everyone watching us finds us to be ridiculous. From the driving organ ditty that starts it off, clown-like, leading to the weightier parts of the song, what makes it most effective is that the chorus starts well away from the tonic minor key and drifts toward it with a series of unresolved chords that finally payoff at the end of the line—“I’m just a clown in the eyes of the world.” There is some nice development, reminiscent of 1970s Gentle Giant. The song has an everyman allusion in it—that feeling that every mistake we make is on display for all to see.

4 – “Chicken Farmer Song” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 5:09
I admit it; this one is here because I simply love the way it sounds. I love the cascading vocal harmonies in the verses, the driving triplet-laden rhythm, and the fun chorus about being a “chicken farmer.” This is just a flawless song, gorgeously arranged, dreaming of the simpler life—no big spiritual/mystical event here, just a fun, well-crafted song! 

3 – “Genie in a Bottle” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 8:10
Another catchy one from the Floral Royalty—Yes, this one has a real sticky little hook!  “Look to the left, look to the right, I’m looking for a Genie in a Bottle!” But to go with that catchy hook is actually a much deeper song. It’s about that last hopeful dream when all hope seems lost—that desperate wish for a magic miracle that will solve all problems, that will lift the dreamer from the depths:

            “All I need is another dream
            All I need is some self-esteem
            Can you take me, can you take me this time?”

Just looking for that big miracle, that “Genie in a Bottle.”

2 – “Psycedelic Postcard” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 9:50 (that’s that way they spell it on the album…)
This one starts out quirky, almost as if it is a joke song—“the world is all in the hands of a juggler.” The timbre of the vocals could be called the Munchkins Tabernacle Choir, telling us about strange, maybe even drug-induced images. But by the end, the tone is much more serious—and uplifting. It is possible to be free of the absurdity of these images–

            “My Mind’s Eye can still see…..,
            Can’t take that away from me
            In My Mind’s Eye I’ll be free….,
            Freedom believer, Freedom deliver”

The journey of the song, from absurdity to uplifting anthem, puts it near the top of the list.

1 – “Love Supreme” from “Adam and Eve,” 2004, 19:50
“Coming up, growing up, looking for a bigger understanding
Coming up, growing up, speaking of respect for all the planet
Coming up, building up, new religion sees the light of day
Coming up, building up, changes ahead but don’t you be afraid”

For someone like me who loves progressive rock for the big themes, the ambitious song subjects, the long forms developed, forged with peaks and valleys, this is my favorite of the Flower Kings album selections. It shimmers with Steve Howe type leads and Yes-like vocal harmonies. We have the song of19:50culminating with almost a gospel-church feel—“…all my wanting is down to understanding,” “…all my longing is focused to be justified… I’m finding out just who I am.” When the musical journey charted by this epic ends, engaged listeners will feel as if they have been through a mystical experience.

The Second Ten

11 – “The Truth Will Set You Free” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 30:04

  • Great chorus for the title line, well-developed in this lengthy selection.

12 – “The Merry-Go-Round” from “Stardust We Are,” 1997 8:17

  • A musical whirlwind in five, shooting through changes like a fast merry-go-round! (It does move off into a more conventional four.)

13 – “Slave to Money” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 7:30

  • Strong, powerful piece about the perils of being a “Slave to Money”—“God may look at what we’ve done, knowing we are the ugly ones.”

14 – “Underdog” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 5:29

  • Classic Roine Stolt anthem/epic complete with bagpipe sounds.

15 – “Garden of Dreams” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 59:57 (18 parts)

  • Eighteen part epic disjointed and uneven at times, but “Don’t Let the d’Evil In” and “Love is the Word” are classic Flower Kings brilliance.

16 – “Silent Inferno” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 14:25

  • The “Silent Inferno” appears to be a reference to insomnia over second thoughts; the verses flow through a dark but gentle chord progression.

17 – “Deaf Dumb and Blind” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 11:09

  • Poignant piece about spiritual wisdom lost, with a great litany in the middle: “gone the spirit, gone the gold; gone the justice, so we’re told…”

18 – “Paradox Hotel,” from “Paradox Hotel,” 2006, 6:30

  • Hard rock riff gives this relatively simple song big energy.

19 – “Road to Sanctuary” from “The Rainmaker,” 2001. 13:50

  • Big wall-of-sound theme with driving guitar riffs contrasts with gentle emotional sections in Roine Stolt’s classic anthem style.

20 – “Monsters and Men” from “Paradox Hotel,” 2006, 21:19

  • Musical call for rejection of fanaticism, and for reconciliation, includes poignant vocal harmonies: “the more you look, the more you try; the more you free the inner eye; there’s a mountain we can climb.”
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Comments»

1. Jess O'Neill - April 28, 2012

For the most part I agree with this list. Chicken Farmer Song is an amazing theme to summer, and can daydream you away somewhere better when listened to in the dead of winter. Very few songs can pull you away from it all like that.

My only disagreement comes from your top two. I always found Psycedelic Postcard to be unlistenable because of the weirdness at the beginning. ‘Just This Once’ is the same, even though after that weird beginning is a great song. Sometimes I run Flower Kings tracks through an audio editor and cut the songs a bit shorter by removing the weird stuff that makes you want to fast forward when your friends are in the car (What… is.. he… listening… to?).

So, I would put Truth Will Set You Free and Garden of Dreams into that top ten. I would have also tried to squeeze Retropolis in as well. Otherwise, stellar list.

2. rwf1954 - April 28, 2012

Jess, Thanks for stopping by and offering your comment. On issues like this, one opinion is as good as another, so I appreciate that people who stop by to look at this list will have the benefit of your comment as well. I understand what you mean about the beginning of “Psycedelic Postcard.” I think I got used to the distorted beginning because I liked what developed so much!

3. baskinginidlepenury - December 7, 2012

I have just listened to my first flower king’s song, ‘welcome back to the world of adventure’ and I like it.


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