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FANTASIA (MNW CDR13) [1979/1992]

THE FLOWER KING (Foxtrot CD 011) [1994]



THE FLOWER KINGS: STARDUST WE ARE {2 CDs} (Foxtrot CD 018) [1997]

Roine Stolt seems to be a powerhouse in the current Swedish progressive scene. The guitarist started out in the mid-seventies Swedish band, Kaipa, three of whose albums (the first three) have been reissued on CD by Musea. (It is probably not a coincidence that Musea had Stolt's assistance on those reissues, nor that Stolt left Kaipa after the group's third album and the remaining albums -- described as having abandoned progressive rock for a shot at commercial success -- are not available on CD.) Kaipa's albums were never exported outside Sweden in the seventies, and probably would not have had much impact if they had been. Nor do they give a strong indication of what Stolt would accomplish later, despite his dominance of the composing credits by the third album.

After Stolt left Kaipa in 1979 he and follow bandmate Mats Lindberg (who had also quit Kaipa) put together Stolt's first "solo" album, FANTASIA, drawing on the talents of a variety of other Swedish musicians. On first hearing I thought I was hearing the aural equivilent of cotton candy: music of incredible sweetness and little apparent substance. Subsequent hearings changed my mind: the music was no less sugary, but did have a surprisingly substantial underpinning. Nonetheless, this is not music that will appeal to everyone. I'm reminded of the saccharine efforts of The Enid.

FANTASIA was a "home recording," made on a Teac Tascam 8-track recorder. By the mid-nineties Stolt had put together a recording studio (Foxtrot Studio) and had his own label (Foxtrot Records). (It's a safe bet that "Foxtrot" comes from the Genesis album of that name; the progressive Swedes like to honor their heroes. Par Lindh -- a contemporary of Stolt's -- calls his studio and label "Crimsonic.") 

THE FLOWER KING was the first product of Foxtrot. It lacks the sugariness of FANTASIA, but retains the broadly-based melodicism. One can hear affectionate bows to Yes and Genesis in little quoted licks scattered (appropriately) through the music -- even nods to Zappa and Prince. There is a huge difference between what Stolt is doing here and the kind of "generic Genesis" produced by bands like Marillion, Pendragon, or Cast. Stolt is not copying the style of others -- he is making knowledgeable references which act as cues to the cognoscenti, but have musical validity on their own and thus are still effective for listeners unaware of Stolt's influences.

After the initial release of FANTASIA, Stolt formed a band called Fantasia. History repeats itself: After the release of THE FLOWER KING, Stolt put together a new band, The Flower Kings. And, like his earlier band, he included in it his brother Michael on bass. And on keyboards he brought in Tomas Bodin (whose Foxtrot album, AN ORDINARY NIGHT IN MY ORDINARY LIFE is reviewed elsewhere in these pages) -- who would eventually begin contributing compositionally as well, bringing a darker sensibility to the music in places, and whose mellotron playing is skilled, sensitive, and occasionally evocative of vintage King Crimson.

There have been, thus far, three albums from The Flower Kings. They are remarkably consistent in terms of evolving a definite "Flower Kings" style, and while all are well worth a listen, there is also a sense of growth and development running through them so that each marks a slight improvement over what has preceded it. If you like one, you'll like them all.

But the most recent album, STARDUST WE ARE, makes a quantum leap of sorts: it's a two-CD set and twice as long as the previous albums, clocking in at a bit more than two hours and ten minutes -- longer than most concert performances! (Not only that, there's a "hidden track" at the end of the first CD.) It's a tour de force for the Kings, covering a broad musical palette, ranging from "typical" Flower Kings songs to spacy mellotron excursions, all of it comprising a vast suite that is impossible to fully digest in only a few hearings. I like that; I like the ongoing sense of discovery offered by albums like this. Repeated plays keep turning up new bits to appreciate.

Roine Stolt's albums are a definite shot in the arm for the current progressive rock scene. They've carved for themselves their own place in contemporary Swedish rock, and I look forward to the next. Indeed, virtually any release on Stolt's Foxtrot label is worth checking out.

For more Roine Stolt reviews, click here.

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