The Flower Kings

Paradox Hotel

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The ever prolific Roine Stolt brings his Swedish prog-rock monolith the Flower Kings back into the studio for a double-disc outing created around the notion of existence. Light stuff, eh? It is, actually. For those who are wrapped tight in prog rock's knotty, twist-and-turn melodies, quick-change tempos, harmonic extensions, eloquent, guitar pathways that are only topped by keyboard excesses that display acumen and prowess, and glistening production -- and production where it takes eight hours to get a guitar solo right in the studio -- Paradox Hotel will seem a tad foreign, and perhaps even strange. While it certainly has many of prog's long-expected tropes -- from eloquent expansive melodies that are more like suites than songs -- and rhythmic variation, it also does something very different. The songs are simpler, long to be sure, but full of gorgeous melodies, with a more hook-oriented manner of playing, and other than vocal harmonies and some sound effects, the set was recorded live the studio. It's looseness, gregariousness, and even, dare one say, tenderness is the kind of thing that may leave some -- if they could ever find this record -- curious but frightened by prog rock, to move toward it for a bit of a listen. And you'd be surprised. Paradox Hotel has the adventurous vision of Peter Gabriel-era of Genesis, the musicality of Yes, the playfulness of Gentle Giant, and the slippery, mercurial side of Pink Floyd. The music itself is thoroughly modern, electric rock. It has crescendos and dynamics all over the place, killer guitar solos, and Stolt is a fine singer as well as composer. The band gets in the act more this time as well in terms of writing, which is a plus. Naming individual songs here is somewhat futile, but "Jealously" and "Lucy Had a Dream," (reminiscent of Pink Floyd circa Wish You Were Here) on disc one, and Hasse Fröberg's "What if God Is Alone," and "Blue Planet," which ends the set, are all standouts. The white boy prog funk of "The Unorthodox Dancing Lesson," doesn't work at all but it is the exception rather than the rule. Paradox Hotel is the Flower Kings' most accessible yet simultaneously far-reaching album yet.

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