There was a time when getting a new album from The Flower Kings every year or two wasn’t a sure thing. But that time is not now. Roine Stolt seems determined to get as much music as possible out of his inner psyche and into the ears of fans everywhere. Thus, double album after double album from The Flower Kings has inundated the market in recent years, amidst his many other extra-curricular projects. And while “Look At You Now” actually fits onto a single disc, its 68-minute run time is by no means compact. What is clear – if it was ever in question – is that Roine Stolt IS The Flower King and that his band continues to be a rotating cast of extended (and sometimes immediate) family who are welcome for their input but who do not define the band. Only Stolt does that.
This time around relatively new kid Zach Kamins is gone from the keyboard chair, which is kind of a shame given the creativity he brought to the past couple of releases. However, Stolt reminds us that he actually has played a surprising amount of keys on past albums, and so shall it continue on this new release with none of us being the wiser. As is evident from his rich layering of keys, he’s an excellent keyboardist in addition to guitarist. So, with the addition of keyboard whiz Lalle Larsson sitting in on a couple of tracks, there are few complaints to be made. Mirko DeMaio thankfully remains on drums and percussion – an engaging drummer who has steadfastly supported the band as of late and sounds especially energized here – occasionally supported by Hasse Bruniusson’s percussion. Michael Stolt has fully stepped into the bass position while Jonas Reingold continues to Hackett to bits around the world. Although Reingold may be one of the very best in the business, Stolt’s bass more than delivers on these tracks, he’s a strong asset to the band. Of course, Hasse Froberg shares lead vocals alongside of Stolt, so we do have that sense of TFK continuity. Now that we know who’s in and who’s out, what of the material itself?
On first blush, the sound of “Look At You Now” is that of classic Flower Kings at their warmest and flowery best. You can almost sense a paisley kaleidoscope casting its colors around your room as you listen. The band’s signature identity is unmistakably front and center; this is a sound design that only the The Flower Kings can conjure. To purists this might be a reason to celebrate, but for all the (literal) bells and whistles, the music is less diverse than on recent albums, particularly the more adventurous “Islands”. The downside of this fact is that a “samey” feel creeps in where it’s hard to say this hasn’t all been done before and – in many cases – done better. The songs are good but not particularly remarkable, given the band’s celebrated history. Put it this way: if this were the first The Flower Kings album to reach your ears, you might find tears of joy running down your face in discovering that prog is alive and well in 2023. But after 15 albums of this level of quality, this 16th release does feel pretty much like you would expect. Whether that is a compliment or a complaint is up to the listener.
Originally known for lengthy prog explorations, the band has been honing their skills at much shorter material as of late and this album is no exception, with most songs being well under 6 minutes. The opening track and single “Beginners Eyes” encapsulates the whole album – if you enjoy this classic The Flower Kings approach and hunger for more – “Look At You Now” is going to land well. The duet of Froberg and Stolt, a driving bass line, keyboard runs galore, percussive bliss, electric guitar leads, it’s all here. And so it continues for much of the album, some songs being weaker and some stronger (“Stronghold” particularly, by happy coincidence), full of flowery power.
A few songs stand out due to their guests: “The Queen” receives a royal, baroque reception thanks to Jorgen Salde’s lovely nylon string guitar playing; “Day For Peace” brings in Marjana Semkina (iamthemorning) for a beautiful duet; and “Mother Earth” finds Michael Stolt taking the lead vocal spot, his voice having some of the same inflections as his brother, only in a lower range. These pieces bring in a bit of much-needed diversity to the recording, though their brevity means they serve almost as pauses between the rest of the material.
“Season End” boasts gorgeous vocals as Stolt and Froberg trade lines, “The Light In Your Eyes” has a soaring chorus with Jannica Lund supporting on backing vocals, even as Froberg’s hits the edge of his range. Meanwhile, “Dr. Ribedeaux” dispenses with the vocals for a fun instrumental romp but it’s on “Stronghold” where Stolt really lets it fly on his guitar. The album closes with one longer song, the title track, which has all the makings of a The Flower Kings classic, from its lead guitar lines to sweeping choruses to majestic band arrangement.
In summary, the band sounds really good throughout the album, and Stolt’s mix is some of the best he’s delivered yet. DeMaio gets my pick as MVP due to his bevy of fills and inspired playing, plus fortunately he’s back up in the mix so we can enjoy it fully. While not revolutionary, “Look At You Now” is a solid release from the band, another chapter back in the world of Stolt adventures.
Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: September 8th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Rock
The Flower Kings are:
- Roine Stolt / Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
- Hasse Fröberg / Vocals, Guitar, Percussion
- Michael Stolt / Bass, Vocals, Guitar
- Mirko Demaio / Drums, Percussions
- Hasse Bruniusson / Percussion
- Lalle Larsson / Synthesizers
- Jannica Lund / Backing Vocal
- Marjana Semkina / Vocal
- Jörgen Sälde / Nylon Guitar
“Look At You Now” track-listing:
1. Beginner’s Eyes
2. The Dream
3. Hollow Man
4. Dr. Ribedeaux
5. Mother Earth
6. The Queen
7. The Light in Your Eyes
8. Seasons End
11. Father Sky
12. Day For Peace
13. Look At You Now
You can pre-order “Look at You Now” HERE.
The Flower Kings quickly return with their 16th album, another collection of shorter pieces bursting with flower power. Sounding in good form, “Look At You Now” sustains the band’s legacy quite well without bringing much new to the table aside from occasional guest cameos.