The Flower Kings have a new album coming out March 4, 2022, and it’s called By Royal Decree. It is a two-disc set that includes some songs that were written even before they recorded their first album! Brad Birzer and Tad Wert share their thoughts on this latest release from one of their favorite prog artists.
Brad: When one thinks about Third Wave prog, it’s rather impossible not to think about Roine Stolt and The Flower Kings. And, of course, who wouldn’t want to spend time thinking about Stolt? The man just exudes genius in every project he’s in, as does every manifestation of The Flower Kings.
Really, just think about how important Stolt is–not just to The Flower Kings, but to Transatlantic, Sea Within, Stolt/Anderson, Steve Hackett, The Tangent, his solo material. . . .
Amazingly, to me at least, I didn’t encounter The Flower Kings until 1999’s Flower Power. A student (now, thankfully, a beloved colleague) lent Flower Power to me, and I was rather and immediately gobsmacked by it. I then quickly purchased every previous release from the band and looked forward to every future release. There’s nothing the band has released that I don’t like, and I would rank Space Revolver, especially, as a top-ten of all time rock release for me, with Stardust We Are and Paradox Hotel ranked very highly as well. Unfold the Future, too. Anyway and regardless, The Flower Kings have been a favorite for me for nearly 23 years now, and I can’t imagine my adult life without the band providing a myriad of soundtracks to it.
This brings us to the latest by the band, the forthcoming By Royal Decree (Inside Out Music). It is, simply put, excellent, a double-album that reminds me very much of Stardust We Are. The band, once again, proves why it is still the most mischievous psychedelic prog band out there. The energy levels of the band are off the charts, and the uniquely Flower King flourishes are delightfully to be found throughout the album. And, I, for one, am very happy.
Tad: Brad, Mr. Stolt certainly spoils us fans, doesn’t he? After 2020’s huge two-disc Islands, he and his bandmates begin 2022 with another two-disc offering. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!
Since you outlined your history with the Flower Kings, I’ll just say that I first learned of them years ago after I read an article on prog rock in Mojo Magazine. There was a brief article on “new and up and coming prog artists”. Based on that article, I picked up Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia, Spock’s Beard’s V, and The Flower Kings’ Stardust We Are. I remain a devoted fan of all three groups and their various permutations and offshoots to this day.
So let’s take a look at By Royal Decree. First off, I absolutely love the cover art. I have no idea why the monkey is holding a timepiece, nor what significance the peacocks have, but it all gives the impression of some fantastical world that an Alice might fall into.
The first song that really grabs me is track 3: “Blinded”. I am a sucker for a sinuous bassline, and this song has one in spades. I also dig the soprano sax that trades solos with Roine’s guitar. The mix of jazz and rock in this song, along with the stop/starts and time changes, reminds me of ‘70s Frank Zappa.
Brad: Tad, it’s always good to review with you! Such a joy in this rather fallen world. And, thank God for The Flower Kings. Like you, it’s very hard to imagine the last two decades without them playing constantly in my life.
For what it’s worth, I don’t get the album cover either, but I think it’s gorgeous. I think–but am not sure–that it’s supposed to be a sequel cover to the earlier album, Waiting for Miracles. As much as I liked Roger Dean’s cover for Islands, I really love it when The Flower Kings are blatantly surrealistic and hippie-ish. This cover for By Royal Decree is just weird enough–and beautiful enough in its colors, especially–to make it exactly the right cover for this album. I’m assuming the monkey holding the watch is the great pretender?
I really like “Blinded” as well, and it has a very traditional TFK sound to it. Very angular in the construction of the song with fetching lyrics. In actuality, I really like the whole first disk as a whole. I think it blends together really nicely, again, reminding me of Stardust We Are. But, of course, musically–especially the sax part on “Blinded”–harkens back to Space Revolver. “I left my heart in San Francisco, I left my mind in San Francisco Bay!” In fact, one of the truly great aspects of this album is how much it plays with the history of the band itself, constantly echoing themes and melodies from previous albums.
Immediately after the wildly progressive and jazz-infused “Blinded”, the band gives us the very lush and poppish “A Million Stars,” which the band has also released as a video to support the album.
After “A Million Stars” comes the nearly-perfect track, “The Soldier,” a gut-wrenching examination of our darker sides, but with gorgeous bass playing and keyboards and drums. Indeed, every instrument just soars on this song. I also really love “Peacock on Parade,” the second from last track on disk one, as well as the final track, the resigned and circus-like “Revolution.”
Disk Two is every bit as strong as Disk One, with wonderfully odd tracks such as the progressive folky “Letter” and the soulful “Evolution” and the chamber-like drama of “Moth.” I’m especially taken with the “Big Funk” which brings back the Holy Mother of Unfold the Future, as well as the final song of the album, the rather complex “Funeral Pyres.”
Tad: Brad, I think Disk Two is a wee bit better than Disk One. “Evolution” is my favorite song on the album (at least today it is!). The organ intro conjures up classic Yes vibes for me, and it has a great hook in the melody.
Disk Two also closes incredibly strong: “The Big Funk”, “Open Your Heart”, “Shrine”, and “Funeral Pyre” are all terrific songs – a minisuite of excellence. On “Funeral Pyres” Stolt crafts one of his finest guitar solos ever.
All in all, I would say that By Royal Decree is at the top of The Flower Kings’ discography, and they have released a lot of great albums! As good as Islands was a couple of years ago, TRD is even better. Isn’t it impressive how prolific The Flower Kings are without any diminution in quality?
Brad: Tad, thank you so much for this joint review. Let me just conclude my part by stating, I am one very happy man. This is exactly The Flower King’s album I wanted and needed. A glorious return to all that makes the band so special. Roine Stolt is truly astounding as a composer, as a lyricist, and as a guitarist.