Inside Out [Release date: 30 October 2020]
There’s a debate that rages in a certain music magazine as to what is and what isn’t “prog” – where much pointless navel-gazing and hand-wringing occurs in trying to decide whether the likes of Tears For Fears are “prog” or not. Who cares?
What can be declared, however, is that Sweden’s finest, The Flower Kings, practically define the genre – for this is what should be termed “hardcore” prog, where nothing is quite what it seems and nothing, and I mean nothing, hangs around long enough for the listener’s attention to wander for one second.
A lot of progressive rock fans at the “hard” end of the prog spectrum (who follow King Crimson’s every note for example) would argue that this is what prog is all about – those at the more melodic end of said spectrum, and I include myself in this grouping, find it somewhat irksome.
Recorded during the Covid lockdown, with individual members squirting their contributions down the line, the album lacks the cohesiveness that tends to occur when bands assemble in a studio, this being compounded by the sprawling total of 21 tracks over a double album.
That’s not to say that ‘Islands’ is a bad album, it’s not – there are sections where the band really shines – it’s just that condensing it to a single album would have made it so much better.
Unlike a lot of previous TFK albums where twenty-minute-plus workouts are de-rigeur, a majority of the tracks on ‘Islands’ clock in around the four or five minute mark with just one, ‘Solaris’, getting even close to being an ‘epic’.
Things begin with a clutch of songs so derivative that by the time Track 6 begins you’re starting to wonder if they’re taking the piss – ‘Racing With The Blinders On’ is Tangerine Dream with guitars, ‘From The Ground’ is Yes, ‘Black Swan’ could be Queen (replete with Brian May-like guitar), ‘Morning News’ is the bastard child of The Beatles and Chris Rea (driving home for Christmas via Strawberry Fields) and ‘Broken’, another Yes homage with what sounds like The Simpson’s theme tune thrown in.
Much of what follows involves numerous ‘Spot The Band’ moments – Hawkwind, Santana, John Coltrane all take a bow and even The Pineapple Thief make an appearance on ‘Telescope’.
Highlights though include ‘Man In A Two Peace Suit’ which is a great excursion for Roine Stolt’s guitar pyrotechnics and the instrumental ‘Looking For Answers’ which begins with Gregorian chant and segues into Camel-like flute and guitar.
Throughout, the musicianship is as good as you would expect from a band who have been around as long as The Flower Kings, it’s just a shame that the pandemic denied them the opportunity to come together to sharpen things up and, perhaps, squeeze out the filler.
Moments of brilliance, but a bit too complex for all but the ideologically pure. ***
Review by Alan Jones
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