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Rainmaker
Rainmaker
Price: $12.94
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Flower Kings' weakest album; try something else instead, August 7, 2003
This review is from: Rainmaker (Audio CD)
After five albums - two of them double-CDs - it's perhaps not surprising that the Flower Kings ran out of gas at last. The Rainmaker is largely uninspired and uninteresting, "beating out" Stardust We Are as their weakest album.
"Last Minute on Earth" is the album's signature track, but it's keyed by a grating and unmelodic guitar riff. The melody for the verses is pleasant, but it feels unsatisfying, never really reaching a climax. Ultimately, it feels like an attempt to recapture the feel of "World of Adventures" from their first album, but it's not successful.
The best track on the album is the instrumental title track, which has some of the interplay and sophisticated arrangements that mark the Kings' better instrumentals, but it feels out of place among the rest of the album. Tracks like "Road to Sanctuary" and "City of Angels" are very by-the-numbers straightforward songs with unfortunate choruses and finishes to their melodies. "Serious Dreamers" is a strange little tune with a chanted refrain interspersed with some light verses sung by guitarist/vocalist Stolt. It's a curiosity, but not really a great song.
The rest of the album is weak even by comparison with these tracks, though "Elaine" is a decent little folk-poppish ditty (with rather peculiar lyrics). At the end of the day, though, you're not liable to be turning back to The Rainmaker for repeated listening. If you're new to The Flower Kings, I recommend Space Revolver or Retropolis (or - of all things - their first album, Back in the World of Adventures) instead.


Space Revolver
Space Revolver
Price: $13.99
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Flower Kings' best album - start listening here!, August 4, 2003
This review is from: Space Revolver (Audio CD)
When I first got interested in the Flower Kings, I'd heard that Space Revolver and Stardust We Are were the places to start. I bought Space Revolver first since it's only a single CD, and boy was I glad I did! Ultimately, Space Revolver is the Kings' best album to date (whereas Stardust We Are is a very mixed bag).
It was the first track, "I Am The Sun (Part 1)" which hooked me in, with its meaty overture and then its thumping bass-driven verses and chorus, covered with guitarist Roine Stolt's smooth voice. Although it trails off in the second half into modern free jazz riffs and arrangements, it's still overall a strong start to the disc. It's unfortunately followed by "Dream On Dreamer", the album's weakest track.
Things quickly pick up again: "Rumble Fish Twist" is an engaging and driving instrumental, and "Monster Within" is a strong and portentious track whose sounds (again heavily driven by the bass) evoke images of old monster movies. "Underdog" is a soaring anthemic piece driven by Stolt's vocals and with a deceptively complex orchestration.
"You Don't Know What You've Got" is a quiet break from the powerful melodies of the previous tracks, a simply arranged piece based around a simple vocal melody. It's followed by the lengthy and varied "Slave To Money".
But the album shines the brightest on the final two tracks. "Kings Prayer" is an outstanding rock song which evokes images of bygone ages, making excellent use of Tomas Bodin's synthesizer skills, a variety of percussion, and Stolt's vocals at their very finest. It goes out with perhaps Stolt's single best guitar solo, which feels a little like Mark Knopfler's style, but much more accomplished.
Finally, "I Am The Sun (Part 2)" comes down from the guitar high to go out with some gentle melodies, tying back to some of the album's earlier sonic themes. It took me a bit to get into this one, but it's an excellent farewell for what is essentially a terrific album.
One problem the Flower Kings sometimes have is that their style hasn't varied greatly over the course of their albums; their style is instantly recognizeable, but so much so one wonders whether they have much range. Space Revolver displays a much greater range and variety of songs than any other Flower Kings album, as well as some of their greatest compositions and performances. If you haven't heard the Flower Kings before, this is a great starting point. The only downside is that it's all downhill from here. Then again, both Retropolis and Back in the World of Adventures are great albums in their own right...


Flower Power (2CD)
Flower Power (2CD)
Price: $16.99
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two albums in one - but one's good, the other's dull, August 4, 2003
This review is from: Flower Power (2CD) (Audio CD)
Flower Power is the Flower Kings' second consecutive double-album. Whereas Stardust We Are was a set of decent material interspersed with a set of extraneous songs, Flower Power is two fairly separate CDs: A weak one followed by a fairly strong one.
The weak one, alas, is the first disc, which is almost entirely composed of "The Garden of Dreams", one of the weakest long-form progressive rock compositions since Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans. As with the weak long-form Yes songs, "Garden" is weak on melodies and lyrics, and cascades from one unmemorable track (it's comprised of 18 of them) to another, with a sudden and unexplained shift to "Don't Let the D'evil In", which sounds like it was intended as a single edit. After a dozen listens, almost nothing in "Garden" sticks in my memory; whatever the Kings were going for, either they didn't make it, or it wasn't worth striving towards.
On the up side, the first disc closes with "Astral Dog", one of the Kings' better instrumentals, which evokes the sound and style of Joe Satriani at his best.
The second disc, however, is a decent Flower Kings album and salvages the album as a whole. It kicks off with the punchy "Deaf, Numb and Blind", which has one of the Kings' more memorable keyboard melodies keying its overall sound. It's followed by the equally energetic "Stupid Girl", which seems almost like a prog riff on late-90s industrial pop such as that by Garbage.
Other strong tracks include the vaguely psychedelic "Magic Pie" and (not surprisingly) "Psycedelic Postcard" [sic]. "Pie" in particular is rather inspiring in its melody, and is one of the stronger non-Roine-Stolt-penned Kings songs. "Painter" is a pleasant love song of sorts, and "Corruption" is a bit edgier.
Overall, Flower Power is a mixed bag, by turns bitterly disappointing and quietly rewarding. One wonders why the Kings turn out double CDs when their material generally seems better suited to some editing and cutting and release on a single CD. While Flower Power has some good stuff, it doesn't measure up to Back in the World of Adventures, Retropolis, or Space Revolver.


Stardust We Are (2CD)
Stardust We Are (2CD)
Price: $16.99
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much filler, one of their weaker albums, August 1, 2003
This review is from: Stardust We Are (2CD) (Audio CD)
Following on the heels of Retropolis, one might get excited by the prospect of a double-length Flower Kings CD. Unfortunately, Stardust We Are is the first real indication of one of the Kings' big weaknesses: Too much material, and not enough discrimination to filter out the questionable stuff.
Stardust We Are doesn't really have a grade-A track on it, though it comes close with "Church of Your Heart", which is a strong ballad with surprisingly emotional vocals by guitarist Roine Stolt.
One of the album's big problems is that it's littered with short tracks of little consequence, like "Poor Mr. Rain's Ordinary Guitar", "Crying Clown", "Pipes of Peace" or "A Day at the Mall". Another is that the title track is a whopping 25 minutes long, and has maybe 6 minutes worth of good ideas (mainly the refrain). The instrumental "Don of the Universe" is a more complex and enjoyable song, and is based around the same melodies of "Stardust We Are", to much better effect.
The other long tracks are merely okay at best. "In the Eyes of the World" is a straightforward rocker with some pecular circus-like melodies, and it doesn't hold together very well. "Compassion" is a very downbeat - and dull - piece. "Kingdom of Lies" is an okay but rather transparent pop piece. "Different People" is a smooth and rousing track. "The Merrygoround" is the best of this lot, with some exciting vocals and enjoyable bridging sections. All-in-all, though, there's a lot which could have been edited down or left out entirely without losing anything important.
Slogging through a mediocre album in search of a few gems is tremendously frustrating; one wishes the album would just be honest with itself and get downright bad. Stardust We Are doesn't reach this point, and it never quite manages to get really good or really bad, and most of what is good about it shows up on other Flower Kings albums in greater quantity.
If you've been curious about the Flower Kings and have considered starting with Stardust (as some have suggested), my advice is that you go elsewhere. Back in the World of Adventures, Retropolis, or Space Revolver would be much better starting points, both in quality and in focus.


Retropolis
Retropolis
Price: $13.99
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, tight album, August 1, 2003
This review is from: Retropolis (Audio CD)
The Flower Kings' second album is, if anything, a bit better than their first, Back in the World of Adventures. After the throwaway intro "Rhythm of Life" is the lengthy and soaring instrumental title track which keys album by painting a cinematic and portentious mood.
The next two tracks are the album's highlights - almost. "Rhythm of the Sea" is a relatively quiet track of gentle longing, and it's followed by the anthemic "There is More to This World". The latter has a rousing and punchy first half, but rather than tailing off it evolves into a quieter and more intricate repetition of the refrain, interlacing several voices, before building back to its crescendo. It took a few listens before I really got into it, but the second half really makes the song.
The next several tracks are something of a mixed bag. Though vocalist/guitarist Roine Stolt writes most of the Kings' material, keyboardist Tomas Bodin adds the occasional piece. But all three of his tracks here are of little note: The aforementioning "Rhythm of Life" is 30-seconds of a ping-pong game; "Romancing the City" is a 1-minute - if pleasant - piano piece; and "Retropolis by Night" is a dour collection of mostly-synthetic sounds and little melody (a kind of depressing counterpoint to Stolt's overture piece).
Stolt's middle pieces are also so-so. "The Melting Pot" is a good instrumental. "Silent Sorrow" borders on mainstream rock but ultimately isn't very interesting. "The Judas Kiss" feels grating.
But the album goes out with a bang. "Flora Majora" is the Kings' first truly classic track, a throbbing, soaring, thrilling instrumental which starts with Bodin's tendency to work with highly repetitive melodies, and then evolves by adding some of Stolt's best guitar work as Bodin provides the harmonic underpinnings in much the same way Pete Townshend's synthesizers did on some of The Who's best work. After this, you'd think the concluding "The Road Back Home" would be a bit of a letdown, but it's actually an understated track with echoes of some of Paul McCartney's Beatles work coming through it. A satisfying closer to the album.
It would be a while before the Kings surpassed this album (though they finally did in 2000 with Space Revolver), and it's a modern prog masterpiece nonetheless.


Back in the World of Adventures
Back in the World of Adventures
Price: $13.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Kings got off to a good start, August 1, 2003
The Flower Kings - one of the premiere 90s progressive rock acts - got off to a strong start with this album, and it's not a bad place to start listening to them, if you're curious.
Typical Kings songs are marked by tight performances and complex arrangements, usually cascading between Roine Stolt's colorful guitar work and Tomas Bodin's rhythmic approach to keyboards, with Stolt's powerful voice providing the vocals.
"World of Adventures" is the keynote piece for the album, and is one of the best the group has done, with a strong instrumental intro which feels like an overture, before gliding into the verses. It also incorporates some choral elements in places. In retrospect, one can see that the Kings have often tried to recapture some or all of the feel of this song (for instance, "Last Minute on Earth" from the album The Rainmaker feels like it's in the same vein, but it's not nearly as successful).
Adventures is notable for alternating - almost consciously - between vocal and instrumental tracks, which varied success. Among the instrumentals, "Theme For A Hero" is an excellent, lengthy and evocative piece, but "Temple of the Snakes" is a throwaway track with some unusual sounds but nothing else. On the vocal side, "Cosmic Lover" is quite strong, being the most accessible track on the album (in that it has a bit more of a pop-music feel - not a bad thing), but "Go West Judas" often feels abrasive (a characteristic which crops up in Stolt's vocal or guitar styles from time to time on later albums). The album concludes with "Big Puzzle", which is a little bit of both - a quieter mirror image of "World of Adventures".
One doesn't come to the Kings expecting strong emotional hooks in their songs; complex and challenging music is the word of the day here. Back in the World of Adventures provides plenty of that in spades, so if that's what you're looking for, check it out.


The Bone Doll's Twin (Tamir Trilogy, Book 1)
The Bone Doll's Twin (Tamir Trilogy, Book 1)
by Lynn Flewelling
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.03
97 used & new from $0.01

13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overlong, unnecessary, and incomplete, June 15, 2003
The Bone Doll's Twin employs a nasty bait-and-switch tactic of not actually informing the reader that it's the first of a trilogy on the cover or back cover. So I expected a complete story and only got, what, one-third of one?
The story itself feels remarkably generic. It's set in a basic feudal society, replete with travelling and consulting wizards having prophecies and trying to guide the future. The essential hook of the story - that Tobin is a girl unknowingly in boy's form - is intriguing, but almost ignored by the story's substance (it briefly rears its head at the end, in a rather contrived manner, but is otherwise a side issue). Instead, the book focuses on Tobin's youth shelted at his father's remote keep, learning to be a warrior and bedeviled by a demon. Not particularly novel stuff, it's competently told, but so are many such fantasies.
Two-thirds in, it became clear that Flewelling wasn't going to resolve the story in the next 150 pages, and my interest flagged. The story that is here could easily have been edited down to half its length with little of import lost. The characters are fairly bland, sticking to some tried-and-true stereotypes involving honor, duty, and loss. And the tension is all in the background - there's fairly little true confict for Tobin to face, and very little that he can do about anything directly himself. In that way - and with the shifting point of view the novel employs - there's no true protagonist, and it's hard to care about any of the characters as characters - just as pawns in a game.
Contrast this with Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series, which tread similar ground of duty and honor in the name of one's father, but which do so with dramatic, eloquent characterizations and tense conflicts where the character faces the chance of real loss - and doesn't always win. The Bone Doll's Twin is tame by comparison. (More obviously, this book feels like a second-rate version of Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, or George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, both of which - thought flawed - don't flinch at presenting conflict, pain and loss..)
What ultimately sinks the book is that it's just a prologue, and yet it's long enough for a whole novel, but the premise certainly lacks the meat to carry through to a trilogy. Feeling like I've already read more about Tobin and Iya and Ki and Arkoniel than I really needed to, I can't see any reason to proceed to the second volume. The first is plenty.


The Bone Doll's Twin (Tamir Trilogy, Book 1)
The Bone Doll's Twin (Tamir Trilogy, Book 1)
by Lynn Flewelling
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.03
97 used & new from $0.01

3 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overlong, unnecessary, and incomplete, June 15, 2003
The Bone Doll's Twin employs a nasty bait-and-switch tactic of not actually informing the reader that it's the first of a trilogy on the cover or back cover. So I expected a complete story and only got, what, one-third of one?
The story itself feels remarkably generic. It's set in a basic feudal society, replete with travelling and consulting wizards having prophecies and trying to guide the future. The essential hook of the story - that Tobin is a girl unknowingly in boy's form - is intriguing, but almost ignored by the story's substance (it briefly rears its head at the end, in a rather contrived manner, but is otherwise a side issue). Instead, the book focuses on Tobin's youth shelted at his father's remote keep, learning to be a warrior and bedeviled by a demon. Not particularly novel stuff, it's competently told, but so are many such fantasies.
Two-thirds in, it became clear that Flewelling wasn't going to resolve the story in the next 150 pages, and my interest flagged. The story that is here could easily have been edited down to half its length with little of import lost. The characters are fairly bland, sticking to some tried-and-true stereotypes involving honor, duty, and loss. And the tension is all in the background - there's fairly little true confict for Tobin to face, and very little that he can do about anything directly himself. In that way - and with the shifting point of view the novel employs - there's no true protagonist, and it's hard to care about any of the characters as characters - just as pawns in a game.
Contrast this with Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series, which tread similar ground of duty and honor in the name of one's father, but which do so with dramatic, eloquent characterizations and tense conflicts where the character faces the chance of real loss - and doesn't always win. The Bone Doll's Twin is tame by comparison. (More obviously, this book feels like a second-rate version of Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, or George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, both of which - thought flawed - don't flinch at presenting conflict, pain and loss..)
What ultimately sinks the book is that it's just a prologue, and yet it's long enough for a whole novel, but the premise certainly lacks the meat to carry through to a trilogy. Feeling like I've already read more about Tobin and Iya and Ki and Arkoniel than I really needed to, I can't see any reason to proceed to the second volume. The first is plenty.


Ship of Fools
Ship of Fools
by Richard Paul Russo
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
38 used & new from $0.01

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, but very weak finish, May 19, 2003
Richard Paul Russo here tackles two of science fiction's hoarier scenarios: The generation starship, and the mysterious alien ship which no one can understand. Although he writes a more engaging story than some of his predecessors (e.g., Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, and John E. Stith's Reckoning Infinity), he doesn't pull it off.
The book is most interesting in exploring how the good ship Argyros works. The political machinations and tensions among the factions, the sense of sameness - if not ennui - which pervades their society, and occasional moments of desperation and revolt.
Unfortunately he sets this against a backdrop of the aforementioned mysterious alien ship, with the twist that the ship appears related to a dead colony on a nearby world, and is, well, far from safe to explore. As such Russo sets out to paint yet another picture of aliens so alien and mysterious that we can't understand them. Such stories are never satisfying, because when the aliens' (or perhaps their ship's) behavior is the centerpiece of the book, we need to eventually be told SOMETHING about them. Why are they behaving as they are? Why are they sitting in the middle of space, silent? Why are the rooms constructed the way they are? It's not that we need all the answers hand-delivered, but we need to be given something, and we're not. We can't even draw our own conclusions because there's nothing there to draw from. Worse, one is left with the strong impression that Russo himself doesn't even have an idea as to what it's all about.
The story ends up being - sort of - about how humans react to such an encounter, but the alien ship is so generic it's not even up to the level of, say, 2001, and the ending seems all-too-predicable, ultimately. The religious and spiritual overtones are not without interest, but they're at best the third-most-interesting element of the book and cannot carry it.
I suspect that I'll barely remember the details of this book a year from now, although I enjoyed it for most of the ride. Chalk it up as another novel which could have been much better than it is, if it had had a firmer direction.


Legacy
Legacy
Price: $16.68
31 used & new from $3.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Run-of-the-mill guitar rock, March 26, 2003
This review is from: Legacy (Audio CD)
Shadow Gallery gets rave reviews on Amazon, but I wasn't impressed with this album. While their guitarist's technical skills are excellent, there's not a lot to recommend beyond that.
The band's sound feels only a step removed from Van Halen at their peak, with a slightly harder edge. But their arrangements don't stand out, and the lyrics often feel awkward ("Part of me is now part of you, my legacy is how I live on").
The album's probably at hard-rocking best with the first track, "Cliffhanger 2", which has some of the wide-ranging sound and arrangement that one expected from progressive rock, but it never quite nails a melody or harmony to really make you sit up and notice.
"Colors" has the opposite problem; it's got a very good melody and some strong vocal harmonies, but ultimately feels too smooth, like it's trying too hard to be an uplifting anthem. It's arguably the album's best track, but it doesn't rock and struggles at times with its lyrics.
"Society of the Mind" and "Legacy" are both straight-ahead rockers which feel extremely formulaic. Lastly, "First Light" deceives with its length; its first half is a moderately interesting prog track, but it then tails away and ends with a lengthy instrumental jam which isn't terribly interesting and doesn't add anything to the album. It should have been edited out.
Overall, Legacy has the superficial feel of a Dream Theater album, but without any of the substance or songwriting that makes Dream Theater interesting. It's a disappointment.


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