It remains a mystery how Roine Stolt was able to resist the temptation to bash out a couple of double albums during The Flower Kings’ six-year hiatus from 2013 to their eventual re-emergence in 2019. Aside from writing some of the most lavish and melodically rich progressive rock of the last 30 years, the seemingly unflagging Swede has been relentlessly prolific. Since firing The Flower Kings engine up again, his band have delivered nearly 300 minutes of new music across three sumptuous full-lengths albums.
The only slight hesitation one might have about Look At You Now is that even the most devoted fans might still be digesting last year’s 85-minute By Royal Decree and musing that there really aren’t enough hours in the day. Luckily, Look At You Now is a relative tiddler by the Kings’ usual standards, clocking in at a really quite reasonable 72 minutes, and features more of the succinct, fat-free songwriting that informed 2020’s Islands double set, alongside a generous helping of more indulgent material.
An album apparently inspired by humanity’s recent travails and a heartfelt desire to find peace amid the madness, Look At You Now opens with a flourish. Beginners Eyes is a sprightly, thudding overture, with all the layered vocal harmonies and sublime guitar work that any Stolt acolyte could wish for. Although firmly in The Flower Kings’ compositional wheelhouse, it feels gently subversive, as it mutates from upbeat pomp to simmering psych and back again.
Vibe established, the floodgates open and Look At You Now becomes the magical mystery tour of Stolt’s wildest imaginings. Whether it’s The Dream’s downbeat balladry, Hollow Man’s progged-out blues or the fidgety fusion of Dr Ribedeaux, the Swedes’ ensemble performances are uniformly characterful and only gently tethered to the musical identity that Stolt and co-frontman Hasse Fröberg first established during their initial run in the mid-90s.
A side-step into medieval folk, replete with harpsichord and tambourine, The Queen is a mischievous, retro-prog mini odyssey with Stolt’s reliably wonderful lead guitar work centre-stage. Stronghold is a dark, cinematic sprawl, wherein Stolt decries some unfortunate soul for ‘following the rabbit down the rabbit hole’ and idly believing in falsehoods.
Day For Peace reins in the flagrant showboating and delivers a flurry of theatricality and pathos that owes more to Broadway than it does to Barclay James Harvest. Meanwhile, the closing title track is a beautiful, psychedelic brain-rinse, possibly intended to help clear our mental decks before the next immersive double album appears from nowhere.
Look At You Now is available in multiple formats via InsideOut.