“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” In the annals of prog, it might be argued that during the mid-90s Dickens’ old adage didn’t apply. It was a tough time to make progressive music. Yet listening to this frankly overwhelming boxset is a reminder that even back then, if you knew where to look, it was no prog desert.
Kingdom Of Colours – comprising the Kings’ first seven albums – is as comprehensive an introduction to Roine Stolt’s emergence as prog royalty as one could hope. Indeed, laying these albums side-by-side, it’s hard not to marvel at the fecundity of his imagination. The liner notes are based on Dom Lawson’s recent interview with Stolt. They’re smart reading and provide the compass to find a way through an intimidating offering. Most of all, they remind us that in listening to early Flower Kings we will enter Stolt’s strange brain – florid, sometimes lurid, always wild and creative.
It has been suggested that the Kings have found a sound and stuck with it. There’s truth in this. In the liner notes, Stolt says, “You don’t want to make the same album again, but you’re stuck with whatever you write.” This box set, however, reveals how the Kings’ sound progressed over time. Back In The World Of Adventures (1995) and Retropolis (1996) are both clever and considered, but it is on Stardust We Are (1997), especially the title track, that the Kings hit their stride. Massive, magnificent and endlessly evolving, it is a benchmark of 90s prog.
Equally, lest anyone say the Kings’ get too stuck in a major key, album six, 2001’s The Rainmaker, signalled Stolt heading into darker territory. It is a necessary, challenging album, that like its much-feted predecessor, Space Revolver (2000) set out the territory for the Flower Kings’ 21st century evolution.
Fascinatingly, it’s only the final album in the set, 2002’s Unfold The Future, which receives a Stolt-remaster. The effect is intriguing. The sound is louder and brasher and the individual instruments are more defined. It allows the listener to get up close and personal with Reingold’s liquid bass and Stolt’s virtuoso guitar. Opening classic The Truth Will Set You Free sounds even vaster and Devil’s Playground is a refined beast. It offers a glimpse into what the box set might have sounded like if remasters had been possible across the board.
This lavish set – in a limited edition of 3,000 – is a gift not only for completists, but for the acolyte wanting to go deeper. A feast for the ears that will keep the hi-fi happy for weeks.