There are a number of reasons why this album is so important to our history and by far the biggest reason is that it is a brilliant, brilliant record. Also of great importance is that it's one of the albums that helped form the group, in a physical sense. (Pale Rider) Roine Stolt & Jaime Salazar may be the only Tangent members who played on this particular album, but nonetheless to me this was a huge inspiration, a call to arms, a gauntlet - use any Game Of Thrones cliché and you've got it. Including "Winter Is Coming". Except it's summer that is coming.
For me, a lot hinged on the night in the late 90s when Po90 supported The Flower Kings at Herringthorpe Leisure Centre. It's a story I have told plenty of times in the past so I won't repeat it all, suffice to say that I wasn't expecting a group with that name to be much of a challenge to what I saw as "the mighty Po90". Suffice to say that I was blown away, humbled, shocked and spent over a hundred pounds on their back catalogue 2 days later. The story ends 9 Tangent albums later, Jonas and I are still working with each other, and the Tangent would never have been without TFK. But what I want to talk about is this album....
"Back..." is the first album BY the Flower Kings although Roine Stolt's solo album "The Flower King" which predates it shares much with this release. It was the first album of the many I bought that day that I played. What it said to me, plain and simple, in its first tracks was:
"Andy - you were right all this time, this music is still alive, it can still take chances, go off on diversions, run around the hills, climb the mountains and look down on the view"
That first song says it all - after years in the wilderness, here we are, "The Children Of The Woodstock Generation" finally back in the world of adventurous music that we so loved. The first track is bottled joy - an outrageously cheerful tune with Bodin's synthesiser line as infectiously optimistic as a milkman's whistle on the first day the sun shines. It was almost incongruous to hear something so tuneful and joyous, I remember feeling it was like some kind of guilty pleasure, and remember looking around me to check I was alone. Off we went of time sig changes, speed ups, stops on a dime, mood changes, timbres old and new... constantly wowed by the playing - the depth and the sheer imagination. Not a nice metaphor perhaps, but I was the long term addict getting my first shot in a long time. And it felt so, so good.
Those early days of the Prog revival had led me to Porcupine Tree (who at the time were like a sort of "Ozrics with vocals") and I'd heard Spock's Beard who I thought were really good. But this was a different animal. I've said before that human beings went to the Moon during the time of Progressive Rock's heyday. And the trips stopped and so (for a long time) did the music. The amazing places that Yes would visit in CTTE, Tales & Relayer had become memories - places I could revisit but those adventures did seem to me to be largely over. Until we were back in the world of adventures, where this album quite literally put me.
The wonderful instrumental Atomic Prince/Kaleidoscope... the groovy funky pop song "My Cosmic Lover" (who would DARE write a song with that title in those days?) all make for a fantastic trip - all these songs are faves of mine... but there is ONE, this unbelievably great great song on this album which became not just my favourite song of theirs, but just about my favourite song... ever. And its called "Big Puzzle"
Big Puzzle is for me, a huge rush of emotion, start to finish. It has reference points in all the music I loved as a teenager, Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Camel - and I Hear Joni In There Too!! Yet instead of being mere homage or tribute, what Roine, Hasse, Michael, Thomas and Jaime accomplished here was a new record, made by fellow travelers on that same road all the years before - and instead of appealing to Andy the wide eyed kid on the bus with his new copy of "Tormato" - they were appealing to Andy, the father of two, the guy who'd watched the media industry trash all the music that we'd so loved and turn it into some kind of joke. And where the opening track welcomes us back to the World Of Adventures, Big Puzzle takes us away on one such.
Starting with a similar mood to the slow and sombre sections of "Starless" - BP has a beautiful vocal melody from the off. Sax interjections between the lines only serve to make the effect even more captivating. Anderson like lyrics speak of the "River Of Time" and behind this the e-bow? guitar begins stirring up those emotions. There's part of the song where Roine is singing of his frustrations in the world - is it the musical environment that has frustrated him? (if you're reading Roine, I don't wanna know the answer).... But this bit where he says that every night he's watching the stars for (I assume space-)- ships passing by... he feels alone, stranded with his blue guitar, hoping someone will come and take him home to where he belongs. Now, I might have got this ALL WRONG which is why I don't want the illusion shattered by actually KNOWING what that bit was about, but if I am right... Roine's frustration was MY frustration. I felt that too. I felt out of place, I felt I was having to compromise and hide my true musical calling. And lots of others of us felt the same thing. I am sure I can't have been alone, but this track was like some kind of blessing, it said "it's OK" it sided with us and as well as all that it managed to be moody, majestic and end with a spine tingling guitar tour de force.
BP brought me to tears on several occasions. I'm even more fond of the version on the "Alive On Planet Earth" in which Roine "Scats" with his guitar... a section I played to Luke earlier this year... which both of us decided would be a suitable addition to our track "The Sad Story Of Lead And Astatine" So even now this track is having an effect on what the Tangent do.
TFK went on to make brilliant albums for 20 odd years - some of which were even more amazing than this one. "Unfold The Future" is in itself one of the crowning glories of the genre as a whole with some of the boldest fusions made in Prog's third wave and altogether the standard of their work has hardly ever dropped in a career that is more than double the length of the original era.
In 2000 I had to have an operation. The nurse who wheeled me back into the ward after it knew how much I liked music and had the decency to put my headphones on my head and switch on my Walkman for me. As I came out of the anesthetic, the first thing I heard was Roine sing "There's No such thing as blank and total darkness". Wow.
I will always remember them as being the force that brought all of that musical love back to me. In many ways I had begun to think that it wasn't even possible to do what they did any more. The album "Back In The World Of Adventures" was for many, where all this re-began. They took us back to the Moon, The Topographic Ocean, they took us OVER the edge and for me, personally, they were/are one of the brightest sparks in my Aether.