Review Summary: A partial return to excellence.
The Flaming Lips have never been a band to shy away from the grandiose. Drawing influence from prog greats over the course of their career – while arguably, in the process, becoming one – they’ve pieced together their share of elaborate concept albums, be it the robotic themes of Yoshimi
or the weird, tripped out space of Oczy
. Still, they’ve never properly crafted a story
; something that goes all-out with characters, a plot, and full narration. That’s where King’s Mouth
feels like one of the group’s most ambitious offerings yet – if not musically, then at least conceptually. The fifteenth LP from these psych-rockers transports us to a mystical kingdom where the ruler uses his enormous head – which is filled with its own complex and swirling galaxies – to rescue his people from perishing to the forces of nature (a massively destructive avalanche), by umm – devouring
the entire universe. Afterwards, devoid of a place to live, the townspeople cut off his head (how kind), and then crawl inside to live happily ever after within a utopian society. Y’know, just like the bedtime stories mum used to tell.
The primary draw of King’s Mouth
is hardly its off-the-wall plot, however. In the wake of two very different full-lengths – 2013’s dark, gripping, and wholly alienating The Terror
and 2017’s ineffably bizarre Oczy Mlody
– this record feels like something of a return-to-form. The atmosphere is gentle and lush, channeling Yoshimi
’s warm, synth-bound electronics alongside the most definable melodies we’ve heard since Embyronic
. The abundant acoustics aid King’s Mouth
’s accessibility as well, gently steering the band’s overall aesthetic from one that is cold, distant, and strange to one that is proximal, sincere, and heartfelt. This sonic shift is why the record has already garnered comparisons to their two famed classics – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
and The Soft Bulletin
– but the parallels are more stylistic than they are representative of sheer quality. King’s Mouth
is at times a beautiful transportation, but it rarely culminates in as satisfying of a fashion as, say, ‘Do You Realize.’ This album is far more even-handed, for better or worse, and comparisons to The Flaming Lips’ career peaks – while inevitable – are both sensationalized and premature.
is at its best when it plays to these warmer aesthetics while limiting Mick Jones’ apt yet occasionally irritating narrations (any song where his overlay consumes more than a quarter of the run time feels downright unnecessary). Tracks like ‘Giant Baby’ and ‘How Many Times’ fit that bill, floating atop effortless acoustic strums and pleasant vocal harmonies that are just memorable enough to stick. Another instance is the instrumental ‘Funeral Parade’, which begins with a brief plot update from Jones but then continues into a propulsive mix of synths, strings, and electronics. There are few missteps or pitfalls, just as there are relatively few must-hear highlights. From beginning to end, King’s Mouth
embraces and entertains, like one might expect from a good storybook. At 42 minutes, the album is also one of their shortest and thus makes for a relatively breezy listen – each song flows into the next, forming a cohesive experience in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, that’s what King’s Mouth
boils down to – a record worth getting lost in for its grander ambitions, not for its individual moments of greatness.
The Flaming Lips have tapped into something here, even if the idea’s full potential isn’t reached. The ambitious design recalls early Pink Floyd or Genesis, and if only King’s Mouth
had the content to back up its aspirations, we might be talking about a progressive psych album for the ages. Instead, we have a merely pleasant album that will tickle the fancy of Flaming Lips diehards but likely won’t draw in a new audience or impress anyone with its technical prowess. The record was initially designed to soundtrack a synchronized light show, and eventually developed into a limited vinyl run for Record Store Day last April. Perhaps its original blueprints prevented it from fleshing out into the kind of career-defining album that it might have been. This feels like a halfway point between a true Flaming Lips full-length and one of their many novelty side-ventures. This is undoubtedly a worthwhile pursuit for fans of the band that also marks a welcome return to accessibility; maybe with a bit of a stronger backbone, it could have been more. At least it’s an avenue well worth exploring in the future for a band that has no problem turning over new stones.