Heaven is a Place on Earth?
Hot off the woofy and kinetic American Ghetto, space-age day trippers Portugal. The Man have beamed in to leave us an artifact from the future: the cosmically pensive In the Mountain In the Cloud. It’s a purple-hazed safari that plays like your favorite UK glam act ditched all the cute girls just to scratch for the Skeleton Key of Life. If it exists. Later we discover it sort of doesn’t.
From start to finish, lead singer John Gourley and the boys train their attention almost exclusively on “the meaning of it all,” using pages out of Mind Games-era John Lennon, Elton John—and most of all—Marc Bolan’s playbook to write the sort of intimate, world-weary essays one spills out in a fevered malaise at 2am. And the results aren’t bad.
A major highlight is the springy, radio-friendly “So American.” It’s strumming Space Oddity rhythm, hippy-dippy handclaps, and T. Rex cello stabs—which joyously appear and reappear throughout the record—suggest a frothy voyage aboard the S.S. Top of the Pops. “You are the one they call Jesus Christ / Who didn’t know no rock ‘n’ roll,” Gourley swoons, perhaps giving the ol’ wink and nod to Lennon’s “Christ, you know it ain’t easy” or Bowie’s trademark “Nazz with God-given ass.” A Jesus name-drop puts you in good company, after all.
Though most of In the Mountain in the Cloud is candy-coated with bright atmospherics and an unyieldingly breezy midtempo (again recalling Lord Bolan’s eternal groove), the majority of its lyrics pant with a Faustian thirst for more, yet always concede to all one can touch, taste and see. In the very strong “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now),” with its off-kilter Pixies progression and permutation of the classic 2-note ghost chant of “Where Is My Mind?” Portugal’s lead singer plays it flashy and blasé on beckoning life’s purpose: “This can’t be living now / If so, then show me how / We’ll shake, shake, shake the night away”—only to convince himself and others, “We got it all / ’Til the revolution comes,” suggesting maybe it’ll all make sense with the eye-opening sitori of a hippy afterlife.
The strongest track of all, “You Carried Us (Share with Me the Sun),” joyfully brims with pagan flower power like some kind of hoedown at Stonehenge. “All you see and all you hear is all you need,” concludes Gourley, effectively erecting a humanist megalith to the flesh and five senses. And don’t think that backwards-track fuzz guitar went unnoticed. The Earth isn’t all these dudes worship. Cough—Bolan!—cough.
The album whiffs it here and there with songs like “Share with Me the Sun” and “Once Was One,” with the latter proving an especially awkward cut. Its hazy sci-fi lyrics tell something like Kubrick’s ape-obsessed version of Lucifer’s fall, all with a comically crowded chorus that reminds me of Jimmy Fallon’s breathless Head Swap routine. Sadly, Portugal’s tale of cosmic simian demigods fails to hit its mark.
But most everything else dutifully does. In the Mountain In the Cloud’s spacey humanism effectively puts Richard Dawkins in eyeshadow and a glittering kimono—enough to please every galactic naturalist, elfin Voltair, or Darwin with stars in his beard. If nothing gets you going like Carl Sagan glam, you’ll be in lower-case H heaven.