A fantastically fanciful circus returns
Enter a dome of sounds–frightening and magnificent–take a seat, listen to the wailings of robots, the laughter of babies, the gripping resonance of past and present’s clash, the soothing voice of Mick Jones (of The Clash) and let go: enjoy King’s Mouth, a record from a band that has escaped time itself. The Flaming Lips’ fifteenth studio album is a reminder that for thirty-six years the group has escaped trends, movements and the music industry’s influence with thick musical aptitude. For many readers here, twenty years is a lifetime, but that is how far one must turn back the hands of time to understand the fanciful circus that is King’s Mouth.
The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin will turn twenty next month and remains the band’s greatest record. Released the day before the Backstreet Boys’ earth-shattering Millennium, The Soft Bulletin scoffed at pop culture while embracing it all the same. The record thrived—along with its follow up Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—in the final days of the music industry as we knew it. Twenty years later, the album’s majestic qualities have been both imitated and forgotten, forming part of an unconscious desire for something beyond the confines of contemporary music. King’s Mouth returns us to a place in time splendid in sound and story.
“When a king was born his mother died,” says Mick Jones in the album’s opening track as he proceeds to narrate the story of a monarch’s birth and death through the course of the record. In typical Flaming Lips fashion, the tale is filled with imagery evoked by synthesized embellishments, huge drums, orchestral swells and palpitating basslines. The real magic, however, is in the songs where acoustic guitars and Wayne Coyne’s voice feature most. The album’s tenth track, “Mouth of the King” is a sort of climax to the story filled with lush harmonies. The closing track “How can a Head??” has beautifully thoughtful lyrics and a supple melody.
As in any good story there are ups and there are downs. King’s Mouth suffers from missed opportunities on tracks like “Electric Fire” and “Dipped in Steel” where Jones’ narrative is the highlight. It is understandable that some tracks serve to move the story forward—the songs are meant to be played in a continuum—but are minute long overtures necessary? There could easily have been a song as enthralling as “Feedaloodum Beedle Dot” in any of those spaces. The story isn’t necessarily harmed, but one can’t help but feel they are being cheated out of music.
The Flaming Lips have orchestrated an album that summons all the artistic brilliance of their past and reminds us why their act has remained innovative for decades. All previous follies aside, The Flaming Lips will go down in history as a group unconcerned with the world around them, not in a malicious way but in a spiritually free manner. Their songs about giant babies, pink robots and fallen queens capture the imagination and push it to its limits—what else can be asked of music?