The Flaming Lips

 

Kings Mouth: Music and Songs

6

Disembodied heads and children’s lullabies

by Jericho Cerrona

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The Flaming Lips never wanted to be famous, and it could be argued that after 15 studio albums, fame still eludes them. Still, they’ve collaborated with the likes of pop superstars Ke$ha and Miley Cyrus, so that counts for something, right? Beginning life as an alt psych band in the late 80’s before landing a hit single with 1994’s “She Don’t Use Jelly”, the Lips seemed forever on the verge of being “the next big thing” for most of the 90s. It wasn’t until 1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s followup Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots that the Oklahoma weirdos broke through with mainstream acceptance and universal critical acclaim. A series of wild, hallucinogenic live shows and Grammy nominations followed, cementing the band as that rare outsider art crossover act. The fallout from such success, naturally, was more outsider left-turns into self-indulgence. Bizarre 24 hour-long songs, experimental double albums, covers of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Dark Side of the Moon, and those aforementioned collabs with pop divas became the norm. The Flaming Lips never wanted to be famous, sure, but they were perhaps trying too hard to be gonzo and lost the thread.

With Kings Mouth, Wayne Coyne and company have returned to a more gentle form of psych rock/electronica with a concept album in conjunction with a children’s book and massive art exhibit. Initially released in a limited vinyl-only edition on Record Store Day, the album is in many ways a return to form, and shockingly, the first time the band has ever made an album with a complete narrative through-line. While there are occasional forays into proggy soundscapes (“Mother Universe”), on the whole, the record is much more straightforward. Of course, this is also admitting that the conceptual framework involves a monarch’s giant disembodied head swallowing galaxies as narrated by The Clash’s Mick Jones.

Like most Lips albums, Kings Mouth is grabbling with the big ideas; life, death, mortality, love, and the mysteries of the universe, but there’s a lightness of touch this time that may even surprise diehard fans. Truthfully, there’s a lot here which recalls Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, with songs like the digital-folk ballad “The Sparrow” and the woozy funk-pop of “How Many Times” coming instantly to mind. However, more cinematic tracks such as the reverb-heavy dirge “Electric Fire” and the Tangerine Dream-esque “Funeral Parade” are cut from the more sonically bold side of the band, ala 2009's Embryonic. In any case, Coyne, Steve Drzod, and Michael Ivins disappear far less up their own asses here than on their last release, 2017’s cosmic flop Oczy Mlody.

Unlike that album, which lazily recycled autotune, pitch shifting, and wannabe hip-hop beats, Kings Mouth feels much more sincere. Coyne’s wispy vocals persist, but there’s very little moaning about the state of things. Perhaps his recent marriage and birth of his first child has given him a rosier outlook. Whatever the reason, tracks like “How Can a Head” feature swirling violins, blippy electronics, and an almost blissful attitude. “Giant Baby” is essential a warped children’s lullaby, which is on brand, but it never feels contrived. Less successful are the droning interlude-style songs, like “Dipped in Steel”, which is basically just Jones talking nonsense over plucked guitar chords and warm keyboards, and the washed out, effects-heavy “Mouth of the King”.

The Flaming Lips never wanted to be famous, and Kings Mouth won’t push the needle on that front. Nor will it feature heavy rotation on Spotify playlists. The whole idea of a concept record in 2019 is laughably admirable, as only a small percentage of the population even bothers with full-length albums anymore. To that end, the Lips are still doing the same thing they were doing back in the mid 90s, only now with more grey hair and back pain. More importantly, Kings Mouth is the sound of the band loosening up a bit after the ill-advised Miley Cyrus phase and the navel-gazing mess of Oczy Mlody. It is, for better or worse (mostly better) a true Flaming Lips experience, widespread acceptance be damned.