- by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2019-07-19 Label: Warner Bros.
Wayne Coyne & Co return with a fanciful storybook album inspired by his King’s Mouth art installation. King’s Mouth: Music and Songs plays out like an earthbound space opera mix of Yoshimi’s narrative, The Soft Bulletin’s melodicism, and The Terror’s extraterrestrial activities. Add to that yet another Flaming Lips' collaboration with Brit royalty narration courtesy of Mick Jones (the one from The Clash, not Foreigner - though Head Games would make a good alternate title here). The story itself concerns a giant boy king who merges with the universe and saves his constituents by sacrificing his mammoth body to forestall an avalanche. Though today’s leaders may share his girth, not sure the benevolence is there to back it up. The townsfolk return the favor by using the dead king’s silver-plated head as a place of refuge and getting in touch - a sweat lodge of enlightenment if you will.
Setting aside the story, which is a bit on the thin side, there are more than enough individual songs that make a full listen worthwhile. For the most part, the album maintains a linear march to the end with a few detours along the way. ‘How Many Times’ has protest-y moments that recall a softer ‘What’s Going On’, but ultimately comes off more like a kid’s counting song. While the odd interlude ‘Feedaloodum Beedle Dot’ has Jones speak/singing a few bars that recalls his Big Audio Dynamite days for what that’s worth.
The balance though takes the nameless boy king on his journey from losing his mother at birth, becoming enormous, and sacrificing himself to the benefit of the ever grateful denizens of his kingdom. Given Coyne’s longstanding fascination with Jesus songs, it’s not surprising the story plays out as an allegory of martyrdom. The first true song here, ‘The Sparrow’, concerns itself with the least of the biblical bird kingdom - as populous as the hairs on your head and grains of sand on the beach, but valuable in the eye’s of the nicer kings out there nonetheless. As with many of the songs here, ‘The Sparrow’ is straightforward and simple pointing straight back to the wide-eyed wonder of The Soft Bulletin’s ‘Waiting For A Superman’. And in this album’s hero, it seems the Superman that we were waiting on has arrived.
About halfway through the album, the giant king gives up the ghost to save the city and the balance gets a bit more musical. The latter half, though containing the best tracks, concerns itself only with the preservation and worship of the king’s head. Nutty enough for the Lips for sure, but also redolent with the incensed whiff of relic worship. The centerpiece, ‘All For The Life Of The City’, is incessantly off-kilter catchy and its opposing chorus of “the king saves the day, but the king dies today” hits the heart as well as the head. The spaced-out acoustic guitar-driven ‘Mouth Of The King’ is another instantly likeable winner. The beautiful orchestral closer ‘How Can A Head’ comes closest to the Lips’ magnum opus of ‘Do You Realize?’. Coyne’s fascination with the enormity of what the eye can see, the brain can comprehend, and the ear can hear might be the allusion the giant baby is supposed to represent after all.
Pardon the metaphor, but if you don’t spend too much time trying to wrap your head around King’s Mouth the album is one of the band’s more approachable releases. In lesser hands, the concept would have been a mess, but the Lips pull it off with a higher level of aplomb than you might expect. The first half build-up may not quite justify the second half payoff, but many of the later songs are perfectly pleasant. The Lips also do spaced out soundtracks better than anyone out there, so the interludes between songs do burble, burp, and beep in sync with an ever-expanding universe (much more interesting than the bland Karen O/Danger Mouse spaciness of earlier this year). The band’s most heartfelt album since Bulletin, but by sticking with the specifics of the story it doesn’t hold the emotional punch of some of their earlier albums. Certainly, that wasn’t the point, but King’s Mouth’s ultimate impact is to make you want to go back and revisit the band’s mid-period classics and there’s nothing wrong with that.