The Flaming Lips have been on a trajectory to musical history making ever since 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. At a time when Wayne Coyne, Steve Drozd, and Michael Ivins wondered if the band could continue with the exit of guitarist Ronald Jones, the three remaining members of the band along with producer Dave Fridmann created one of the best alternative rock albums of the 90s. From that point experimentation and dark, psychedelic beauty permeated each record afterwards. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, At War With The Mystics, Embryonic, and The Terror all showed these Oklahoma “fearless freaks” pushing the boundaries of their songwriting and studio wizardry. Covering classic albums in their entirety like Dark Side Of The Moon and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and collaborating with the likes of Henry Rollins, Dr. Dog, Miley Cyrus, Peaches, and many more.
It seems The Flaming Lips went from being a bunch of crusty acid-burnt punk hippies to an American musical institution.
On their newest release, the majestic and musical fairy tale Kings Mouth: Music and Songs, the band make the musical accompaniment and a concept album to singer Wayne Coyne’s own art exhibit of the same name. It continues the more musical uplift the band began with 2017s Oczy Mlody, a transition from the darker fare that began to permeate the band’s work starting with 2009s Embryonic. With narration by The Clash’ Mick Jones, the album is a cross between Yoshimi and a BBC children’s special from 1974.
So what is the concept behind King’s Mouth? There’s a king, a baby, and a head that is taken on a tour of the kingdom. The concept isn’t important. What is important is that the Lips engage us with the music, and they do that from the very start.
Two of the highlights of this album lie directly in the middle of it. The uplifting song-story of “All for the Life of the City” feels like the simpler, child-like quality of the Lips re-awakening in the late 90s. Coyne’s vocals wobbly and simple, slightly aged from the years. The production retains those spliced together qualities of early records, but with more of a sheen. It feels like a modern version of classic Lips. The song segues into the wonky and funky “Feedaloodum Beedle Dot”, a drum’n bass led jam that sounds like an Oompa Loompa band getting down at the chocolate factory after hours. These songs sound like the DNA strand the rest of the album is based on.
The album as a whole flows beautifully; from “The Sparrow” to “How Many Times” to “Funeral Parade” to the majestic closer “How Can a Head”, King’s Mouth is a musical journey led by our frazzled, gray-haired leader Wayne Coyne. A fairy tale concept album from The Flaming Lips, who can argue with that?
Wayne Coyne seems to be at a good place in his life, and this record shows that. The darkness seems to have lifted from his head and heart, and he’s returned to more of that earlier magic of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Becoming a father for the first time recently and finding happiness in his life again might play a role in this sea change. Whatever it is, I’m happy for him and for us.
There are no real surprises here, but at this point no surprises are necessary with The Flaming Lips. They’ve perfected their wobbly, pop-tinged acidic music formula. No need to fix what’s not broken.
7.8 out of 10