If we are being honest with ourselves, we would admit that some of the recent output from The Flaming Lips has been… hit and miss. So, we would be forgiven for approaching their latest release, an ambitious and no doubt challenging concept album comprised of 12 new tracks, based on an art installation developed over the last few years by frontman Wayne Coyne, with a little trepidation.
The concept of the work is simple; a queen dies whilst giving birth to a king, the king grows incomprehensibly massive and rules over his adoring subjects. Simple. More does happen, but we don’t want to give away the story too much! However we will say this; halfway through the album we, the universe and everything all live within the king’s giant head. Whilst for some this would be an insane, incongruous and unfathomable journey into absurdity and the bizarre, for The Flaming Lips it is pretty standard stuff. And so we press on.
King’s Mouth is a counterpart to Coyne’s art installation, the start of which consists of a giant metallic head welcoming spectators inside to start their journey through Coyne’s reimagined ‘creation story’. Once inside, music from the album plays and is accompanied by an LED lightshow. The trouble is, without the accompanying artwork, one has to either listen intently to the record or have a very, very active imagination to keep track. There is helpful, calming narration from The Clash’s Mick Jones on almost every track but you can’t help but think that experiencing both artwork and album together would be a more complete experience.
That said, once you get past the bizarre narrative, the songs are there. Stand out tracks include ‘How Can A Head’ and ‘How Many Times’ (the latter reminiscent of fan favourite ‘Do You Realize’ in its life affirming joy). The wondrous thing about The Flaming Lips is that, through all the weirdness and flamboyance, there is a real beauty and an understanding about the human condition. It is the undercurrent to almost all of their best work and really what makes Coyne such a treasured lyricist. It’s something that crops up regularly throughout King’s Mouth, for example in ‘Giant Baby’ where our king is looking up at the sky and remarks; “I could see my mother as she died / in my head and in my hands / in the dirt and in the land / and it made me understand that life sometimes is sad.”
Even without the accompanying artwork, and with a few listens under the belt, you start to appreciate that the album is a fun-filled journey through the heads of The Flaming Lips (and, we suppose, a giant unnamed king). It is unlikely to win over any new fans, but for established followers it is an ambitious project that has come off quite nicely.