How can a head hold so many things?
All our life, all our love, all the songs it sings
For some of us, the simple prospect of a new release by The Flaming Lips has ascended to a special stature. When I was growing up, new records released by The Beatles (and their offshoots), Jethro Tull, The Who, Pink Floyd and Yes were bonafide events for music fans. In 1979 I remember waiting in line for the Sam Goody record store to open so I could be one of the first to get Elvis Costello's then new album Armed Forces with the bonus limited edition 7-inch single inside. Fast forward to the 21st Century, Record Store Day has become the launchpad for many like-minded limited edition archival joys. However, not many bands have used the holiday as time to release new music.
In the world of rock 'n roll, The Flaming Lips are one of the first that I am aware of to do so -- and I might be wrong, so mea culpa if I missed something. Regardless, I couldn't be more pleased about this: they issued a vinyl-only edition of a new album that won't be officially out until July! Kings Mouth, Music and Songs is quite epic.
Flaming Lips' front man Wayne Coyne has been teasing the development of this album for months now on his Instagram feed and its been fascinating to watch. For some perspective, some details pulled from the band's website offers insight as to what this new music is about:
"The album is also just one aspect of a much larger project from the Flaming Lips and frontman Wayne Coyne. The music on King's Mouth parallels that in Coyne's immersive art installation of the same name in which viewers crawl into a large metallic head to experience a music-driven LED light show. The new album will also be accompanied by a book... which Coyne wrote and illustrated.'The King's Mouth immersive/child-like qualities are born from the same spark and womb as The Flaming Lips live performances" Coyne said of the overall project. 'The King's Mouth adventure was made for humans of all sizes ages cultures and religions.'"
The Flaming Lips' diverse audience can sometimes be split when it comes to their allegiances: some bailed after the band left behind its edgier punk-fueled sound for more commercial pastures. There were fans who felt the band lost something when guitarist Ronald Jones left. And then there are people like me who came on board amidst their mainstream ascent to stardom, relishing their blissful blend of mad psychedelic freakout, pop music accessibility, forward looking production aesthetic and sense of wonder.
Bottom line (for me at least) is that these guys write some great songs and have embraced a sense of musical adventure I've not seen since the heydays of bands like Yes and XTC. I'll put it this way: if you liked their albums The Soft Bulletin through At War With The Mystics and the more recent Oczy Mlody, you will probably like this one.
Still, you may wonder: do I like the album? I do! Very much so. A concept album, Kings Mouth, Music and Songs plays a bit like a soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made (and I mean that in the best possible way). There are rocking moments. There are moments of weird whimsy. You'll hear the ominous clang of foggy cathedral bells. There is also intermittant dialogue provided by none other than Mick Jones (yes, of Big Audio Dynamite and The Clash!) who tells the story about a Queen who dies upon the birth of giant sized baby who becomes King.
I'm still figuring out the whole tale but at its heart this album seems to explore the wonder of the human mind and all the amazing things we can do with it. This is summed up in the final track "How Can A Head," a song which has tapped into a magical epic musical space with an angelic soaring vocal cadence worthy of no less than Jon Anderson of Yes closing the album:
"How can an eye see so many things?
All the sky that goes so high, the face of human beings
And how can an ear hear so many things?
Children laugh, mothers cry, all the bells will ring"
There are so many great melodies and hooks here. "How Many Times" plays off a fun sample of numbers being counted (loosely recalling the playful joy of their 2006 hit "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"). "Mouth Of The King" taps into some of that spine tingling beauty the band found in its brilliant hit "Do You Realize?" (from Yoshimi, a song later named the official rock song of their home state of Oklahoma!).
The standard weight metallic gold vinyl pressing is quiet and well centered.The music sounds remarkably rich and full bodied for an album that was probably made in the digital realm so I am happy on that front. The album is not yet up on Tidal but when its released keep an eye out as most of the band's Warner Brothers era albums are there in MQA format (click here to jump to their artist page)
Anyhow, I could go on but I think you get the idea that I like this album a lot. Its a rich layer adding to the band's reinvention and evolution that began with Embryonic...through the dark of The Terror... into tempting soundtracks (Peace Sword, Spongebob, Christmas On Mars) .... limited edition collaborative Heady Fwends experiments ... epic album recreations (Sgt.Pepper, Dark Side Of The Moon, etc.) .... and onward to the emerging light of 2017's Oczy Mlody. So this new album, Kings Mouth, Music and Songs, is a logical step in the band's direction.
"In other words, don't you stop
(You gotta keep on believing)"
I'm really looking forward to see how The Flaming Lips bring Kings Mouth, Music and Songs to life on stage. Heck, I now have a hankering for a road trip to Oklahoma to see the full Kings Mouth art installation there.
"C'mon, climb inside and see the stars, the storms, the swirls and other worlds that are still there in his head... still there in his mind..."