The Flaming Lips can never be accused of going through the motions or selling out to commercial interests. Their contrary approach is enough the test the patience of even the most diehard of fans.
After building an underground reputation as psychedelic weirdos, mainstream success beckoned with the breakthrough releases of pseudo-concept albums ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robot’.
Yet, seemingly happier to maintain an under-the-radar credibility, band leader Wayne Coyne has refused to be swayed from following resolutely freak-driven instincts. This has included instigating a below par Sergeant Pepper tribute album and it’s clear that the LSD/’Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ vibe persists for his band’s fifteenth studio album which is dauntingly billed as an ”Immerse Heap Trip Fantasy Experience".
Warning bells should ring loud when you learn that ‘King’s Mouth’ is based upon an art installation of the same name. Claiming to be suitable “for humans of all sizes, ages, cultures, and religions”, here’s how the installation is described:” A true handcrafted marvel, it consists of a giant metallic head that welcomes spectators inside. Once inside of the foam month, an LED light show begins in tandem with music from the album”. This immersive experience could be sampled in museums throughout North America and in Coyne’s own creative space, The Womb, in Oklahoma City.
In purely musical terms, we are invited into a looking-glass world for a story that takes place in ”in a time far away”. It relates how a literally big-headed king puts this physical anomaly to good use by saving the inhabitants of his kingdom from an avalanche. The ruler dies saving his followers who live on a Utopian world inside the giant mouth of his gigantic severed head. We Don’t Know How And We Don’t Know Why is the title of the opening piece and this also neatly sidesteps having to explain the logistics of these surreal events.
The improbable narrator of all this strangeness is The Clash’s Mick Jones which entails relating how the king’s Funeral Parade “was a sad and bloody and wonderful happy day”. Jones undertakes the task with a deadpan, cockney-inflected voice that put me in mind of Ginger Baker’s bizarre spoken word voiceover on Cream’s ‘Pressed Rat And Warthog’.
As a singer, Wayne Coyne’s charm derives from his capacity to embrace a child-like perspective as though sharing great profundities. His strained vocals suit the lullaby-esque quality of many of the tunes and invite listeners to suspend disbelief and enter into the fantasy world.
The record ends on a suitably majestic high note with How Can A Head followed by Jones signing off with words:And that is the end of our story. Bye,”
How will the latest installment of The Flaming Lips’ trippy pop be received? To paraphrase a line from the story: some will be curious, some won’t care.
Certainly, it’s easy to dismiss the album as willfully self indulgent but if you are prepared to overlook the eccentricities, there are plenty of tunes here that feed the head nicely.
The Flaming Lips’ website