The prospect of a new album from The Flaming Lips isn’t quite as exciting as during their peak of the twin beauties that were 1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s masterpiece Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, as they have slowly become something of a parody of themselves with a stream of collaboration albums and output which got ever poorer, culminating in 2016’s forgettable Oczy Mlody. There were some highlights during this time, as The Terror is a better album in hindsight, and their production work on half of the Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz project yielded the stunning ‘Karen Don’t Be Sad’, which is up there with their best songs, but on the whole it seemed as though the band were steadily losing their spark. Originally packaged as a limited vinyl run for the bullshit that is Record Store Day (I mean, c’mon – have you checked how many scavengers, sorry ‘fans’, flog their RSD purchases for overly inflated prices on the same day), the album now gets a full release.

King’s Mouth finds them back in similar territory to the Yoshimi album, with an entire album of songs telling a story – but where Yoshimi occasionally strayed from a single narrative, this new album sticks to a linear story, which is admirable but also why the work stutters in places.

Narrated by The Clash’s Mick Jones (coming off an awful lot like Spinal Tap’s David St Hubbins telling the tale of Stonehenge), the story centres on a giant king baby who has the whole of outer space sucked into his head. His attempt to save his kingdom from an avalanche leads to him losing his life, but his severed head, now coated in steel, is used by his people as they enter his mouth to gaze up at the stars still in the confines of his skull. Pretty standard fare, then.

The album skips along at quite a pace, and the first seven tracks are genuinely up there with the best that The Flaming Lips have produced in their cinematic scope. The first song ‘We Don’t Know How and We Don’t Know Why’ is a short spoken-word piece with Jones front and centre, but it sets up a sense of melancholy that pervades the album as a whole. Where The Flaming Lips have often dealt with degrees of sorrow, but with a sense of optimism as a counterpoint, much of the lyrics here reflect a band getting older and perhaps more pessimistic. ‘The Sparrow’ would fit well on The Soft Bulletin, which is about as high a compliment as you can pay this band. It is sparse, downbeat and gorgeous. Synthesised choirs, drum beats and reverb drenched vocals all showcase the band’s ability to write plaintive, childlike anthems with an earnestness that would teeter on embarrassing for lesser mortals. There is a lushness in this opening run of tracks which has been absent from their last few albums, as they not only explore the idea of space within the lyrics but remember the importance of breathing space in their song structures.

Ideas of loss are prevalent here, notably in ‘Giant Baby’ and ‘Mouth of the King’. In the album’s story, the new born baby’s mother is killed in childbirth and ‘Giant Baby’ comes across as an amalgam of a messed-up lullaby and a life lesson, albeit lacking the finesse of ‘Waiting for Superman’ or ‘Do You Realize?’. The baby recounts how, one night whilst looking up at the stars, he can see an image of his mother, and Coyne laments that “It made me understand that life sometimes is sad,” which can be sneered at by being overly simplistic or, more honestly, seen as a heartbreaking realisation for a child to come to. In ‘Mouth of the King’, this idea of people living on beyond death is continued, as the now deceased protagonist (probably unwittingly) echoes the work of British poet Warsan Shire with the lyrics “Remember this/ Although I have died/ I will always exist…/ Every time that you smile/ And every time that you’re kind/ I’m there in your mouth/ And I’m there in your mind,” which is a fitting sentiment to both the tale of the giant king baby and for people going through a sense of loss, a positive outlook to bereavement that The Flaming Lips have covered previously.

The painstaking requirement of sticking to the storyline in a chronological order does affect the flow of King’s Mouth, and there are some weaker tracks here, notably ‘Feedaloodum Beetle Dot’ and ‘Funeral Parade’, which sit next to each other on the album and disrupt the feel and tone of the album as a whole.

Overall, though, it is good to see a band of this stature regain an impetus and drive which I personally felt they had long lost. King’s Mouth has moments of pure joy and feels timeless in many ways, and for that Coyne and co. should be applauded.