Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Gumboot Soup

They actually did it. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – the famously mad Melbourne psych rockers – put out five studio albums in 2017. Released on New Year’s Eve, Gumboot Soup – the fifth and final record – made it into last year by the skin of its teeth. I’ll admit, I was sceptical about this one. Their previous album, the incredible Polygondwanaland, already felt like the year’s creative peak. As a result, I was concerned the final release was going to sound like a hastily tacked on extra. Frontman Stu Mackenzie describing the album as “songs that didn’t work in any of the rest of the four records” didn’t quell those fears, either. However, whilst it may not be as good as Polygandwanaland, Gumboot Soup is arguably the most intriguing collection of songs Gizz put out all year.

A ‘collection of songs’ is the most accurate description for this album. Unlike the rest of 2017’s releases – or anything Gizz have produced since 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz Gumboot Soup isn’t held together by any semblance of a concept, leading many to dub it a sequel to their 2014 hotchpotch Oddments. Still, there is one relatively consistent element: Gumboot Soup is Gizz’s most thorough embrace of melody ever, with the band going all in on infectious psych-pop tunes. Beginner’s Luck – not just because of its gambling-based lyrics – does this particularly well, sprinkled with Beatles influence and topped off with an exhilaratingly erratic wah-wah guitar solo. The penultimate track I’m Sleepin’ In commits to this idea even further, with a beat so catchy it practically begs to be clapped along to.

Elsewhere, the band blend this direction with the jazz-prog rhythms of the previous two records Polygondwanaland and Sketches of Brunswick East. Barefoot Desert and The Last Oasis – both fronted by harmonica player Ambrose Kenny-Smith – achieve this in two distinct ways. The former’s tight groove and yelpy vocals give it a slight Talking Heads vibe, whilst the latter’s heavenly vocals and lush instrumentation sound like a hypnagogic re-imagining of a SoBE track. Muddy Water – as well as being the third Gizz song named after a description of water – is an enthralling prog folk flurry that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jethro Tull album, elaborately intertwining acoustic guitar, bass and drum rhythms. Later on, Cook Craig fronts Down the Sink, a delectable slice of funk rock unlike anything else the group have done before.

There’s something thrillingly refreshing about a Gizz album that keeps you guessing, especially after the intently conceptual releases we’ve had for a while…
– Nathan Brooks

Of course, Gumboot Soup isn’t without its more unusual tracks. The Wheel concludes the album with eerie, jazzy psychedelia. Mackenzie’s delicate vocals on the choruses are offset by Ambrose’s gravelly verses, spinning a mythical tale about “the wheel that steers us into our future”. Superposition is even weirder, indulging in ethereal krautrock experimentation with its effects-soaked vocals and audaciously avant-garde instrumental. The album also isn’t reluctant to get heavy. Greenhouse Heat Death’s cold, ugly vocals don’t quite work for me, but the exotic, doomy guitar riffs swirling around the track redeem it. All is Known is another foray into microtonal music, chugging along with a visceral energy reminiscent of AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock. The Great Chain of Being, however, is the album’s heaviest moment, marking the band’s first full-on attempt at stoner metal. It’s not wildly original, but it’s a logical vessel for the band’s bonkers personality with great potential to expand upon.

So, Gumboot Soup isn’t King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s most cohesive album and sure, not every song is a total bullseye. However, there’s something thrillingly refreshing about a Gizz album that keeps you guessing, especially after the intently conceptual releases we’ve had for a while now. Add to that a welcome appreciation of melody alongside promising levels of experimentation and you’ve got yourself Gizz’s fifth and final great album of 2017. How many bands can you say that about?