Portugal The Man – In the Mountain in the Cloud

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When I was a Senior in High School, I had a lucid moment in which I understood the meaning of Jim Morrison’s “Celebration of the Lizard King.” Prompted by others who had written favorite lyrics or poems on the English class chalkboard, I spent lunch one day writing it all down. The result? My 60’s-hip teacher said, “I don’t get it.” Other students asked incredulously why I had taken the time to write it, taking up two full boards. I then re-read the prose… and had no clue what I had seen in it. (No drugs were involved).

So, now Portugal The Man.  I was intrigued enough with a first listen to purchase In the Mountain in the Cloud. Good harmonies, uplifting tones, musical diversity – it sounded good. I wasn’t familiar with their past work (5 albums the last 5 years), but the “genre” foisted upon them is psychedelic rock. I’m not going to disagree with that.

Still, beyond the initial pop sensabilities and the musicianship, the actual words eventually get more attention. Perhaps the band gave heed to Jim Morrison’s legacy, because they wisely opted not to include lyrics in the CD. Figure this one out:

There were two monkeys talking sounding like little dogs

They were barking and bitching about what was wrong

In the world we were just spacemen taking a ride

The gorilla’s in his human suit reciting his lines, singing

“we all, we all, we all turn on, we all, we all, we all turn off”

In time, if humans breed hate, love and lies would be traits of mine

But I was of the future, past and present time

Do you almost get what the point is? No? Well, okay. Let’s just say that psychedelic rock necessarily includes both musical and lyrical content to fit the genre. For those particularly slow on the uptake, they occasionally make it obvious: “I became a child of the universe, reborn into this galactic prism.”  I would call that a sophomoric introspection, but it’s not even worthy of that.

The lyrics do have spots of interest, and while they’re usually obtuse, the theme of “Enjoy life now, because the future probably isn’t that great” tends to surface.

From “Head is a Flame (Cool With it)”

Well we all get strange

And we know it

But we’re cool with it

And we all get a little bit older

In this day and age

But we deal with it

or from “Floating (Time isn’t working my side)”

We may not be hopeless

But we’re still helpless in the end

Just remember you’re floating

Remember the love that we were in

So inconsistently we swim

A time with family and our friends

I know I’m not hopeless

I’m only helpless in the end.

I know you love questions

But they go unanswered in the end

Did you forget you’re floating?

Did you forget that we were men?

It makes me wonder if this sort of underlying despondency isn’t at the bottom of what what erupted in the middle-class youth riots in England.

In any case, the words of the choruses, whatever they mean, fit the music wonderfully, to the point where I’d like to give a listen without the other verses and allow the music to have room to breathe. There’s a lot to appreciate buried beneath singer John Gourley’s falsettos, but he rarely gives his voice a rest and the music tends to get lost in the sameness of it all. In fact, it’s not until the 8th song, “All Your Light (Times Like These)” that a song takes on a distinctive character. The closer, “Sleep Forever,” actually builds musically during the course of the song – a very nicely constructed song despite the downer subject matter.

Recommended Songs:  “So American,” “You Carried Us (Share with Me the Sun),” “All Your Light (Times Like These)”

3 of 5 STARS


Kudos to the Beatles’ Revolver/Klaus Voorman inspired cover. Also, for those that disagree with my rating, keep in mind that my only chemical influence I would have is Coke Zero.  Yours may be something that allows better interpretation.

Album streaming can be heard HERE.

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