Back in 2017, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard released five studio albums. It’s a mad fact which has been repeated with each and every release since, but what most people don’t know is that 2017’s final release – Gumboot Soup – was never initially destined to be an album at all. That year’s fifth album was originally meant to be called Changes, and some five years later it finally sees the light of day as the band’s fifth album of 2022. Coincidence? Not in the slightest.
Changes’ seven tracks are made up of a whole host of different sonic escapades which – albeit varied – all fall back on the same common denominator: key changes. Specifically between D major and F# major. Each song switches between the two seamlessly, with frontman Stu Mackenzie previously pointing out that each and every note on the album was carefully thought out and considered in its placement at any given moment. Opener Change clocks in at a lengthy thirteen minutes, although given the nature of its choice to morph into altogether different sounding songs throughout you wouldn’t have noticed. It serves as a preview of some of the things you can expect on the album, from smoothed out and jazzy keys to manic circus-like passages and a mid-section occupied by Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s rapping (“I’m like a sniper hiding in the tower / I’m picking them off one by one“). It’s the first King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard song to feature lead vocals from all four of the band’s primary vocalists, with guitarist Cookie Craig making a rare appearance behind the mic on a Gizzard song. The final two minutes are reserved for guitar-riddled chaos, making way for the funky Hate Dancin’. Changes’ lead single starts off subdued as Mackenzie professes a hatred of dancing. As the song speeds up, his hatred turns into an indifference before eventually settling on a love for dancing. It’s a clever piece of songwriting (tempo/key changes going in tandem with a growing love for dancing), something we don’t get to hear the band do very often in a pop setting.
We haven’t seen the band do pop much over the years, but whenever they have it’s been something special. Astroturf takes the lessons Mackenzie and co. learnt in pop songwriting and fuses them psychedelic elements which also touch on funk and soul. Here we find syncopated rhythms flecked with flourishes of synths and brass as Mackenzie uses chrysalis metaphors to describe the negative impact of astroturf on butterflies “Heartbreaking way to end / I will cry on astroturf” he sings, later describing it as a “dog shit heaven“. An extended flute solo only adds to this bizarre yet thrilling seven-minute banger. No Body is the closest King Gizzard have ever come to sun-kissed yacht rock, with an intro melody that could have been written by Drugdealer maestro Michael Collins. It’s slow, brooding and sultry instrumental (put together by just three of the band’s members – Craig, Walker and Harwood all don’t feature) is a stark contrast to Mackenzie’s dark introspection: “In death I know life was a hallucination“. It’s quite a compelling lyric, that much is certain. The buzzsaw synth-laden Gondii (loosely named after a parasite) is straight-up energy, bordering on 80s synth pop underpinned by subtle electronic soundscapes and a booming chorus. The lyrics reference human manipulation and lubrication through parasitic means, with Mackenzie eventually posing the age old question: is he the chicken, or is he the egg? Its parallel meaning refers to whether or not humans came before the Gondii parasite, another age old question.
Penultimate track Exploding Sun is technically the oldest song on the album, with this particular studio version dating all the way back to 2017. Five slow burning minutes unravel bit by bit here with beautiful psychedelic intensity and sonic precision. Mackenzie previously pointed out that this is the band’s most considered album to date, and Exploding Sun is prime example of the band testing the limits of this precision with spaced out bliss. Album closer Short Change is a short but sweet revisiting of the main motif we heard at the very start of the album, coating it in garage-y sweetness. Arpeggio synths and Wurlitzers form an intriguing centrepiece throughout as different elements from across the seven songs enter and leave the frame, with Mackenzie’s sole verse on the track subtle and endearing. Changes is by far and large the best of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s three October albums, but only just. Where Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushroom & Lava and Laminated Denim excelled in their fleshed out jams, Changes is an exercise in writing perfect songs which touch on different aspects of the wider pop spectrum. Funk? Check. Jazz? Check. Synth pop? Check. And considering it took five years for this album to become the best version of itself, it’s safe to say that it was well worth the wait.