Friday, August 14, 2009

Music Library: The Flaming Lips

Hear It Is (1986), Oh My Gawd!!! (1987), and Telepathic Surgery (1989). These first three albums aren't anywhere close to as whacked-out as the Flaming Lips would become, but some of these tracks are iced with lovely psychedelia. But there's a lot of standard-issue post-punk/indie rock, too. And only hints of the gentleness that would later merge with the grander Flaming Lips vision. I guess I'm trying to say that it isn't terrible, but things would get better before too long

In A Priest Driven Ambulance (1990) and Hit To Death In The Future Head (1992). And here's where things get better. The psychedelic undercurrents of the prior albums suddenly flourished into a full-on heady experience that was only amplified by the Lips' post-punk snarl and power-pop tendency to couch the bad vibes inside utterly transcendent melodies. Both of these albums are flat-out fantastic.

She Don't Use Jelly EP and Transmissions From The Satellite Heart (1993). And then the going gets weird. With a genuine MTV hit in the form of "She Don't Use Jelly," the Lips were invited to perform on Beverly Hills 90210, an event that seems to be as much of a reason for their longevity as anything. But it should be stated that the greatness of Ambulance and Future Head were coming to fruition. I actually like the prior two a bit more than Satellite Heart, but that may be just because I'm overfamiliar with this album.

Due to High Expectations... The Flaming Lips are Providing Needles for Your Balloons EP(1994) and Clouds Taste Metallic (1995). The former is an EP with a couple of demos, a Suicide cover, and some live tracks, including "Little Drummer Boy." The latter is my absolute favorite Flaming Lips album, the moment when all the weirdness, pop sensibility, and unhinged post-punk experimentation came together into a perfect expression of the Flaming Lips as a guitar-based band. Favorite songs: "This Here Giraffe" and "Evil Will Prevail."

Zaireeka (1997). A tribute to inspiration out of chaos, this is the legendary four-disc set that is intended to all be played at once. I've orchestrated a couple of different listenings to this the way it was intended to be heard, but eventually I just slapped all four tracks into some digital mixing software (this was before I had a copy of ProTools, but I don't remember what software it was), and mixed them all together with a little tweaking here and there (I think I've panned different discs on each version all the way left and right for stereo sound, sometimes bringing one to the middle or reversing them, sometimes cutting the volume of certain tracks that didn't please me at the time). The music on this album is the least song-oriented of the Flaming Lips' career, most of the tracks being more or less a single idea with a lot of studio trickery to sustain interest. There's a 33 1/3 book in the works, and I'm pretty interested to see what the author will say.

The Soft Bulletin and The Soft Bulletin Companion (1999). And here the Flaming Lips introduced their new sound, the one they still employ. It's a big, synth-driven sound with booming drums that intentially echo those on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. There's a general arc to the lyrics and the album is definitely meant to be played all at once. I love this album, but I'll admit that I get diminishing pleasures from the current Flaming Lips direction. The Companion was a apocryphal disc floating around in the blogosphere a few years back, which features some rough versions of Zaireeka tracks and a bunch of live sessions of the Lips playing Soft Bulletin tracks.

The Shambolic Birth And Early Life Of The Flaming Lips and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002). The former is a best-of with some of the bonus tracks from the rereleases of the early Lips discs, which are called Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid and The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg. I think they cover all the albums through In A Priest Driven Ambulance with discs upon discs of bonus material. I don't have those, but I picked this up for a song, and it has 6 or 7 non-album tracks on it. The latter is the semi-concept album following up on the new Soft Bulletin sound. It is a much beloved album, and I like it well enough. But I've never picked up the next one, At War With The Mystics.


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