What do you need to know about them?
A week or two ago I was wandering through Costco wearing a Flaming Lips T-shirt. Costco as you might know if you are a member, often has “guest” sellers with little market type stalls to sell some product of other. On this occasion one of the girls behind the stall didn’t mention the product at all, she stopped to remark “Wow, The Flaming Lips. I hardly ever see anyone wearing their t-shirt. I love that band”. Thinking about what she said, she was right. I can’t think of the last time I saw someone wearing a Flaming Lips t-shirt. You people are missing out.
The Flaming Lips were formed in Oklahoma in 1983 and went through several line-ups before settling on the current one of Wayne Coyne, Michael Irvins, Steven Drozd, Kliph Scurlock and Derek Brown. Former members include Wayne’s brother Mark, and Jonathan Donahue who went on to find some fame and critical acclaim with band Mercury Rev.
Early releases were out there slightly unlistenable psychedelic rock with daft titles like “Telepathic Surgery” or “In a Priest driven ambulance”. They signed to Warner Bros in 1992 at a time when major record labels began looking for lots of different alternative rock, in the hope that they would get the next Nirvana. The Flaming Lips were never going to be that. They recorded three albums and scored a minor hit with the track “She don’t use Jelly” before they decided that their sound was getting a bit too “conventional Rock”. So with Zaireeka they decided to try something completely different, an album on 4 CDs that all have to be played at the same time. The main breakthrough was not so much that concept but mixing up their sound with conventional elements and “found” sounds.
After various personal disasters and tragedies the Flaming Lips mixed up their sound with strings, beats, booming sounds, some rock elements, but all with more melody and emotional lyrics. They broke through to a whole new level. more critical and commercial success with the fabulous “The Soft Bulletin”, a real modern classic of an album. There was nothing that sounded quite like it before, nor has there been since. It is in my top ten albums of all time. It is so good, website Pitchfork recently did a free to view documentary on the making of the album featuring interviews with the band.
They followed this up with two other great albums “Yoshimi battles the Pink Robots” and “At war with the Mystics” completing a loose trilogy of albums. They have also released albums Embryonic, and Dark side of the moon (yes a complete cover of that album), plus a whole other bunch of EP’s, music tracks, tours and DVDs. You can check more info on that on wikipedia. There is little point me repeating it here.
Where did I first become acquainted?
With the Soft Bulletin. It was a huge critical breakthrough an (in the UK) got a lot of music press. I picked it up around this time and realised what I was missing. The Soft Bulletin really is a classic. It takes a few listen to get into (like most good albums), but once it gets it’s hooks in, you won’t want it to leave. Check out for example, track “Feeling yourself Disintegrate”, especially if you are feeling a little down. The next two albums were also brilliant (if not quite as good).
What to buy:
I realise that Wayne’s voice might be a bit much for some people, and also some of their ideas are “a little out there”. However like most good artists, when it works, it really works. My recommendation would be to start with the albums listed below:
- The Soft Bulletin – The best and a genuine classic. You ought to own this album even if you get nothing else by the band. It’s an “album you must own” type thing.
- Yoshimi battles the pink robots – Good follow up to the soft bulletin. Final track Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” earned a 2003 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. This album is great. In fact I’m listening to it whilst typing here.
- At war with the mystics – Good end to a trilogy of good albums. Bit more rock, bit more varied, several tracks licensed to commercials. They likely did well off the back of this one.
- Dark side of the moon – There own version of the classic album. Not as good as the original but worth a listen.
- Fearless Freaks (DVD Documentary) – A good documentary featuring the story of the band, and with some harrowing footage covering Steven Drozd’s heroin addiction. This is currently on Netflix streaming if you have Netflix.
Some key tracks to listen to:
There are some obvious tracks here, but in this case you need to hear them:
- Feeling yourself disintegrate
- Race for the prize
- Waiting for a superman
- Feeling yourself disintegrate
- Yoshimi battles the pink robots part 1
- Do you realise?
- Yeah yeah yeah song
- The Golden age
- Pompeii am Gotterdammerung
- She don’t use jelly
Anything to avoid?
Unless you’re a big fan avoid the early stuff, and probably Zaireeka (the concept is neat, but a bit useless for most of us). Embryonic, the last album also takes a bit of getting used to.
They have their own website here. They are Fabulous live. I once saw them in London where they did a Christmas song – in mid November.
Try to watch the “Fearless Freaks” film and the free documentary about The Soft Bulletin, on Pitchfork.
Lexicon word of the day: Verbose. (Something for me to improve on).