Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Complex but accessible psychedelic pop from The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips have taken the long route to success. While that can mean spending a long time working your way up (in the Lips’ case nearly 20 years) it means you not only get to do what you want on the way up, but you also have the clout to keep your artistic integrity after you’ve made it. The band formed in 1983 and didn’t have their first critical and commercial success until “The Soft Bulletin” in 1999 and that’s the album I’m encouraging you to check out today.

What kind of weapons have they got? The softest bullet ever shot.

The Flaming Lips have always written odd songs. Try titles like ‘One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning’ or ‘Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon (Fuck Led Zeppelin).’ They have also experimented with a variety of techniques and effects. Some are as simple as in-studio looping. Others are more complex, like “Zaireeka.” This four-disc release is intended to be heard with 1, 2, 3, or all 4 discs being played simultaneously in different CD players. In short, they did whatever the hell they felt like and had just enough success to keep their record deal. A record company exec’s nightmare, I would think.

All that changed in 1999 with the release of “The Soft Bulletin.” The Lips had changed direction again and this time moved toward more accessible and mainstream music. They incorporated more synthesizers and layers of symphonic instruments. The album has been widely praised. It was included in many best of 1999 lists and was NME Magazine’s album of the year. I love this album and still spin it in my CD player from time to time. My favorites, though, are these 6.

  • Race for the Prize – This sunny, synth-laced song about scientists searching for a cure for disease features a driving beat and Wayne Coyne’s signature warbling vocals.
  • A Spoonful Weights a Ton – I’m not entirely sure what this one is about, though it sounds like a sci-fi song about a major physics experiment gone wrong or maybe some stellar catastrophe averted. That may be too literal a reading of the lyrics, though. Anyway, the strings and woodwinds are pretty during the verses and then the guitars and heavy synth hit us hard at the chorus.
  • The Spark that Bled (The Softest Bullet Ever Shot) – My daughter likes this song and so do I. It has several distinct movements: the quiet, brooding opening, a heavier, orchestrated bridge that makes me think of ELO for some reason, and an uplifting piano and guitar chorus.
  • The Spiderbite Song – This is a sweet and pretty song. Though he sings about being glad a “spiderbite” didn’t destroy his friend, my understanding is that it was really an abscess resulting from heroin use that nearly cost Lips guitarist Steven Drozd his arm.
  • Buggin’ – There is something almost Christmasy about this song, though the song is about bugs as a metaphor for love. It’s a joyful melody and the harmonies are great.
  • Waitin’ for a Superman – It seems people are waiting for a hero. Coyne tells us he’s probably not coming or if he is, he may not be able to help. It’s a melancholy song, but heartening somehow just the same.

I was lucky enough to see them at Bonnaroo a few years back, though at the time I didn’t know who they were really and foolishly didn’t stay for much of the show. What can I say? They took the stage at midnight and I was already tired.



June 2, 2010 - Posted by | Alternative, Indie, Popular, Rock

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