The musical group, the Flaming Lips, have been around for awhile, more than 30 years now. I took notice of them around the time of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which had the big hit, “Do You Realize??” This album was in the middle of the band’s triad of commercial success. The albums before these three, and after, are beyond my patience and taste. Their partnership with Miley Cyrus, no thanks. I like the band, but it feels like Wayne Coyne is moving away from their commerciality, and too far into the experimental.
Even if you don’t know a lot about this band, you will have heard a couple of their most accessible songs. C’mon, you know you have.
There’s no definitive description of the Flaming Lips music. Alternative rock, electronica, experimental rock, atmospheric rock, very post-punk rock. The band defies categorization. One moment they are mainstream, the next is heavy and distorted, in search of a melodic hook. I don’t try to figures out this band, I am open to new music, but I’ll approach it cautiously. I hear too much abstract, experimentalism.
I heard someone describe this band as creating a messy and emotional atmosphere. I’d say that is true. They are adept at laying down wonderful and sensitive melodic music, as beautiful as McCartney or Wilson, but then covered in shards of sounds. Like painting a finely detailed portrait only to add splashes of color that turns it abstract. With that said, they are a band of seismic ideas.
So, let’s look at my three fav albums.
The Soft Bulletin (1999)
This album started the band on a journey to success. Many of the songs on this album have a traditional structure and production, although most of the songs are embellished with an avante garde sheen. You will hear an unusual instrument or the song will turn right when you expect it to go left, so you gets surprises. I found a variety of very nice melodies, gentle and eerily similar to some of the cleanest melodies of the 1960s.
“Race for the Prize” (Mokran remix) 4:09 Wow, what a great start, and not what I expected. Very lush and melodic! This was a single that broke the Top 40.
“A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” 3:32 Very orchestra opening, heavenly feel. Until it turns a bit bombastic with heavy sound. This represents the polar opposites of the band.
“The Spark That Bled” (“The Softest Bullet Ever Shot”) 5:55 Another haunting melody, like Brian Wilson on hallucinogenics. Wait, he already did that. This song is a goofy blend of styles.
“The Spiderbite Song” 4:02 Still another song that fuses a gentle melody with a variety of music room instruments thrown into the mix.
“Buggin'” (Mokran remix) 3:16 Some fine harmony vocals against the shifting musical background. Oh yeah, the song is about bugs.
“What Is the Light?” (“An Untested Hypothesis Suggesting That the Chemical [In Our Brains] by Which We Are Able to Experience the Sensation of Being in Love Is the Same Chemical That Caused the “Big Bang” That Was the Birth of the Accelerating Universe”) 4:05 A straight-ahead song, about as normal as they get. With orchestral backing.
“The Observer” 4:11 A really interesting instrumental, with just a hint of background vocals.
“Waitin’ for a Superman” (“Is It Gettin’ Heavy?”) 4:17 This song received some airplay. A fairly normal song (for them), one of the best on the album.
“Suddenly Everything Has Changed” (“Death Anxiety Caused by Moments of Boredom”) 3:54 A song that resonates with a lot of fans. Change is gonna happen. An outstanding piece of music.
“The Gash” (“Battle Hymn for the Wounded Mathematician”) 4:02 I can’t even begin to understand this song.
“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” 5:17 A dream-like melody, very repetitive.
“Sleeping on the Roof” (excerpt from “Should We Keep the Severed Head Awake??”) 3:09 Even more dream-like, slower than the previous song. Very impressive instrumental. This song could have been in Blade Runner.
“Race for the Prize” (“Sacrifice of the New Scientists”) 4:18 A different version than above. Equally nice.
“Waitin’ for a Superman” (Mokran remix) 4:19 A different version. Flip of the coin on which is better.
Total length: 58:26
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
This album might have been Sgt. Pepper on helium gas. I don’t believe this is quite as good as At War With the Mystics, although the bright spots on this album are as good as any Flaming Lips tunes. Wayne Coyne has this bag full of melodies, space farts, goofy sounds, bombastic beats and electronic weirdness. When he writes a song he reaches into his bag and pulls out a handful of song components. Sometimes the result is a marvelous melody and with psychedelic weirdness, other times it is electronic wrapped around a Beach Boys melody, you just never know what Wayne will pull out of his musical bag. Yoshimi could almost be a conventional album, but Wayne would never allow that, not interesting enough.
Yoshimi is like a Japanese sci-fi movie of the 1960s with a Burt Bacharach/Frank Zappa soundtrack. Some of the songs make little sense to me, while others are rather insightful poems of how fragile is, and to embrace everything of meaning while you can.
“Fight Test” (The Flaming Lips, Dave Fridmann, Cat Stevens) 4:14 Does it sound like “Father and Son”? Absolutely, so Cat Stevens gets credit. It’s not an exact copy but close enough. It sounds great.
“One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21” 4:59 I guess this is electronica with the beat and programmed sound. A very ambitious song, and it succeeds.
“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” 4:45 You’ve heard this song. A great melody and persistent beat, with weird electronic sounds sprouting up.
“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2” 2:57 Not as good as Part 1, like a series of electronic farts.
“In the Morning of the Magicians” 6:18 A creative bass beat, with programmed drums, serves as the spine for a nice cascade of pretty sounds.
“Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” 4:34 A sweet melody with a hip-hop beat.
“Are You a Hypnotist??” 4:44 Another song with a jacked-up beat and spacey production. It’s not bad, just different.
“It’s Summertime” 4:20 Similar to early David Bowie, around the time of “Space Oddity.”
“Do You Realize??” (The Flaming Lips, Dave Fridmann) 3:33 The most played Flaming Lips song, a classic. Don’t take people for granted. Important message.
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know You realize that life goes fast It’s hard to make the good things last You realize the sun doesn’t go down It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round Do you realize, oh, oh, oh? Do you realize that everyone you know Someday will die?
“All We Have Is Now” 3:53 A very pretty, and sad, song.
As logic stands you couldn’t meet a man Who’s from the future But logic broke as he appeared he spoke About the Future “We’re not gonna make it” He explained how The end will come, you and me were never meant To be part of the future, All we have is now
“Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” 3:09 This song will knock you out. If I didn’t know better, they were channeling Jimmy Webb.
At War With the Mystics (2006)
I like this album a lot. The various styles are great, but it features some dynamic songwriting and production. It never gets too weird.
“The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)” 4:51 You’ve heard this bouncy, commercial song. It got plenty of radio play. A political song.
“Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)” 3:39 Listen with earbuds, your ears won’t forgive you. It’s quite a production job.
“The Sound of Failure / It’s Dark… Is It Always This Dark??” 7:18 One of their prettiest songs, one of my favorites. I wish they would write more songs like this. The last couple of minutes are a bit interesting.
“My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (The Inner Life as Blazing Shield of Defiance and Optimism as Celestial Spear of Action)” 4:48 Another very nice, melodic song. but they don’t let it get too middle-of-the-road.
“Vein of Stars” 4:15 Let’s keep the melodic songs coming. It’s pretty awesome. Another classic.
“The Wizard Turns On… The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins” 3:41 A heavy, spacey song. Early 1970s, Jethro Tull-like.
“It Overtakes Me / The Stars Are So Big… I Am So Small… Do I Stand a Chance?” 6:50 A heavy beat song, with a repeating riff. It has its moments. Half-way through the song it morphs into a light, airy, acoustic song. These are two ends of very different songs.
“Mr. Ambulance Driver” 4:21 A very melodic song with a some memorable hooks. If you listen to this album, don’t forget to check this one out.
“Haven’t Got a Clue” 3:23 A lesser classic, an interesting groove.
“The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)” 3:44 A a heavy metal, groove song, a la Todd Rundgren.
“Pompeii am Götterdämmerung” 4:22 Early 1970s Pink Floyd. They do Pink Floyd every well.
“Goin’ On” 3:39 A straight-forward song, a Todd Rundgren vibe. Nice song.
Total length: 54:53