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Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

May 16, 2009

I told you I’d have a new post up eventually…sorry about the breif hiatus, had a bunch of APs and other stressful stuff going on. But now I’m back, so here it goes…

Mr. Wayne Michael Coyne

Mr. Wayne Michael Coyne

The Flaming Lips were always known as a band that was a little ahead of their time. Beginning by making noise-rock and lo-fi music, akin to the Sonic Youth and Pavement, more accessible to the general listening public, Wayne Michael Coyne and crew lead a revolution in music.
Starting out by self-releasing several albums, The Flaming Lips were signed to Warner Bros. records after a Warner Bros. executive witnessed a club burning down as a result of the Lips pyrotechnics. Following up this signing, The Flaming Lips would go on to put out three albums and have one hit single (“She Don’t Use Jelly”, 1993) before the next major turning point in their career.
Zaireeka. The word won’t be found in any work by Webster or Merriam-Webster. What is actually a portmanteau of Zaire (a nation now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, used as a symbol of anarchy) and Eureka (an exclamation of joy) was used in an attempt to describe how exactly the Flaming Lips’ new album sounded and felt.
They got it half right.
Zaireeka, the Flaming Lips’ 1997 effort, was definitely anarchical; however, there was very little joyous about it. A vain attempt at creating a surround-sound album, Zaireeka was released as a four-disc album with one catch: each disc had the exact same track listing. Listeners were directed to hook up four CD players, boom-boxes, computers or whatever they used to listen to CDs, and put one CD in each, positioning the CD players in such a way as to achieve “full” surround-sound.
It did not work all that well.
So, what is a band to do after releasing one of the largest critical and commercial failures in the history of rock music? Well, the Lips picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and, without missing a beat, would put out the album that would, once again, redefine the Lips’ career and the style of music at the time.

1999's "The Soft Bulletin" (Warner)

1999's "The Soft Bulletin" (Warner)

The Soft Bulletin led the Lips (and the rest of the music world) out of the period of extreme decay, disgust and evil that we now refer to as “the ‘90s”. The music of the ‘90s was filled with two things: the overly infectious, bubble-gum pop of teen pop-stars and the overly morose groaning of the grunge kings. Coyne & co. took elements of both of these styles into account on the recording of their magnum opus, The Soft Bulletin.
Opening with “Race for the Prize”, it is clear exactly how this album was made. While the lyrics present are not always the happiest or most joyous “I accidentally touched my head/and I noticed I was bleeding/for how long, I didn’t know” and the music varies from giddy to depressing, something in the delivery of Wayne Coyne ensures that, while the message of the album is not lost, no one walks away feeling that this album has ruined their day.
Now, you want a song analysis? Well, here it goes.
The songs on The Soft Bulletin discuss a variety of topics, ranging from spider bites (“The Spider Bite Song”), head trauma (“The Spark That Bled” (“The Softest Bullet Ever Shot”)), superheroes and every-day citizens (“Waitin’ for a Superman”) and, of course, love (“”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”)). And, as clearly shown here, the Lips’ aren’t running out of creative titles any time soon.

Wayne Coyne Live

Wayne Coyne Live

The Flaming Lips would go on to continue their pop success with albums such as “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “At War With Mystics” (the latter of which was a commercial success but a musical failure). However, the Lips try to stray as little as they can from their lo-fi, garage rock roots. But, then again, how normal can your music be when one of your more recent pop-hits is titled “Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)”.

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