I have a long history with The Flaming Lips dating back to the late 90’s shows in support of their 1st masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin. I’d previously written them off, firmly convinced they weren’t cool. What can I say, I was pretty damn snobby in my youth. I was wrong. Anyway – so began a 21-year (and counting) love affair with all things ‘Lips. The last time I saw the band live was a true spectacle in support of 2017’s Oczy Mlody.
The Paramount in Seattle is a larger venue, typically the largest arena a band will play if they aren’t playing a stadium show. The show was sold out and was a standing room only type deal. I found myself talking with a group of younger (than me) women who were there because of the Miley Cyrus overlap. An unusual scenario, to be sure, but I found myself explaining the history of the band, why I love them, and how their willingness to experiment resulted in their association with Miley Cyrus. A bodyguard came by, asked the group if I was with them – they said yes – and we were whisked down to the front of the stage, in the place typically inhabited by photographers. I got to watch the band entertain a sold-out crowd from a unique perspective. It was one of the stranger experiences of my Seattle concert going adventures, and one that I loved. But now it leads to that dreaded question – what comes next?
The Flaming Lips have never failed to baffle, confound, delight, frustrate, and inspire me. I initially wrote them off as “alternative light” in the early 90’s in the wake of their hit single She Don’t Use Jelly (snobby hipster alert). As it now stands, that era of punk stoner pop rock ended around 1995, never to be revisited. It took me until 1999 to actually get into the band – The Soft Bulletin heralded a new era. Also, the best reviews the band ever received. The two shows I saw in Philadelphia for that album’s tour remain among the best, loudest, and most theatrical shows I’ve ever seen. The last 18 years have seen the band embrace electronic melancholy mixed with optimism (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots), existential dread in the wake of divorce by way of motorik (The Terror), and a few albums that try as I might just didn’t hit the mark for me. There are also a ton of collaborative albums, wild experiments, and one collaborator that is key to the genesis of Oczy Mlody – Miley Cyrus.
The years since the 2002 release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots have been hit or miss for me, as a die-hard fan of The Flaming Lips. I loved portions of At War With the Mystics and Embryonic and even picked up each special single or bizarre collaboration (culminating in the release of the Heady Fwends compilation album in 2012). Don’t get me wrong – I have been blown away by some of the songs over the last 10 years – just not for an entire albums length. Was the Golden Age of The Flaming Lips for me really going to always be the years 1997 through 2002? The more I read about the 2013 album, The Terror, the more I began to look forward to its release. Interviews indicating a dark atmosphere permeating the entire album, questions of mortality – these are all things that I have always loved. Now that I’ve lived with the album for a few weeks, I am happy to report that this is a modern classic. Perhaps one of the strongest offerings in the entire discography by The Flaming Lips.
Part 27 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
I recently was reminded of the fragile nature of life while reading a Philadelphia area newspaper (you can never leave home, remember?) and discovered that a middle school / high school classmate of mine had been killed in the line of duty – leaving behind a pregnant wife and young child. Mortality stares me in the face daily – my “social network” feed is suddenly filled with condolences from the class of 1995 and heartbreaking pictures of my classmate in action. Just a few days ago I had been getting fed up with the non stop political barrages, but they (almost) seem welcome now. As with anything that pops up unexpectedly in life – I sought solace in music and struggled to make sense of this absurd injustice. The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips asks all of these life questions and brilliantly ties everything into a package of hope, sadness, and longing.