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.
I honestly never thought I’d ever review – much less listen to – a record by Miley Cyrus of Hannah Montana fame. In fact, the fake hipster and indie elitist inside of me still can’t quite come to terms with this turn of events. At any rate – long story short: TV / pop star erases her goody two shoes image a few years ago by revealing more and more of herself, makes friends with the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, collaborates on a few songs and eventually this leads to the free release of the double album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.
The September 1998 release of Mercury Rev’s 4th album Deserter’s Songs represented a creative rebirth. Gone were the shambolic noise freakouts. In its stead were songs of beauty and despair fleshed out by classical music elements. The songs were also mastered to 35mm magnetic film to lend the album a cinematic vibe. Lead off single Goddess On A Hiway was written by singer / guitarist Jonathan Donahue in the late 80’s while he was a member of The Flaming Lips – the song was found on an old cassette and rescued for the album sessions. The song serves as introduction to the sound of the entire album – ghostly, emotional vocals from Donahue, while strings rise up in emotion at key junctures. It also helps that the tune is a natural sing-a-long song, taking of advantage of a clever homonym. The 1st verses words “I got us on a highway / I got us in a car” change to “She’s a goddess on a highway / a goddess in a car” as the song progresses. The single was initially released in November, 1998 and reissued in August, 1999. One thing you will notice is that the sound of the song (and album) is very similar to the career redefining album The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips. In fact, the albums shared producer (and Mercury Rev member) Dave Fridmann. The success of Deserter’s Songs helped ensure the success of The Soft Bulletin, and raised the profile of the ‘Lips considerably. The video for ‘Goddess was a point of contention, with two different videos eventually released. I like the strangeness of the one embedded below – it seems to flow well within the haunting vibe of the song. Just try and get the refrain “And I know / it ain’t gonna last” out of your head after listening to this song. Perfection.
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.