The Flaming Lips
Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid
Don’t be fooled by all that orchestral/electro-pop gloss; The Flaming Lips were best when they were a garage band. That’s the reason Clouds Taste Metallic remains their greatest record — they work best when Wayne Coyne is able to cake his fancy upbeat happy sci-fi sentiments in a convincing layer of sludge. Well, it doesn’t come much sludgier than here, a three-disc set of the Lips’ earliest work. Disc one covers The Flaming Lips EP and Hear It Is; Disc two looks at their second LP, Oh My Gawd…It’s The Flaming Lips; and Disc three almost manages to contain their third album, Telepathic Surgery. Every disc ends with lovely bonus tracks, there are a couple of insightful and hilarious essays by Coyne and now-drummer Steven Drozd, and all in all it’s the ideal holiday present to buy yourself if you have ever loved any of the Lips’ records.
But this stuff, be warned, is pretty freakin’ raw. I’m listening to “Scratchin’ The Door” from The Flaming Lips right now, and it sounds just like what it is: a pretty amateurish record by a gang of drugged-out fucked-up post-college weirdos from Oklahoma. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great, with its 7000 fake endings and its wrongheaded ending and its sound lifted directly from every single late ’60s garage-punk record ever. The whole first disc is so refreshingly us-in-the-utility-room that it roolz completely. The band begins to take shape on the first track of Hear It Is, “With You”: it’s the first to feature the combination of sweet vulnerability and insane noise that the early Lips owned completely. And this was also the first record to feature a staple of their repertoire, “Jesus Shooting Heroin.” (This song is so great they have included a version on every single disc here, including a way-out live take on disc three. But we’re getting there.) They do a fun version of the theme from Batman and The Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” too. Good times.
Oh My Gawd!!! is a much more confident record than Hear It Is, which is a great thing, because garage punks who think they’re ass-kickin’ rockers are the coolest people alive. “Everything’s Explodin'” lives up to its swaggery title, combining new-wavey drum lines with glam guitars and the sloppiest vocals since The Sex Pistols. The epic Pink Floyd/Rush/Television song “One Million Billionth of a Second on a Sunday Morning” is here (and repeated as a live bonus track, too), as is my favorite piece on the record, the delicate piano-driven “Love Yer Brain” (“You can love yer brain / Even if it slips down the drain / I said man I’m not no drug addict / But a person’s gotta have something / To keep them from goin’ insane“), which turns into a psychedelic nightmare at the end as they start beating the crap out of everything in the studio. Coyne clearly had more ambition as a singer than he had chops, but that’s all part of the beauty of songs like “Can’t Stop the Spring” and both parts of “Ode to C.C.”, which we learn was inspired by C.C. DeVille of Poison. No, I’m not kidding. Best bonus track: Led Zepplin’s “Communication Breakdown.”
Okay, so then we’re on to Telepathic Surgery. This record is cleaner- and meaner-sounding than Oh My Gawd!!! right off the bat: “Drug Machine in Heaven,” the first track, combines a mutant-psych guitar chug with some freaky backing vocals and sounds perfectly entitled to do so. “Chrome Plated Suicide” weds ear-gouging feedback to the “Be My Baby” drumbeat together with lyrical references to “Iggy Pop thrown in a hole” and “Love can be the best thing in the world.” Funny jokes (“Redneck School of Technology”), metal stomp (“Fryin’ Up”), and funny jokes mixed with metal stomp (“Begs And Achin'”) abound, and it’s a fun record that also manages to rawk real hard. Modern musical methods do not allow the entire however-long-it-was ambient wank of “Hell’s Angel Cracker Factory” to be put on the same disc as all the bonus tracks, so we get a three-minute edit, which kinda sucks… but then we wouldn’t have gotten the multimedia experience of listening to “Death Tripping at Sunrise” while reading the corresponding essay, “As Diarrhea Smears the Space Bible,” which almost actually works. Oh, yeah, and they do a rockier “After the Gold Rush” than I’ve ever heard from its author, whoever he was. Some guy.
Look, this is a perfect way to introduce yourself to one of the greatest bands of our time. If Yoshimi had had some of the spirit that these records did, it would have been #1 for me with a big fat bullet. Do yourself a favor here; don’t miss this.
The Flaming Lips: http://www.flaminglips.com