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Wax On

Clouds Taste Metallic

Steven Garnett takes a closer look at one of many earth-shaking moments in a long career.

The Flaming Lips

Clouds Taste Metallic

Warner Bros.

Wayne Coyne’s Crayon scribbled declaration “these clouds are real” on the back of Clouds Taste Metallic, in relationship to an un-doctored photo of cirrocumuli during an OKC sunset, is indeed real. I know because I’ve been there, there being OK, similarly astonished. It’s science and it’s not science inasmuch as perceptions are subjective. That Wayne marvels at the natural world’s troposheric beauty and the album’s lyrical content leaps to fantastical knowledge and surmises “taste metallic” jibed with me at first listen. Hearing the known and unknown.

Clouds Taste Metallic was released by Warner Brothers on September 19, 1995.

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols raised hell at the OKC Federal Building. For their sins, Mr. McVeigh was executed June 2001 and Nichols sentenced to life without parole.

According to https://www.okhistory.org , four popular narratives followed for those affected by the atrocity. One was the “redemptive narrative…as religious communities struggled with issues of forgiveness, doubt, and the presence, or absence, of God and Jesus Christ.” From their earliest records to Clouds, the Flaming Lips tended to doubt and with considerable enthusiasm. As a listener I cannot not connect the dots among this record, the bombing, and the natures of good and evil; the former exuberantly intimated in “Kim’s Watermelon Gun” and the latter backhanded via “Evil Will Prevail” and still a “maybe” remains, bullets dodged by sleeping late as heard in “Bad Days”.

I don’t know why a band would draw a line in the sand delineating nihilism and existentialism to then use the line for jump roping, folding in supposed opposites.

I know “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” posits God in need of life-saving surgery, and while theologically disparate, I get the drift. After all, Dave Fridmann’s production includes the sound of unraveling, flapping film as the projector projects onto a supposed screen – white light?

I don’t know how Ronald Jones coaxed such guitar tones. I know Steven Drozd maxed-out the trap kit and Michael Ivans’ Entwistle melodic sensibilities were peaking and Wayne was the same Wayne of “Hells Angels Cracker Factory” and “Do You Realize?” portending with language perched like a crow. This was the logical extension of their band to-date just as evolving with new line-ups was no surprise.

I didn’t know bubblegum pop could sound like a Whirlpool filled with pink cotton candy and marshmallows. This was the rock record that merged ’60s/’70s classic rock staples with the avant garde, a fraternal twin to Royal Trux’s Thank You.

A decade before Clouds Taste Metallic I’d walked a Tulsa street Thanksgiving weekend passing the home of Hee Haw‘s comical Gailard Sartain, afternoon church bells penetrating my consciousness as they do. I drifted. A letter sent maybe didn’t arrive. Lightning struck the postman turning words to sand. I’d dreamt of Christmas around the corner, likely a zoo. MM wept after her ride home from the clinic. Prescriptions were changing.

This first “Wax On” I write Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, largely homebound due to Covid-19 pandemonium. Things seen and unseen.

www.flaminglips.com

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