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THE FLAMING LIPS
There's no better place to load eight speakers full of exploding drums, mountainous synths, and layered vocal oohs than The Land of Blue and Gold. Zaireeka and Best Buy are a match made in stoner heaven.
The Lips' 1997 four-disc album is easily their weirdest ever, a feat unto itself. As if the swirling, nearly aimless 10-minute songs aren't enough, the material requires four stereos, as the CDs are meant to be played simultaneously. Seems awesome at first, but have you ever tried convincing friends to bring boom boxes to your house, hang out for nearly an hour, and help synchronize audio? Woo.
Fortunately, jumbo-sized electronics stores are tailor-made for this sort of surreal musical treat. After seeing people pop their own CDs into demo stereos, I realized that stores could care less if you bring "tester" albums, a fact I've tested to the limits in repeat, public Zaireeka trials.
Generally, hi-fi aisles are lined on both sides with expensive stereos, meaning that I can both perfectly re-create the surround effect and force passersby to walk through my aural gauntlet. Scaring potential HDTV customers is even easier when the right friends come along—pajama pants and hats shaped like grizzly bears add a nice touch to the headache-inducing frequencies of "How Will We Know?"
Store employees have never stopped me—in fact, they gobble it up, showing up one at a time to figure out what the speaker-spanning drum solo of "March of the Rotten Vegetables" is all about. Closest I've ever had to trouble? A clerk asked if I'd taken the album from the store. I pointed at the speakers: "Do you really think you sell this shit here?" He smiled and walked away. SAM MACHKOVECH
THE FLAMING LIPS
At War with the Mystics
A Flaming Lips show is the rock 'n' roll equivalent of Star Wars. George Lucas's sci-fi blockbuster forever skewed the scale of moviemaking—after the Death Star, atom-bomb big couldn't cut it; shit had to be planet-bomb big. Special effects were prioritized alongside plot, since simple archetypes could be rendered profound through exploding spaceships and light-saber duels. The Lips did the same thing with the rock concert, turning their UFO-landing, space bubble–walking, smoke machine–abusing performances into one of the most life-affirming experiences on earth. Star Wars and the Flaming Lips demonstrate that, when there's substance at the core of a work of art, spectacle amplifies its meaning.
"It's a very dangerous thing to do exactly what you want to do," Wayne Coyne sings on "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" from the 2006 record At War with the Mystics. The line sounds dull on the page and sounds funny in headphones, but when sung out from a stage tangled with streamers and confetti, by a man who just stepped out of a giant plastic bubble to have his face projected, fisheye-style, on a 30-foot screen behind him, it takes on new layers of meaning.
So when it came time to record Mystics, the Flaming Lips chose songs to match the outrageous spectacle of their live shows, favoring oversized rock anthems over the fuzzy space-prog of their earlier albums. They concocted dumbfounding blowouts like "The W.A.N.D." and "Free Radicals," with screaming solos for Coyne to play on his ridiculous twin-neck Gibson and supernova beats provided by the band's new fourth member, drummer Kliph Scurlock. The music they made on Mystics was written with visual excess in mind. JONATHAN ZWICKEL
THE FLAMING LIPS
The Soft Bulletin
I owe you an apology.
In 1997, I reviewed the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka for Pitchfork and gave it a 0.0 rating. To this day, I still get hate mail and/or angry blog posts chastising my opinion: "[H]e may as well have put the freakin' thing on an eight track tape or 6,000 microcassettes that each have one note on them." Maybe I should have gone to Best Buy, but as a newly relocated Seattleite with one nearly broken CD player and almost zero friends, I couldn't fully dive into the album's quadraphonic cacophony and I took it out on the band in blistering fashion.
I'm not apologizing for that.
My true regret is for my review of your follow-up, The Soft Bulletin. You guys created a fantastic album, merging the cinematic glory of Pet Sounds with the primal thunder of Houses of the Holy. The triumph of tragedy meets the majesty of mortality, with dark themes etched in deceptively shiny prog-rock hues. If The Soft Bulletin were an entrée, it would be a burrito of naked pop, apocalyptic gospel, shifty asides, and melancholy dirges. I said all of that, but only after 12 paragraphs of navel gazing. I know, it's Pitchfork, it's supposed to be self-indulgent, but it wasn't fair to you.
In the end, it doesn't matter. You have the first classic album of the new millennium; I have a review that's like a piece of lettuce in my teeth.
Yrs in Christ,
P.S. I gave Peter Criss's solo album a 0.0, too, so you're in good company.