At War With The New Flaming Lips

flamingCan I talk about The Flaming Lips for a moment?

Sometime in 2005, with $40 in my pocket, I walked into a Best Buy in Redding, California (other than a pretty terrific little used joint, Best Buy was the only place to find new-ish CD’s at that time). Perusing the isles my eye falls upon the fantastic cover for My Morning Jacket’s brilliant album Z. This was a new release and displayed on a special rack with other new stuff.

I should take this time to share that I had no idea what I was looking for; this was one of those rare trips where I was looking to discover something new only via the album cover, in other words gambling with $40 worth of music money.

yoshimiNext, flipping through the racks I stumble upon the “F” section and a very cool painting of a tiny Japanese girl looking up at a giant pink robot. I should say that ever since I bought News Of The World by Queen way back when I have had a great affinity for mechanical monsters, and a special incentive was that I had heard of this band before. I added it to my cart.

Next up: the “M” column, and a dark, grainy purple cover with some scraggly dude smoking a cigarette catches my eye. I pick it up and notice that it’s entitled Deserters Songs by some band called Mercury Rev. I immediately make the connection to Suicide’s keyboardist, martin Rev. Thinking this is going to be some modern throwback to early techno I add it to my basket. $37.50 was my total, so I stop the shop and lay down my hard earned.

Z, and my morning jacket, has stayed pretty consistently good throughout the years; Deserters Songs I didn’t get until a couple of months later when, during a rare Northern California lightning storm I decided to listen to it again. To say it deeply affected me would be a horrible understatement. I have loved everything they have done since, and before, but unfortunately they haven’t released a new album since 2008.

The Flaming Lips, well, here’s how it went down. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots became an instant classic for me and remains one of my favorite albums ever. I immediately went back and purchased The Soft Bulletin; another classic. Next up, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart (that’s the one with “She Don’t Use Jelly”, for all you Lips novices!) and Clouds Taste Metallic, purchased at the same time at a Chico, CA record store. I was so obsessed over getting these 2 albums I drove 3 hours (round trip) to get there. When 2006 came ‘round and At War With the Mystics was released I was basically a drooling invalid on the day of release. This album gets a bad rap, but aside from a couple of duds it remains a fascinating mess.

Then, 3 years later the dark and brooding Embryonic arrives. At this point in the story I had recently been headhunted by a family owned newspaper chain near Lake Tahoe and was commuting back and forth to Redding each weekend until I could get my family moved. This took almost exactly one year. So, each month I had a 6 hour round trip commute, which afforded me ample time to listen to tunes. Embryonic made the grade, but this was an entirely different Flaming Lips from what I was used to. Rougher, darker, but not entirely devoid of the light that made those early Lips records so special. I have to be in the mood to listen to this one, though, whereas the older stuff will do anytime, anywhere. Any particular mood will do.

I bought their newest and to tell you the truth I sold it 2 days later and cannot even recall the name as I type this. Oh, yes, The Terror! That’s what it’s called. I hated it immediately, but since it was The Flaming Lips I needed to give it one or 10 more tries, which I did. After all those listening sessions I actually ended up hating it even more! I compare it to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. That’s the best comparison I can make, and I think it’s an apt one. Go to Amazon and you’ll find more than a few folks who will sing the praises of MMM and The Terror.

I guess if I had to sum up the change in one word it’d be “hope”, or a lack thereof, in the new music of The Flaming Lips. The Old Flaming Lips had dark elements, but there was always hope, always an optimistic melody or two that would lift the music above the average. There is none of that now. Many fans will call me a fair-weather fan, and tell me that this new phase is only the band going back to their acid drenched roots, but I don’t buy it. My thought is that Wayne Coyne has lost his ability to self edit. Every musical thought, good and bad, has been projectile vomited on us at an alarming rate, and it’s passed off as being creative and/or as abstract weirdness. Hey, I’m all for abstract and weirdness, but come on! More than this and even more heinous, I get the distinct feeling they’re being weird and dark and inaccessible because they know their fans will snatch up every fart they put into a gummy skull.

The only line I can think of to sum up this new phase in the career of The Flaming Lips is a bit of a cliché, but totally apropos in my humble opinion. The quote comes from a young John Lydon, and it goes like this:

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

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