In 15 years [B]The Flaming Lips[/B] have been broken apart and put back together again more times than a children's jigsaw.
In 15 years The Flaming Lips have been broken apart and put back together again more times than a children’s jigsaw. The only constant in that time has been Wayne Coyne – and it’s his boundless imagination and remorseless pursuit of new sound that has brought them to this, their latest lofty pinnacle.
If the Lips spent much of their early career doing a rough approximation of Brian Wilson fronting the Mary Chain, their latest incarnation (Coyne plus Steven Drozd on drums/keyboards and Michael Ivins on bass) obliterates any such comparisons. The departure of guitarist Ronald Jones after 1995’s ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’ has prompted a complete rethink in the way they make their music.
‘The Soft Bulletin’ is the culmination of a musical journey that started over a decade ago. It’s a record informed by every album the Lips have made since 1990’s ‘In A Priest Driven Ambulance’, but given particular direction by their recent interstellar sound experiments on ’98’s four-CD ‘Zaireeka’ project.
Contemporaries like Mercury Rev might be in debt to the last century of cosmic Americana, but the Lips are restricted by no such boundaries. ‘The Soft Bulletin’ is a joyous, celestial celebration of sound. Rhythmic and piano-laden, it’s heavenly in both its conception and execution. The songs are a series of dazzling collages of harps, strings, operatic choirs and stereo sound effects. Yet it’s still a pop record. Three of the best songs – the brilliant ‘Race For The Prize’, ‘Buggin” and ‘Superman’ – are mixed by Peter Mokran, an engineer better known for his work with Puff Daddy and R Kelly.
As ever with the Lips, though, it’s not just the sound that makes this a great record, but Coyne‘s skewed emotional lyricism. Loosely speaking, a concept album, ‘The Soft Bulletin’ continues his preoccupation with The Great Themes (life, death, good, evil, existence itself), veering from [I]Superman [/I]to artificial insemination in the space of a few seconds. Suede, this isn’t.
What makes the Lips unique is that over a decade into their career, ideas are still cascading from Coyne‘s head. Like Jason Pierce and Kevin Shields, he’s determined to make music in different and ever more interesting ways, and on this album he succeeds triumphantly. The combination of the emotional and experimental is more touching and wonderful than it’s ever been on any Flaming Lips record in the past. It’s some achievement.