Flaming Lips – ‘The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends’

One hell of a weird ride

It sounds like the kids’ show from hell. “Hullo there! Wayne is tripping in the bathtub, trying his best to ignore the tiny screaming faces in the wallpaper. ‘Do you realise we’re all going to die?’ he appears to be gibbering — and wait, look, here are all of his friends! Nick Cave, Yoko Ono… er, is that Ke$ha? Oh now this is getting ridiculous…”

Luckily ‘The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends’, conceived by Wayne ‘You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Jam Here’ Coyne and his Oklahoma pals, is not some CBeebies nightmare, but it isn’t short on hallucinatory weirdness – or collaborators, including the aforementioned trio plus Bon Iver, Erykah Badu, Neon Indian…

From afar, it’d be easy to dismiss The Flaming Lips as the clowns of psychedelic rock, walking a fine line between blotter-munching buffoonery and saucer-eyed, heroic confusion. ‘…Heady Fwends’ was first released on Record Store Day with an über-limited edition featuring some of the artists’ blood, which Coyne had been keeping in his fridge. Now it’s up for general release in (non-gore-smeared) CD format.

If that sounds wacky, the band have form on their side. ‘Embryonic’, from 2009, while a taxing spin for listeners used to the opulence of more commercial endeavours, was a smart move given the pomp had begun to outshine the splendour by 2006’s ‘At War With The Mystics’. Seemingly mixed by someone having a seizure at the control desk, the record was twitchy, temperamental and frequently inspired.

The Ke$ha collab ‘2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)’ opens here and makes ‘Embryonic’ sound tame — it’s like ‘Summertime Blues’ having its head shoved in a disc sander, with an inexplicable flute-spangled mid-section. ‘Ashes In The Air’ recalls David Bowie’s ‘Low’ but, you know, with better gags: “You and me/We thought we were so smart/We thought we could outrun them/But they have robot dogs”.

‘Helping The Retarded To Find God’ (umm, is that the preferred nomenclature?) starts out as a mawkish acoustic ballad — albeit with lasers/Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros — before a gorgeous, hymn-like coda kicks in. ‘Supermoon Made Me Want To Pee’, with hip-hopper Prefuse 73, sounds like Spiritualized at their most torrid, while an inspired sesh with Tame Impala yields results like Funkadelic hooking up with Thor (‘Children Of The Moon’).

‘That Ain’t My Trip’ (with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) is again superbly moored by Steven Drozd’s obscenely loud guitar lines – they’re like the moonboots on Coyne’s float-happy cosmonaut – before zooming off into dentist-drill territory on the (non-)chorus. Again, it’s great.

You know your record’s weird when the track featuring Yoko Ono comes as precious respite, but that’s how we’d describe ‘Do It!’, and – uh-oh – looks like you’ll need it, because here comes ‘Is David Bowie Dying?’’s monolithic dirge (with Neon Indian), chiming doom for the Thin White Duke before introducing a Can-like twist on the chorus. After all that, Erykah Badu’s scene-stealing cameo comes as some sort of blissful, cosmic slow-jam for the ages, but the record tails off with New Fumes’ shrug-worthy inclusion and a skit featuring Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory, er, ‘fame’.

It all adds up to a deeply deranged and intermittently great listen, and serves as a decent stopgap ’til the band’s next album proper (maybe due this year). Now please – won’t someone shut that fucking wallpaper up?
Alex Denney