The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999): Review

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Produced by Dave Fridmann and The Flaming Lips
Label – Warner Bros

It’s difficult to assess what would have happened to Wayne Coyne’s Flaming Lips, had they not released one of the most incredible records of the decade. Incredible in that everything leading up to its release led one to think that for all the profound eccentricity of previous recordings the Oklahoma three piece really were diminishing their potential audience and undoubtedly the level of support from their record company. Having initially gained limited success with their early 90s mix of rock and grunge, when lead guitarist Ronald Jones left the band in summer 1996, Coyne elected to explore the musical absurd. Firstly they ran The Parking Lot Experiments, where the band invited people to bring their cars to parking lots, were given cassette tapes and instructed to play them in synchronization. This wet their collective appetite for more examinations in combining a collage of sounds from multiple outlets for 1997s “Zaireeka”. Released on four CD’s (Coyne originally wanted 100), the intention was for the listener to play all four at the same time, and although flawed, was a necessary stimulation and a basis for the approach in arranging “The Soft Bulletin”. Deliberately denying themselves of key ingredients like traditional rock guitars, the band, influenced by movie soundtracks (particularly Disney), began to create a glorious midi manipulated symphony.

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Coyne may have been the chief instigator for “The Soft Bulletin”, but it’s multi instrumentalist Steven Drozd who heroically interprets and converts the singer’s imaginations into fully fledged recordings. On “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” he carefully combines lush orchestration for the verse with a huge booming chorus that thunders from the speakers. “The Spiderbite Song” is the most naively charming love song that subtly ties two stories, Drozd’s septic heroin reaction which was initially thought to be a brown recluse bite, and a fatal car crash. “Waitin’ For Superman” sees the depths of Coyne’s despair at the loss of his father through an intense realization that even superheroes cannot reverse this mortal coil we exist in. The intro for “Race For The Prize” had been hanging around in Drozd’s imagination for years, and when presented to the band as a wacky string sounding tape clip stirred them to fulfill its essence to a complete and wonderful opener. Producer Dave Fridmann meticulously pulls the band’s bizarre expressions into something majestic and has to take huge credit for his patience and attention to detail. But mostly it’s Coyne’s conceptual vision that’s at the heart of the collection. The fact that he created a masterpiece by throwing out the modern rock recording conventions is a revelation and as aurally visual as the man experiencing his existence through LSD as portrayed on the front cover.

Deliberately unpredictable, at times moving and compassionate, occasionally witty and cynical, The Flaming Lips weave the deft touch of seasoned musical magicians for one of the greatest records of the 90s.

9/10

Track Rating

1 – Race For The Prize (9)
2 – A Spoonful Weighs A Ton (9)
3 – The Spark That Bled (9)
4 – The Spiderbite Song (9)
5 – Buggin’ (9)
6 – What Is The Light (9)
7 – The Observer (8)
8 – Waitin’ For Superman (9)
9 – Suddenly Everything Happened (9)
10 – The Gash (8)
11 – Feeling Yourself Disintegrate (9)
12 – Sleeping On The Roof (9)

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2 responses to “The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999): Review

    • Never spotted the similarities until you pointed them out. Even the unpredictable has consistency it seems.

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