The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
(Warner Brothers Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Story by Tony BonyataHistory has proven that strangeness, or that which seems strange to the mainstream, has often been overlooked in favor of knowing what one likes, or, more appropriately, liking what one knows or understands. Many geniuses have been overlooked in their own lifetimes, only to be be appreciated too late in their careers or, even worse, posthumously.
Such has been the fate of The Flaming Lips, a quirky alternative rock band hailing from Oklahoma City. For the last 16 years they've produced a wealth of diversions to the norm, first starting out as a death-rock outfit, then dabbling in punk before settling into an impressive decade-long foray of cutting-edge experimental rock, but, unfortunately, for the most part they've managed to allude the public eye.
Led by singer / songwriter / guitarist Wayne Coyne, with Michael Ivins on bass and Stephen Drozd on drums, The Lips have released their latest installment of off-kilter rock on The Soft Bulletin, a glib, slightly psychotic album that, like their previous efforts, shies away from mainstream music. Although their last two albums went way out in left field with extravagant experiments in sound (their last release Zaireeka was a 4 CD set that was meant to be played on four different stereos simultaneously to appreciate it's full sonic montage, while the album before that, appropriately titled Parking Lot Experiments, found Coyne recording 40 different car stereos simultaneously in an indoor parking lot, each which played different cassettes that he had composed, performed or sampled) The Soft Bulletin mixes latent Lennon / McCartney melodic tendencies with swirling strings that weave in and out of quirky song structures, making for an almost perfect gob of acid bubblegum.
The album opens with the oscillating "Race For The Prize" with Coyne's frail, earnest voice gliding over a sea of synthetic symphonics. The queer psychedelia mixed with lush orchestrations continues on the mini-epic "The Spark That Bled", "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" and "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton", which, with it's sunny piano and Coyne's innocent, hopeful voice, flutters like a butterfly only to get trampled underfoot later in the song by a looming Led Zeppelin-like crunch. The number "What Is The Light?" find The Lips mixing a light shade of Pink Floyd over a subdued hip-hop beat, while their reflective instrumental numbers "The Observer" and "Sleeping On The Roof" instead seem to receive their influences more from Brian Eno's ambient warehouse. With an ominous bass-line with it's own agenda and an overall 'feel good' melody, the first single from the album "Buggin'" could prove to be one of the 10 best pop songs of the year.
Fame and fortune may never fall in the lap of The Flaming Lips, but as long as they continue to make relevant slabs of brilliant madness as on The Soft Bulletin they should at least get a crack at the 15 minutes they've deserved for so long.
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