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A little [lysergic] help from their "fwends"

The Flaming Lips - The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
(Warner Brothers Records)
4stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 11, 2012
The Flaming Lips

Review by Tony Bonyata

In this digital age where music has become a fleeting, even disposable commodity, The Flaming Lips continue to astound with both their groundbreaking and often mind-blowing music and physical products.

In '97 they released their album Zaireeka, a four-CD set intended to be listened to by playing all four CDs in four separate CD players simultaneously (and speaking from experience, when you get all four to sync up just right it's a real aural trip). Last year they not only released their "Gummy Song Skull," a life-size human skull made of gummy candy containing a flashdrive with four extremely limited tracks lodged in a marijuana-flavored green gummy brain, but also a similar "Gummy Song Fetus" with three exclusive tracks embedded within a gummy human fetus ("Eat your way to the music!" their web-shop proclaims). Their most bizarre packaging concept, however, was their 24-hour song on a flashdrive embedded in five real human skulls (yes, real ones... and chrome-dipped to boot) which sold for a staggering five-grand each.

More recently, the self-proclaimed "Fearless Freaks" released a limited double LP, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, last month as a Record Store Day exclusive. This vinyl-only set is lavishly packaged in a psychedelic cover with trippy, multicolored vinyl - with no two vinyl designs the same. (And in keeping with their ongoing WTF? packaging concepts, they are also releasing 10 extremely limited versions of the LP filled with the real blood of most of the "fwends" on this effort). What's even more trippier than the lysergic acid-soaked physical packaging, however, are some of the collaborations on this effort, such as rapper Ke$ha, avant-gardist Yoko Ono, indie-folkie Bon Iver, R&B singer Erykah Badu, rock's bad seed Nick Cave and Coldplay's Chris Martin, among others.

Despite the vast differences of their guests' styles, it all holds together extremely well - with The Lips' Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins, Steven Drozd and Kliph Scurlock serving as the anchoring common denominator for this cosmic blowout. Musically it's not that far off from their brilliantly wigged-out 2009 Embryonic album, but here, with all The Lips' 'fwends' lending their talents, it's actually even more of an engaging psychedelic freak-out.

Ke$ha's opening track "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)" is a frenetic, chaotic modern reworking of The Stooges' classic "1969" and it serves as a strong introduction to this weird and wonderful collection. Indie acts such as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros ("Helping The Retarded To Find God"), My Morning Jacket's Jim James (the schizoid "That Ain't My Trip") and Bon Iver (the spacey "Ashes In The Air," which sounds like Ziggy Stardust on vodka and Valium) all turn in interesting performances, as does younger electro-psychedelia merchants Prefuse 73 ("Supermoon Made Me Want To Pee"), indie synthpoppers Neon Indian ("Is David Bowie Dying?") and noise rockers Lightning Bolt (on the colorfully creepy dirge of "I'm Working At Nasa On Acid"). But it's, perhaps, artists with the freakier kindred spirit of The Flaming Lips, such as Nick Cave (the confrontational "You, Man? Human?") and Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band ("Do It!," which sounds like aliens converging in song & dance on 19th century Congo Square) that feel most at home on this project. And while, on paper, Erykah Badu might seem a strange bedfellow for The Lips, her otherworldly, dream-like reinterpretation of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is beautifully chilling and spatially epic in its slow, tingling crawl toward the light at the end of the tunnel.

Heady Fwends is yet another weird and mind-bending effort from The Flaming Lips - both visually and sonically. Hell, man, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Related articles:

The Flaming Lips - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - April 2010
The Flaming Lips (Voodoo Music Experience 2009) - Festival review - New Orleans, LA - October, 2009
The Flaming Lips (Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival 2007) - Festival review - Manchester, TN - June 2007
The Flaming Lips (Voodoo Music Experience 2006) - Festival review - New Orleans, LA - October, 2006
The Flaming Lips (Lollapalooza 2006) - Festival review - Chicago, IL - August 2006
The Flaming Lips (Hedgpeth Music Festival) - Festival review - Twin Lakes, WI - July 2006
The Flaming Lips (SxSW Festival 2006) - Festival review - Austin, TX - March 2006
Livewire's Top Concerts of 2006
Interview with The Flaming Lips' Michael Ivins
Livewire's Top Albums of 2009
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Album review
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots - Album review
The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin - Album review
"The Fearless Freaks" - Movie review

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