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The post Every Flaming Lips Album Ranked From Worst to Best appeared first on Consequence.
This feature originally ran in 2013 and has been updated.
Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Wayne Coyne’s spongy, gooey mind.
A biology class dissection is normally an easy, albeit squeamish, process to get through. The animal is long dead, and all you have to do is just slice, slide, open, and extract the organs and limbs you’ve been instructed to remove. But what if you make that first puncture and the fetal pig slips off the table, bouncing off the ground and ricocheting off the wall. You reach down to pick it up, only to discover you can’t get a good grip as it keeps sliding out of your grasp, bouncing once more. To make matters stranger, upon closer inspection you see it’s really just a gummy fetal pig, and once you finally begin your dissection, instead of removing organs you remove a USB drive.
The biology teacher would surely be fired for wasting school funds on gummy candy instead of the real deal.
Taken outside of the classroom, though, it’s not as far-fetched as you’d think. Oklahoma City’s own The Flaming Lips have hidden away EPs on USB drives in similar ways over the past few years, from gummy skulls to chocolate hearts. Due to this and their over-the-top live performances, the band have long been labeled as strange, bizarre, odd, obtuse, and every other adjective synonymous with the word “weird.” They’ve earned it, and they wear it as a badge of honor. What may get lost in these perceptions is how strange the actual music is, as well.
The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Conye on 20 Years of “Yoshimi” and the Time Jack White Gave Him a Fiber-Optic Jesus at a Beck Show
In order for us to dissect the true-blue band of fearless freaks, we needed to remove cover albums, collaborative albums, and soundtracks from the dissection tray (Kesha has been put back into the freezer for future study). We then discovered we still had over a dozen exhibits to slice apart and inspect. No one will ever really know what makes Wayne Coyne and company tick, but by Plastic Jesus did we give it our best shot.
— Justin Gerber
Editor’s Note: Over the years, we’ve spoken to Wayne Coyne about his band’s discography. You can find his thoughts on select albums included throughout this feature.
16. Oczy Mlody (2017)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b, k), Steven Drozd (v, d, g, k, pretty much everything in the world), Derek Brown (g, k). Kliph Spurlock is no longer with the band, so it’s a return to the drum kit for Drozd, who was the band’s drummer for years and years dating back to Transmissions.
Duration: 12 tracks, 55:05
Longest Track: “Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes” clocks in at 7:35. To be fair, it takes a while to truly grasp what it is the frogs with demon eyes are trying to convey to us. A similar argument could be made in reference to The Flaming Lips.
Most Bizarre Song Title: This is tough, but based on length alone the winner is “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill.” Runner-up is the aforementioned “Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes.” Obviously.
Album Cover Imagery: Straight-up artwork. I’ll describe it in my best Wayne Coyne: Imagine if an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic came to life in its true form as an alien with magenta skin and could shoot lasers out of its eyes and decided to blow away a snowman upon its return to the planet Skaro or something. Imitation in this instance is meant to flatter.
Christmas at the Zoo: “How??”, “There Should Be Unicorns,” “Do Glowy,” “Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes,” “The Castle,” “Almost Home (Blisko Domu)”. A lot.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: He is risen! For the first time since Clouds Taste Metallic, the Christ child makes a triumphant return on album closer “We a Family,” which is definitely a track that includes Miley Cyrus.
Number of Covers: Kind of. The Lips wrote (excuse me, “co-wrote”) the majority of Miley Cyrus’ Dead Petz album, and one of those songs was “The Floyd Song (Sunrise)”. The first verse of that song appears on this record’s “Sunrise,” but the rest is its own weird beast. We live in a very strange world.
Verdict: The best way to go into Oczy Mlody is to listen to it straight through the first time in order to dismiss any pre-conceived notions as to what this thing was going to be and where it was going to go. Second is to listen to it straight through to try to penetrate what is somewhat impenetrable. There isn’t a clear-cut definition as to what the record is. There is no Yoshimi. It’s not lo-fi. It’s not their “depression” record.
It is their most polished record since At War With the Mystics. Much of the credit goes to their longtime producer Dave Fridmann, who’s helped the band create their most “headphone” record in years. While “The Castle” is somewhat catchy, the rest is deliberately not. It’s the beauty that emerges in the often downbeat tracks that make this album worth investigating. Listen to that Reggie Watts spoken verse at the end of “There Should Be Unicorns” and tell me that isn’t strangely compelling and, of course, weird as F. — J.G.
Wayne’s Words: “This felt like a new beginning, too. We’re like, ‘Okay, whatever The Flaming Lips were, now they are over. Let’s start another Flaming Lips.’ That always kind of feels great when you can do that, and you don’t have to keep your same balance that you used to have to keep. Sometimes Steven will come up with these melodies that go all the way back in time to where you’re just a small, emotional child, and some of them are just very melancholy melodies. He and I have trouble letting out those songs because we feel they need to be more than just about our stupid lives. As we kept working on the production and the music part of it, some of the music to me sounds like music that we’ve never made before. It sounds like some future, fucking weird shit that we have never made before. I think it allowed us to really go back into our souls and inside our childlike melodies, and at the same time be completely out of ourselves in the future.”
15. Oh My Gawd!!! (1987)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Richard English (d, p, v)
Duration: 11 songs, 47:59
Longest Track: The grandiloquently named “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” (which translates to one nanosecond, if my math is correct) times out at 9:21, or 561,000,000,000 nanoseconds.
Most Bizarre Song Title: Once again, the weirdest song title also goes to the longest song on the album.
Album Cover Imagery: A truly tripped out image that would make Salvador Dali blush with pride, the complete cover spans both the front and back in a gatefold manner with images that appear to come from the songs themselves, including skinless skulls, one of which is riding the tail of what appears to be a fish monster, a rendition of the burning Vietnamese monks, and a valley of flowers nestled amongst images of chaos.
Just Like Before: As far as songs go, “Ode to C.C.” is reprised, with part 1 clocking in around 45 seconds and part 2 at just under 2 minutes, appearing five songs later. However, the Beatles can also be said to be reprised with an appearance at both the album’s opening and closing. Opening track “Everything’s Explodin’” features a sample from “Revolution 9” while the closing song, “Love Yer Brain” ends with a vocal sample taken from “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Shine on Sweet Jesus: 1, “The Ceiling Is Bending”
Other People Name Dropped: Salvador Dali – “The Ceiling Is Bending,” Evil Knievel – “Maximum Dream For Evil Knievel”
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance?: Yes, in “The Ceiling Is Bending,” Coyne sings “Godzilla is a cowboy.”
Number of Covers: None.
Verdict: Though this album might effectively mark the beginning of the band’s entry into playful experimentation, it’s an album also rooted in classic rock, with elements of Zeppelin, Mountain, and Deep Purple showing up in songs while “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” shows off the band’s penchant for Floyd.
The ‘Mats vibe shows up again on the album opener “Everything’s Exploding” while “Can’t Stop the Spring” hints at later Lips’ album, Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. Oh My Gawd is the Lips showing off their skill at balancing punk with sweeter acoustic numbers. — Len Comaratta
Wayne’s Words: “While the sound feels rooted in rock, you must remember I grew up in the late ‘70s for the most part. I mean, I was born in 1961, so I was meant to be a weirdo in a ‘70s rock group. Luckily, punk rock came along, and it was the loudest style out there and allowed us to be a group and make this record. We aren’t real musicians. We were nothing without punk rock giving us the kind of freedom to do anything without being so embarrassed about it. And then before you know it, we are making strange, arty records, pushing through what should have been a really awkward situation because we didn’t really know how to play and record music. We were just figuring it out as we went along, and I think we were just very lucky.”
14. Hear It Is (1986)
Superhumans (Band Lineup): Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Richard English (d)
Duration: Originally 10 songs, 41:51; later CD pressings included “Summertime Blues” making it 11 songs, 44:22 (early pressings on the Pink Dust label also included the self-titled debut EP)
Longest Track: “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin,” clocking in at 7:21, takes the title.
Most Bizarre Song Title: The Lips aren’t too crazy this early out with “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” being the most outlandish song title.
Album Cover Imagery: The front cover is simply a photo of the band while the back cover is rumored to be Richard English’s eye while tripping on LSD (though the lack of dilation leaves me calling bullshit).
Just Like Before (Song Reprisals): “With You” opens the album and then reappears in a brief reprisal at the end of album closer “Staring at Sound” to give the obvious song title “Staring at Sound/With You II.”
Shine on Sweet Jesus (Songs That Mention Jesus): 2, “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin,” “Charlie Manson Blues”
Other People Name Dropped: Well, Mary gets named in “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin,” Charles Manson – “Charlie Manson Blues,” Clint Eastwood – “Godzilla Flick”
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance?: Yes, in “Godzilla Flick.”
Number of Covers: 1, “Summertime Blues” was included with later CD pressings. The Lips attack the song with Blue Cheer’s ferocity only instead of Cheer’s sludge, the Lips favor Eddie Cochran’s hair gel.
Verdict: This is the Flaming Lips at their most rock ‘n’ roll. Much of the album has a strong connection to the American Underground of the mid-80s. The Lips are perhaps at their most Replacements-like with songs such as “Staring At Sound,” “Trains, Brains and Rain,” “Charlie Manson Blues,” and “Man From Pakistan” featuring Coyne’s voice in a slightly Westerberg style (if years of alcohol and smoking hadn’t made their marks).
Fans of the group’s more recent fare might find some comfort in “She Is Death,” a dimly psychedelic haze. However, it’s between the dark, brooding nature of “Jesus Shooting Heroin” and the subject matter of “Godzilla Flick” where the roots of The Terror can be found. — L.C.
Wayne’s Words: “If you listen to Hear It Is, it’s radically different to who we are now. If you didn’t know it was the same group, you could easily like what we do now and really hate what we did then. Some people would see that it’s just an evolution of personalities. I loved those early records because they are just so far away from who I am now. I see them being done by a different person. They are just ridiculous, ridiculous records. The part of our past I really like was how it was always a little bit of a surprise. There was no particular style; it was just very freaky music. That first album forced me to find a way to sing more emotionally. Back then, it was a lot of screaming and out-of-tune guitar. We are always trying to be more emotional, and if we hadn’t been able to do that, we would have stopped and killed ourselves.”
13. At War With the Mystics (2006)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Steven Drozd (everything in the world)
Duration: 12 tracks, 54:53
Longest Track: “The Sound of Failure/It’s Dark…Is It Always This Dark??” at 7:18
Most Bizarre Song Title: The Mystics tracklist contains the most bizarre song titles since the band’s early 90s output. The winner by the tip of its skeletal nose is the official title to “Free Radicals,” which is “Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)”
Album Cover Imagery: A silhouette of a man looking…into the mystic? Think Van Gogh meets Van Morrison.
Just Like Before: No reprisals to be found, but many songs have multiple sections/movements. The most effective is “It Overtakes Me…”, which begins its life as something out of Schoolhouse Rock, morphs into Wayne-Coyne-has-exited-the-spaceship and singing about existence, before landing on a stripped-down, gorgeous acoustic solo by Drozd.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: It appears the Lips have lost the faith.
Other People Name Dropped: Donald Trump becomes an insult during “Free Radicals,” while Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani get name-dropped in “The Sound of Failure…”.
Number of Covers: Nothing on the album, but an iTunes bonus track for the album is a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Verdict: A decade of greatness had left them with merely a solid album instead of one for the ages. Mystics re-captures some of the psychedelia they abandoned on Soft and Yoshimi with instrumental “The Wizard Turns On…” and epic “Pompeii AM Gotterdammerung,” but succumbs to cheese instead of chills with “Haven’t Got a Clue” and unfortunate closer, “Goin’ On.” Other songs fare better, namely the guitar-funk of “Free Radicals” and fuzzy “The W.A.N.D.” If Clouds marked the end of being driven by guitar, then Mystics was the end of being held slave to hooks. — J.G.
Wayne’s Words: “This was kind of a political record, I guess. I think we were not wanting to be so conceptual anymore. But we sort of liked the idea that we would be these freaks making absolutely radical protest music, which I never thought would be actual protest music; I don’t think that really works. I don’t think music is an actual protest. It never works singing against something; you almost always have to be singing for something. It was more absurd that these noisy freaks The Flaming Lips are having some say about the way the country is run. And dropping Donald Trump’s name so long ago … [Laughs] I know, it’s kind of come back to haunt us now. That was during the George Bush era, which we couldn’t have dreamt would even happen, let alone that we could ever have somebody like Donald Trump in our world. Now, it’s this insane reality that we’re about to live with.”
12. The Terror (2013)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b, k), Steven Drozd (d, g, v, pretty much everything in the world), Kliph Scurlock (d), Derek Brown (g, k).
Duration: 9 songs, 55:04 (deluxe edition is 11 songs, 77:48).
Longest Track: “You Lust,” an extended Phantogram collaboration set to a sinister, Floydian groove, clocks in at just over 13 minutes, making it one of the lengthiest Lips songs of all time.
Most Bizarre Song Title: “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die.”
Album Cover Imagery: A male figure sitting, unaccompanied, gazing into a neon blue and orange landscape of vast nothingness. Presumably a Coyne original.
Ridiculous News Revelation That Nearly Overshadowed Album Release: The Flaming Lips are working on a full-length album with Ke$ha, confirmed Wayne in a Reddit AMA that also involved descriptions of Ke$ha’s menstrual blood.
Number of Songs That Reference Existential Dread or Isolation: All of them.
Meaning of the Title (and Album as a Whole): According to Wayne: “The terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing.”
Number of Covers: None, but one of the bonus tracks is a cover of The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” performed with Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeros.
Verdict: Coyne’s bleakest lyrics set to damaged, bracing noisescapes. Like Embryonic, another formidable outburst that disrupts the Lips’ progression into fun-loving elder statesmen of psychedelia. — Zach Schonfeld
Wayne’s Words: “At this time, we would no longer be doing the contractual records for Warner Bros., so we could do whatever we wanted. We were doing a six-hour song, a 24-hour song. Steven was working in a separate studio, dicking around doing stuff. He came across one little song; I think it’s the one that says, “You are alone.” That was the mood we were fascinated by for a long time. We set out trying to do a series of songs that had a feeling: this bleak, religious, detached, heavy thing. We spent a week in the studio at my house, and we felt free to make songs sprawling again. We wanted that; we hadn’t quite made a record that was so noisy and sinister, but had a lot of soul and heart to it and death. I don’t think we had quite been able to do that before. Calling it something like The Terror was perfect for the time it came out. It really did sum up a version of a personality that we weren’t brave enough to face before. We were carrying a weight, and we were scared for many years, and stupid, and everything all at the same time. If we hadn’t made that record, we would still be trying to make that record. This album showed us that your mind is always expanding, it’s always trying, and it’s always seeing new things.”
11. King’s Mouth (2019)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, Derek Brown, Jake Ingalls, Matt Kirksey, Nicholas Ley, and Mick Jones (who features as the album’s narrator)
Duration: 12 tracks, 41:10
Longest Track: “The Sparrow,” a multi-phased track clocking in at 5:38 that morphs through seemingly umpteenth different sonic worlds.
Most Bizarre Song Title: Without question, “Feedaloodum Beedle Dot”
Album Cover Imagery: King’s Mouth was initially conceptualized as a soundtrack to one of Coyne’s experimental art exhibitions, and as such the album cover derives from artwork found in that exhibition. It showcases what can be assumed to be the titular King, with the album’s title, a strangely placed promotional image of the band, and, of course, the Warner Bros. logo slapped on top.
Christmas at the Zoo: Two, “The Sparrow” and “How Many Times”
Just Like Before: Surprisingly enough for a concept record, no reprisals are found on King’s Head.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: No direct references to Jesus, though the story of the King often seems to parallel that of the new testament.
Other People Name Dropped: This record stays pretty well-contained within its fantastical concept, so no “real” people pop up. That is, unless you interpret Mick Jones’ narration to literally be Mick Jones telling the story.
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance?: Nope, just a giant baby — which is kinda close.
Number of Covers: Once again, due to the album’s tightly constructed conceptual world, no cover songs grace the tracklist.
Verdict: King’s Mouth was often described as a “return to form” upon its release, and it’s not hard to see why. After the harsh, experimental psychedelia of The Terror and the slightly underwhelming polish of Oczy Mlody, the more playful Yoshimi-ness of King’s Mouth was immediately apparent. Not to mention it places much of the focus back onto Coyne’s lyrical ideas, which had been overtaken by the timbre and texture of previous records.
But King’s Mouth isn’t merely The Flaming Lips looking back to the glory days. The band sounds far from tired, and for going on 15 albums, that’s quite a feat. Is it as essential as the Lips’ most heralded work? It’s hard to say yes, especially now that the art exhibition it was tied to has since finished its run. Yet, anyone invested in the wonderfully weird world of the Flaming Lips would be making a mistake by outright ignoring King’s Mouth. And who knows, maybe they’ll make a movie out of it one day – wouldn’t be the first time. — Jonah Krueger
10. Zaireeka (1997)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (v, g), Steven Drozd (g, v, k), Michael Ivins (b, k)
Duration: 8 tracks, 45:37. (Or is it 32 tracks, 181:48?)
Longest Track: “A Machine in India” at 10:23.
Most Bizarre Song Title: “The Train Runs Over the Camel But Is Derailed By The Gnat,” a groove-driven track about a rambling “scientist/preacher” guy which, if edited and conventionally mixed, is probably the one Zaireeka track that could have fit on Clouds or Transmissions.
Album Cover Imagery: A cartoonish blue, red, and yellow styling of four overlapping discs, notable for its entirely serious warning regarding “frequencies not heard on commercial recordings” (which pop up on the occasionally headache-inducing “How Will We Know [Futuristic Crescendos]”).
Just Like Before: None, unless you count the fact that there are literally four unfinished versions of each track.
Christmas at the Zoo: Three, if you count a pack of disgruntled cartoon vegetables.
Concept in a Nutshell: Four discs, each containing different parts of the same songs, are meant to be played simultaneously on four (or two or three) CD players, involving the listeners in a participatory exploration of sonic possibilities and dimensions.
Number of Songs Inspired by Wayne Coyne’s Then-Wife’s Menstrual Cycle: One, the aforementioned “A Machine in India,” which, by means of a lengthy noise interlude, seeks to evoke the “other world” of “depressing, mild insanity” that is Michelle Martin-Coyne’s period.
Number of Covers: None.
Verdict: Indescribable, incomprehensible, and infinite in scope. Easy to dismiss and impossible to digest, but a creative and sonic career peak nonetheless. — Z.C.
Wayne’s Words: “Initially, we wanted this album to be at least 100 CDs, and then I think our manager decided we should maybe cut it down. So, we thought 20 CDs! From there, we went down to 10 and ended up having to cut it down to four. At the time, we felt like it was a great artistic compromise to do four CDs. Now that I think about it, even wanting our listeners to listen to four CDs at the same time is totally, ridiculously insane. Who would do that? That was our mind at the time. This is what we thought was important. It really was such a mindfuck. On this album, we stumbled upon arrangements that previously would have seemed impossible to us. But after doing a record like Zaireeka, it was impossible to keep going on the same path. Once we got past one or two of the initial ideas, it was difficult to keep doing it, you know? I think in the middle of all that, we were really starting to make The Soft Bulletin, which is really I think our biggest leap forward.”
09. Telepathic Surgery (1988)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Richard English (d, p, v), Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue joins the group as sound technician.
Duration: Originally 12 songs, 38:36; the CD version features the addition of “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” and “Fryin’ Up” to give 14 songs, 64:23.
Longest Track: “UFO Story” at 6:41 had it until the CD version of the album included “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” and all its 23 minutes of chaotic glory.
Most Bizarre Song Title: Though “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” is a great song title, this album’s oddest entry should probably go to “Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon (Fuck Led Zeppelin)”.
Album Cover Imagery: The front cover shows a fish-eye image of a shirtless man and a bullhorn.
Just Like Before: No reprisals, but the song “Chrome Plated Suicide” was based on Guns ‘n Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Shine On Sweet Jesus: 1, “Drum Machine In Heaven” with the lyric “Give us a twentieth century Jesus guy.”
Other People Name Dropped: Iggy Pop – “Chrome Plated Suicide”; Hindu deity Krishna and hard rockers Led Zeppelin in the title to “Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon (Fuck Led Zeppelin)”; Ronnie Van Zandt (his ghost) – “Redneck School of Technology”; Captain Marvel – “The Spontaneous Combustion of John”
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance? Sadly, no.
Number of Covers: There are no covers on the album, however, the B-side to first single “Drug Machine In Heaven” had both a cover of The Sonics’ “Strychnine” and Brinsley Schwartz’ “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” though the Lips’ version favors Elvis Costello’s take on it over the British pub rockers.
Verdict: The Flaming Lips are still very much a guitar band but that said, Telepathic Surgery is a prime example of the group exploring the guitar and not just playing it. Considered something of a companion album to Oh My Gawd, Telepathic Surgery doesn’t necessarily abandon what was presented before, but it’s a far grittier, punkier album throughout.
Delivered with a rawness only touched upon on previous releases, generally speaking, most of the tracks on Telepathic Surgery are mid-tempo aggressive pop tunes with a few minor exceptions such as “Miracle on 42nd Street,” “UFO Story,” and, of course, “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory.” — L.C.
Wayne’s Words: “I think we definitely were influenced by the likes of Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth and other noise groups. We were finding the limits of our musicality. But at the same time, we were thinking: ‘Well, we can be noisy too!’ I don’t think we were very good at doing the noise stuff, though. Sonic Youth were coming around that time and were doing it really, really well. I think we will always just be too wimpy. We will always just want to go back to doing weird sounds and being emotional.”
08. Hit To Death in the Future Head (1992)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Nathan Roberts (d), Jonathan Donahue (g) (however, Roberts and Donahue left the band prior to its release and the tour featured new members Ronald Jones and Steven Drozd)
Duration: Originally, 10 songs, 39:42; however, the hidden bonus track “Monster In Beast Jailbreak” on later versions adds 29:16 for a total run time 68:58.
Longest Track: The bonus track “Monster In Beast Jailbreak” with 29:16 dwarfs the next closest track, “Halloween On the Barbary Coast,” with its paltry 5:42.
Most Bizarre Song Title: Hands down, album opener, “Talkin’ ‘Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)”
Album Cover Imagery: A photo of a decorative toilet seat, with the lid raised to fully show off the colorful print.
Just Like Before: No reprisals in songs, but certainly in themes, as Coyne once again addresses concepts of religion and God.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: 1, “You Have To Be Joking” with the lyric “Oh, my Jesus, it’s worse than you think.”
Other People Name Dropped: Only God and the Devil both in “You Have To Be Joking.”
Number of Covers: No covers per say, however, on “The Sun” Coyne quotes Carole King’s “So Far Away.” In the song “You Have To Be Joking” the group uses a sample from Michael Kamen’s score to Brazil, the clearance of which actually delayed the album’s release by almost a year.
Verdict: The first major label release for the Lips, Hit to Death marks the beginning of the group’s relationship with Warner Brothers. Hit to Death sees the Lips continuing to thread themes and songs together, though not quite in the conceptual way In a Priest Driven Ambulance exhibited.
Certainly exploring more outsider approaches to apply to their pop, Hit to Death may be viewed as the bridge between the first, far more noisy rocking, phase of the Flaming Lips and the second, which took the group down a more psychedelic acid pop path. — L.C.
07. In A Priest Driven Ambulance (1990)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Nathan Roberts (d), Jonathan Donahue (g)
Duration: Originally, 10 songs, 46:39; now it is 15 songs with the additions “Lucifer Rising,” “Ma, I Didn’t Notice” and the complete “Drug Machine” single for 70:51.
Longest Track: The original iteration would have given it to “Mountain Side” with 6:36, however, later versions give it to “Ma, I Didn’t Notice” which runs 8:11.
Most Bizarre Song Title: “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain”
Album Cover Imagery: The front image is a slightly distorted black and white photo of the band.
Just Like Before: Technically not a reprisal, the secondary title “Jesus Song” is featured three times. “Take Meta Mars” is modeled after Can’s song “Mushroom.”
Shine on Sweet Jesus: 4, Three feature Jesus in the title – “Shine On Sweet Jesus: Jesus Song No. 5,” “God Walks Among Us Now: Jesus Song No. 6,” and “There You Are: Jesus Song No. 7”; “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain” with the lyric “I was born the day they shot a hole in the Jesus egg.”
Other People Name Dropped: Lucifer – “Lucifer Is Rising”; JFK and John Lennon – “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain”
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance? No, but Mars makes its first appearance.
Number of Covers: 1, “What a Wonderful World,” most famously performed by Louis Armstrong. However, later releases featured the “Drug Machine” single with the Sonics and Brinsley Schwarz covers previously mentioned.
Verdict: The Lips have discovered new avenues to explore. The punky nature isn’t gone, but it isn’t on display — in fact, a few tracks on In a Priest Driven Ambulance show off the band’s tender side through a folkier or lo-fi acoustic approach (“Five Stop Mother Superior Rain” or “There You Are” ) while others tend to show off the band’s burgeoning eccentricities (“Take Meta Mars,” “Mountain Side,” “Lucifer Rising”).
This is perhaps the first album to “sound” like a Flaming Lips album, especially to someone more familiar with the group’s post Soft Bulletin material. Opener “Shine on Sweet Jesus” immediately shows off the band’s playful side in the studio, something that is definitely on display throughout In a Priest Driven Ambulance.
Something of a concept album, this is also the first Lips’ album to exhibit a sense of continuity and cohesion throughout. To quote music critic Jason Ankeny, “For the Lips, the future begins here.” — L.C.
Wayne’s Words: “This was the first record where we had Dave Fridmann join us. This is the man that ended up being the producer that made most of our records. We also had Jonathan Donahue, who was performing with his group, Mercury Rev. I think both of them together really gave us another sound, a great sound that came with a boost of confidence, more of an ability to make music and write songs that would eventually be based in an emotional world. They were there to coax us along and say, ‘Well, this part’s good enough; this part isn’t.’ I think that started to lead the way more towards The Flaming Lips sound and the band that we became. There is something childlike here, and there is something still kind of punk rock. There was something that feels more like a family of people doing something together. If we hadn’t found Jonathan and Dave at that time, we probably wouldn’t have carried on. Joining forces was a real great leap forward.”
06. American Head (2020)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, Derek Brown, Jake Ingalls, Matt Kirksey, Nicholas Ley, Micah Nelson, and Kasey Muscgraves (who contributed to “Watching the Lightbugs Glow,” “Flowers of Neptune 6,” and “God and the Policeman”)
Duration: 13 tracks, 50:35
Longest Track: At 5:20, opener “Will You Return / When You Come Down” takes the prize for longest song on American Head.
Most Bizarre Song Title: While just about every song title on the tracklist hints at some greater obscured vision, “Flowers of Neptune 6” raises the most questions. Mainly, what happened to “Flowers of Neptune 1-5?”
Album Cover Imagery: A weathered, old picture is Flaming Lips-ified with bleeding, spray-painted eyes. Overall, it actually captures the spirit of the album pretty damn well.
Christmas at the Zoo: No animals roam the world of American Head, unless you count the dinosaurs of “Dinosaurs on the Mountain.”
Just Like Before: Go ahead and add American Head to the list of highly conceptual Flaming Lips records that don’t have a reprise.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: There’s no Jesus, but “God and the Policeman” and “My Religion is You” expressly reference Christianity and religion.
Other People Name Dropped: The main real-world presence that looms over American Head is Coyne’s brother. A host of other characters join in as well, so keep an ear out for John, James, Tommy, and Kim.
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance?: The closest we get to Godzilla is, once again, the dinosaurs of “Dinosaurs on the Mountain.”
Number of Covers: Zero
Verdict: Astonishingly, 16 albums and nearly 40 years into being a band, The Flaming Lips delivered a truly standout project with American Head. Taking a surprisingly personal turn, the record is as plainly vulnerable as the Lips get. It showcases the endless creativity of the group, and it’s the best they’ve sounded — both lyrically and sonically — in a decade.
What’s truly special about American Head, though, is the fact that it stands as an utterly unique Flaming Lips experience — a true accomplishment for a band that has gone through enough stylistic changes to account for ten bands. The foundation of the songs is often soft, sparse, and shockingly free from studio wizardry. Relatively clean pianos and acoustic guitars make an appearance on just about every track, backed, of course, by swirling soundscapes of synths and ambiance. Outside of a few moments on The Soft Bulletin, you can’t find much in the Flaming Lips catalog that scratches the same itch as American Head, which (and, again, I cannot stress this enough) is absolutely nuts. — J.K.
05. Transmissions From the Satellite Heart (1993)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Ronald Jones (g), Steven Drozd (d)
Duration: 11 tracks, 43:04
Longest Track: “Slow Nerve Action” at 5:56.
Most Bizarre Song Title: Though the parenthetical title to “Oh, My Pregnant Head (Labia In the Sunlight)” makes a strong case to scratch one’s head to, the award of most bizarre title this time goes to “Pilot Can At the Queer of God.”
Album Cover Imagery: A black and white distorted image of a person sitting next to a speaker with a reel-to-reel on top.
Just Like Before: No reprisal, but almost a year after its release, Beavis and Butthead played the video for “She Don’t Use Jelly” which caused the album to finally get noticed.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: 1, “Plastic Jesus”
Other People Name Dropped: Cher – “She Don’t Use Jelly”; Mary once again, this time as both Madonna and the Virgin Mary, in “Plastic Jesus.”
Number of Covers: 1, “Plastic Jesus,” originally written by Ed Rush and George Cromarty. On the album the song is credited as “*******.”
Verdict: This is it – the first album to feature the Coyne-Ivins-Drozd lineup (however, this album and the follow-up Clouds Taste Metallicalso feature Ronald Jones on guitar). Though the hit was second single “She Don’t Use Jelly,” it’s the far tighter, groovier, and grittier numbers like “Turn It On” (the first single released), “Superhumans,” “Pilot Can at the Queer of God,” and “Slow Nerve Action” that really notch up Transmissions.
Jones’ and Drozd’s guitar-work is nothing short of incendiary. Many songs on Transmissions such as “Oh, My Pregnant Head” and “Plastic Jesus” also feel a bit less crowded or claustrophobic, and demonstrate a stronger comprehension of space, something that will certainly be explored (and perhaps exploited) in later albums. — L.C.
Wayne’s Words: “The group that started off with the Transmissions From the Satellite Heart album really opened us all up where anything felt possible. Steven [Drozd] and Ronald [Jones], as such, were master musicians compared to what we were doing previous to that. Steven and Ronald could play with Miles Davis. They could write music with Igor Stravinsky; they are at such a high level. By being with them, we immediately jumped into a different category; there would be this rich, childlike sound that I would be able to bring to the group, but then there was this emotional, beautiful, and delicate stuff that Ronald and Steven started bringing to the group. We started to do the stuff that we were only previously able to dream about.”
04. Embryonic (2009)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Steven Drozd (everything in the world), Kliph Scurlock (d). After years of touring with the Lips, Scurlock is finally integrated as a full-fledged member. Congrats, Kliph!
Duration: 18 tracks, 70:52
Longest Track: “Powerless” at 6:57
Most Bizarre Song Title: “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast” narrowly out-weirds “Sagittarius Silver Announcement.”
Album Cover Imagery: Here goes nothing: a girl being pushed back into the top of someone’s head that has been flipped upside down, creating the impression of childbirth in reverse. Right? Or is it just me?
Just Like Before: None, but an astrology-theme appears on the record in the form of the song titles, “Aquarius Sabotage,” “Gemini Syringes,” “Sagittarius Silver Announcement,” “Scorpio Sword,” and “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast”
Christmas at the Zoo: “See the Leaves,” “Your Bats,” “The Ego’s Last Stand,” “I Can Be a Frog,” “Worm Mountain,” “Silver Trembling Hands,” “Watching the Planets.”
Other People Name Dropped: No famous people get mentioned, but famous people helped out the Lips on this go-round. Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. contributes vocals to “Gemini Syringes,” “I Can Be a Frog,” and “Watching the Planets,” while MGMT stops by for the psychedelic “Worm Mountain.”
Number of Covers: None.
Verdict: Overlong and occasionally overpraised, Embryonic is still a return to free-form that highlighted their earlier work. The pressure was released and this is the air released from one of Wayne’s big balloons. “See the Leaves” is menacing enough, “Silver Trembling Hands” chaotic enough, but the album falls prey to its own length.
The band’s first official double-album could have done with some editing, though it was much better received than its predecessor by the majority. To each his own, I suppose. The Lips regained focus, albeit a darker focus, on their next record, as well as a good sense of runtime. — J.G.
Wayne’s Words: “That was a fun and strange record to make. I think we started off thinking it was going to be a double album, so that we could stretch out. I think that was a great thing to happen for us at that time; when you think you’re only doing 10 songs, you start thinking how they are going to be working together, and the greatest hits, or something ridiculous. When you think you’re going to make a double record, you could just keep on being weird. For this album, we just started on any idea that we thought would give us more character or more color. And as we went, some of that worked, and some of it didn’t, but when I see it now, songs titled with “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” … well, what the fuck is that? I love it. Even that album cover. It made us deal with this feeling of detachment. It’s not sexual, but there is something kind of menacing about that album title that’s different from a normal Flaming Lips record. It’s in a whole new realm.”
03. Clouds Taste Metallic (1995)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Ronald Jones (g), Steven Drozd (d)
Duration: 13 tracks, 47:31
Longest Track: “Bad Days” at 4:38. Side note: This was the second Lips song I discovered growing up, thanks to the Batman Forever soundtrack. Side-side note: remember The Offspring’s “Smash It Up” when Robin takes the Batmobile on a joy ride?
Most Bizarre Song Title: “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus With Needles” because “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus With Needles.” Runner-up: “They Punctured My Yolk.”
Album Cover Imagery: A band you wouldn’t even recognize today. A clean-shaven Coyne, pre-bald Ivins, and the last time you see Jones with the Lips. Jones’s two-album stint with the band as lead guitarist for three albums was stellar. Despite everything he’s been through, Drozd still looks the same.
Christmas at the Zoo (songs with animals): “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus With Needles,” “Placebo Headwound,” “This Here Giraffe,” “Christmas at the Zoo.”
Shine on Sweet Jesus: None.
Other People Name Dropped: God gets a shout-out in “The Abandoned Hospital Ship,” “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus With Needles” and “Placebo Headwound.”
Number of Covers: Zero.
Verdict: A fond farewell to Ronald Jones. One wonders what path the Lips would have taken had he not left in the mid-90s. Their next major release would be a complete departure from Clouds, eschewing the sloppiness for sunshine. After the goofy “This Here Giraffe” (with a great Ivins bass line) and punked-out country of “Kim’s Watermelon Gun,” the Lips put in their papers as a “guitar-rock” band.
Fortunately, there’s enough scratch-and-snort on this here underappreciated classic to last through the rest of the decade. Although the light followed, there were hints of The Terror to come in penultimate track “Evil Will Prevail,” which speaks for itself. — J.G.
Wayne’s Words: “Music helps you move forward; this album helped me move forward without even knowing it at the time. You can’t just stop for a couple of years and try to figure it all out. It’s just constantly moving. By the end of this album, Steven and I were already thinking that we had made a lot of rock music and were already wondering, ‘What are we going to do now?’ Steven and I just talked about it and discussed that he didn’t have to be the drummer anymore — that he should do what he wants, and we will figure it out. I think that was another great leap into doing something completely different for us. If you don’t want to do something, then why would you keep doing it? I think it was just a brief moment for us, because we didn’t really know what the fuck was going to happen, but we knew we didn’t like it, and we were just like: ‘Fuck, it’s our group. Let’s do whatever we want.’”
02. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Steven Drozd (everything in the world)
Duration: 11 tracks, 47:25
Longest Track: “In The Morning of the Magicians” at 6:18, which also has the best bass line of any Flaming Lips song.
Most Bizarre Song Title: “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2” is more bizarre than “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” because they created a sequel to a song named “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”
Album Cover Imagery: An animated rendering of our protagonist, Yoshimi, facing off against one of those “evil-natured” pink robots.
Just Like Before: There are no reprisals, but the aforementioned sequel song is the finest musical representation one can create to illustrate the intense nature surrounding a fight between a tiny Japanese girl and giant, pink robots.
Shine on Sweet Jesus: None! However, if we substitute Jesus in for Yoshimi, I’m sure conspiracy theorists and religious zealots would have a field day with the storyline.
Other People Name Dropped: Someone says, “Wayne,” just before Coyne begins his singing in “Fight Test.”
Number of Covers: None…intentionally. However, Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) successfully won credit on “Fight Test,” due to its admittedly familiar song structure to his 1970 hit, “Father and Son.” The “Fight Test” EP carries covers of its own, including Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You out of My Head,” Beck’s “The Golden Age,” and Radiohead’s “Knives Out.”
Verdict: Not their most complete work, but Yoshimi comes damn close. There’s a playfulness here that outdoes the wonder of The Soft Bulletin, transforming that record’s song of life burning out into an everlasting beacon of hope in “Do You Realize??” It’s an album full of questions for the individual listener to work out on their own (Do you realize? “Are You a Hypnotist?”), but always inclusive. There’s also a hum buried in that mix that transports you to a place where, yes, there are pink robots and we need this little girl to kick their asses. Look outside. I know that you’ll recognize. “It’s Summertime.” — J.G.
Wayne’s Words: “Here, we were in a trajectory where technology was getting faster, and we were becoming better songwriters. Music was getting richer and more saturated. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is such a mellow record. When I hear it now, I think: ‘How did we get so many wimpy songs together at the same time?’ I love records like that, but we never think we’re making them at the time. Stumbling upon this Yoshimi character happened because the woman we recorded with — her name is actually Yoshimi. She is in this band called Boredoms, this Japanese art fuck-out band, and we played with them in 1994 at Lollapalooza. I came up with the title of the album because I was thinking it would be funny to be a pink robot — it’s a Flaming Lips song after all. As soon as we came up with the idea of the album title, that helped shape the whole record.”
01. The Soft Bulletin (1999)
Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Steven Drozd (everything in the world)
Duration: 14 tracks, 58:26, although the UK release clocks in at only 58:17. The reason: the UK release drops “The Spiderbite Song” for “Slow Motion. Their loss.
Longest Track: “The Spark That Bled” at 5:55.
Most Bizarre Song Title: Nothing too bizarre, at least by Lips standards. I guess, “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” if you threatened to put a “bulletin” my head.
Album Cover Imagery: A picture from an old Life Magazine article about LSD, now in color. Hard to believe the band would have the gall to reference drugs of any kind on their albums, let alone right there on the cover!
Just Like Before: No reprisals, but remixes of “Race for the Prize” and “Waitin’ for a Superman” appear.
Christmas at the Zoo: Three. “The Spiderbite Song,” “Buggin’,” “Waitin’ for a Superman.”
Other People Name Dropped: One specific reference in “Waitin’ for a Superman.” I hope you can find it. The song has now been referenced three times during this album-portion of our feature. Have you heard it? It’s quite unbelievably lovely in every way imaginable.
Number of Covers: None, but “Race for the Prize” was re-worked for the Oklahoma City Thunder years later. If you click on the link, the fully-realized recording begins at the 1:04 mark. Goofy as hell, but I’m certain Thunder fans go crazy upon hearing it.
Verdict: One of the finest albums the decade produced. The Soft Bulletin is the Lips 2.0, taking more inspiration from the likes of Brian Wilson than Syd Barrett. Drozd’s contributions to the band’s new sound found him not only pulling duty on drums, but also lead guitar (and, as mentioned, everything in the world). His drum intro on “Race for the Prize” and the keyboards that follow ushered in a new era of uplift with the occasional stark reminder.
One such reminder is found in “Waiting for a Superman,” a haunting track about death and life and flies and man-that-piano-break-is-still-a-tearjerker. The stomp of “The Gash” and farewell instrumental of “Sleeping on the Roof” only add to the album’s variety, which all-told equal 12 great tracks. Their best. — J.G.
Wayne’s Words: “Even when we went to make this album, our character was the most extreme character we have ever done. And then I think I became that character. I sort of sang those songs in a character, and then as time would go by, I just became that person. We still listen to this album all the time, though. It’s just one of those records that we still play most tracks every night. At the time, we didn’t really give a fuck anymore what anybody thought. And we truly thought, and I say this all the time because it’s absolutely true, we really thought this was going to be our last record. Warner Bros. wasn’t going to let us make any more records. After putting out this album, to have people suddenly loving our records was such a strange thing for us. At the time, we thought that won’t last that long anyway.”