The Flaming Lips signed to Warner Brothers in 1992; part of a frenzied mass-signing of American indie bands by major-labels looking for the next Nirvana. By 1998, they had failed to deliver a worthy successor to their lone crossover hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” and were in danger of being dropped by Warners. Their previous effort, the bloated & grandiose 4-part multitrack full-length Zaireeka was nearly the last straw. Guitar virtuoso Ronald Jones had recently quit the band, and rather than try to replace him, the remaining band members (along with producer Dave Fridmann of Mercury Rev) instead decided to go a different direction, ditching the slacker rock formula and filling the void of guitars with dense layers of piano, synth, samples and drum machines. It’s the band’s most earnest and eye-watering effort to date, and the somber tone (the original working title was The Soft Bullet In) permeating tracks like “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” “The Spiderbite Song” and “Sleeping On The Roof” is said to stem from Wayne Coyne’s grief from the imminent death of his terminally ill father. But the album is front-loaded with lasers-and-confetti bliss; opener “Race For The Prize” is a pre-emptive victory lap, followed by pyrotechnics-laden “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” and jazz-funk-prog masterclass “The Spark That Bled” (check out the 808 Mafia hi-hats predating “Hard In Da Paint” by more than a decade). This is the watershed moment that drew a distinction between what was previously just a quirky Oklahoma slacker guitar band, and one of the world’s foremost stadium rock acts, who would further advance the lush aesthetic established on The Soft Bulletin with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics and go on to collaborate with the likes of Ke$ha and Miley Cyrus. It’s been called the Flaming Lips’ Pet Sounds, and if you appreciate Brian Wilson’s forward-thinking baroque-pop arrangements, and Wayne Coyne’s voice doesn’t totally annoy you, you probably love this record already. Recommended.
- black double vinyl pressing
- printed inner sleeves
- original release year: 1999
- music label: Warner Bros. 2012
reviewed by hannibal chew 01/2018