photo manipulation by nacrowe
in the mid 1990s THE FLAMING LIPS were band in flux. their guitar player, whose unique playing style defined their aesthetic, left them after one modestly commercially successful record and a follow-up that flopped. it was at this point that THE FLAMING LIPS did what few bands in danger of being dropped from a major label have the courage to do.
they got weird. like really weird.
THE SOFT BULLETIN (PITCHFORK, 2012) documentary is an oral history with THE FLAMING LIPS frontman WAYNE COYNE, guitarist STEVEN DROZD, bassist MICHAEL IVINS and producer/engineer DAVE FRIDMANN all testifying to their headspace at the time and how that informed the spirit of experimentation that resulted in the "parking lot experiments" and ultimately two of the most sonically ambitious albums of the 1990s, ZAIREEKA (WARNER BROS, 1997) and THE SOFT BULLETIN (WARNER BROS, 1999).
personally i just think it was some stroke of mad carnival genius that they even convinced (WARNER BROS to put out ZAIREEKA, a four CD set meant to be listened to simultaneously on separate systems, in the first place. i tried it once at a friend's apartment after work the summer after college and it sounded so foreign to me. it still sounds that way to me. but THE SOFT BULLETIN is another matter altogether, since guitarist RONALD JONES left the group they made the unconventional decision to make a guitar-less rock album. previous albums had either a lo-fi aesthetic in the vein of THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS or a more song-oriented fuzzed-out numbers not far from onetime label-mates JANE'S ADDICTION.
this guitar-less approach instead of resulting a sound that was cold, distant and inhuman like GARY NUMAN, they went the orchestral route, as in film soundtracks. it was like they went from videocassette to cinemascope. the palette widened and so did the level of lyrical and sonic ambition. all this was thanks to midi and a healthy dose of hutzpah at diving in the deep end of recording "dont's" with engineer FRIDMANN. like detuning keyboards from each other. who does that?
the documentary basically goes into lyrical content and basic production techniques in the standout tracks "RACE FOR THE PRIZE," "A SPOONFUL WEIGHS A TON," "THE SPIDERBITE SONG," "FEELING YOURSELF DISINTEGRATE" and "WAITIN' FOR A SUPERMAN," all fan favorites and staples of their legendary live shows.
what always gets me about THE FLAMING LIPS is the earnestness of their lyrics to the point of naivety which ironically cut the deepest. maybe its because they are so direct and unadorned that they bypass whatever bullshit meter we all have hardwired in our skulls. the music matches and even overpowers these ambitions, creating a loop that only amplifies and heightens the listener to their message. its an upbeat, celebratory record about deep despair. its quite a feat.
this documentary is well worth checking out if you are fan of the band or great INDIE ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK in general. whats great about THE FLAMING LIPS is that in the intervening years they have only gotten weirder and more ambitious. im always interested in what they cooking up next.