photo & text by nacrowe
TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART (WARNER BROS, 1993) was a bit of TRANSITIONAL record for THE FLAMING LIPS when it came out in the early 1990s.
for one it is the first record to include both guitarist RONALD JONES and drummer STEVEN DROZD in the fold. JONES would last one more record before DROZD took over on guitar ever since and became the prominent secret SAVANT-LEVEL multi-instrumentalist, composer and co-writing partner to band leader WAYNE COYNE ever since. given such personnel shifts, this record marks what i would consider the beginning point in the evolution of the band as it has existed sonically and conceptually ever since, which is to say that they shifted from being a JANE'S ADDICTION inspired BUTTHOLE SURFERS retread to a band that pushed the genre and audience experience further with each successive recording that has only gotten WEIRDER, FREAKIER and LESS PREDICTABLE over the intervening years.
having been signed to WARNER BROS in the midst of the pre-NIRVANA rumblings of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion (i.e. JANE'S ADDICTION, FAITH NO MORE, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, etc), TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART was their improbable second major label release. somehow someway it managed to include the equally unlikely novelty radio hit "SHE DON'T USE JELLY" which essentially allowed the band some leeway with WARNER BROS to pursue more EXPERIMENTAL sounds and concepts on later releases, if barely. and i really believe that tension is at the heart of what makes THE FLAMING LIPS so great. they have managed to create objectively weird releases that have garnered enough crossover appeal to satiate a cutthroat major label environment that is not looking to support artist development. if anything, THE FLAMING LIPS had the luck of being at the tail end of a recording industry with a longer leash than today. with tracks like "PILOT CAN AT THE QUEER OF GOD," "TURN IT ON," "SHE DON'T USE JELLY," "CHEWIN' THE APPLE OF YER EYE," "BE MY HEAD," and "SLOW NERVE ACTION" coupled with a decidedly haphazard PSYCHEDELIC and handmade DIY aesthetic to their visuals created quite a synergy that played well in the anything-goes zeitgeist of the 1990s. this record felt at home amongst emerging EXPERIMENTAL cultural forces at the time including BECK, TRICKY, CIBO MATTO, CORNELIUS or even the BEASTIE BOYS.
in retrospect im still amazed that something this UNORTHODOX was even released on a major label. period.
the follow-up CLOUDS TASTE METALLIC (WARNER BROS, 1995) was even more sonically DISSONANT and conceptually OPAQUE before the band ditched guitars (mostly) and came up with their first magnum opus THE SOFT BULLETIN (WARNER BROS, 1999). but to understand those later records and the evolution of the band, the plot really began with TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART and the influence of DROZD, who remains today one of the most critically UNDERRATED musicians and songwriters of his generation.
the dude is a revelation. definitely check out TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART and every subsequent FLAMING LIPS record. they are all most definitely worthy of your time, irrespective of your interest in ALTERNATIVE ROCK, INDIE ROCK or AVANT GARDE music.