Instant Expert: The Flaming Lips
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: The Flaming Lips.
For the first dozen or so years of their existence, Oklahoma's Flaming Lips were mostly a noise-rock band that couldn't seem to grasp the relatively simple concept of melody. They managed to score a modern-rock radio hit with 'She Don't Use Jelly' in 1993, but everyone who heard it (except for the old fans, who called them sellouts) just lumped it in with all of the other novelty songs that came out around that time. But after 1997's 'Zaireeka' -- four discs of noise that were meant to be played simultaneously to create some sort of musical art project in your home -- the Lips returned with 'The Soft Bulletin,' a surprisingly accessible and, yes, melodic album. Since then, they've drifted in and out of various styles of experimental music -- from dream-pop to psychedelic rock -- with mixed results. The Lips are modern-day acid-eaters' favorite band, and their live shows -- which feature frontman Wayne Coyne rolling around inside of a giant ball -- are confetti-showering events that take the trip to whole other levels.
After more than a dozen years of spotty albums (eight of them, to be exact), the Flaming Lips finally found their niche on the 1999 masterpiece, 'The Soft Bulletin': prog rockers for the new millennium. For the first (and maybe last) time, they made a record that can be enjoyed by people who aren't high.
The 2002 follow-up to 'The Soft Bulletin' is way more focused. There's even a story here that takes on Big Important Issues about life and death and stuff like that.
Their 2009 album 'Embryonic' is where it all comes together in one glorious mound of brain-smashing freak-out. Without any underlying themes tying them down, the Flaming Lips were free to go wherever they wanted.
The Flaming Lips were really good when they played the Peach Pit on 'Beverly Hills, 90210.'