.

The Flaming Lips

   The Flaming Lips (Restless, 1984)
   Hear It Is (Restless, 1986)
    Oh My Gawd!!!...The Flaming Lips (Restless, 1987)
    Telepathic Surgery (Restless, 1989)
     In a Priest Driven Ambulance (With Silver Sunshine Stares)
(Restless, 1990)
     Hit to Death in the Future Head (Warner Bros., 1992)
      Transmissions From the Satellite Heart (Warner Bros., 1993)
     Clouds Taste Metallic (Warner Bros., 1995)
    Zaireeka (Warner Bros., 1997)
    A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording...By Amateurs: 1984–1990 (Restless, 1998)
      The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros., 1999)
      Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros., 2002)
    Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid 1983–1988 (Restless, 2002)
    The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg—The Priest Driven Ambulance Album, Demos and Outtakes (Restless, 2002)
   At War With The Mystics (Warner Bros., 2006)
    Christmas On Mars (Warner Bros., 2008)
     Embryonic (Warner Bros., 2009)

Rock has produced few stranger or more daring bands in the last 20 years than Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips, who embrace everything from merry prankster psychedelia to orchestral pop. At the outset, the Lips tried to bridge the gap between bubblegum pop and Butthole Surfers–style dementia, with mixed results. Their early albums are jumbles of ideas, the weirdness genuine, the songs expansive and sometimes giddily incoherent. They're as much a response to hardcore punk's inflexible pithiness as to mainstream rock's polish.

With In a Priest Driven Ambulance, a coherent vision starts to peek through the chaos. It comes courtesy of an irony-free cover of the standard "(What a) Wonderful World," sung with wobbly conviction by Wayne Coyne. For all its disorienting ugliness and alienating strangeness, the world really is a wonderful place, the Lips insist—an unfashionable stance that the band would continue to explore with increasingly weird results.

The addition of guitar-effects maestro Ronald Jones and monster drummer Stephen Drozd gave Coyne the musical muscle to carry out his ambitions, and on Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, the Lips fashioned their first masterpiece: The Buttholes-bubblegum was fusion fully realized in sing-along noise anthems such as "Turn It On" and "Be My Head," and the strangely poignant "Pilot Can at the Queer of God." Despite the fluke hit "She Don't Use Jelly," the album transcends novelty. Its multilayered production rewards headphone scrutiny and inspires head-banging, thanks to Drozd's John Bonham–like beats.

Clouds Taste Metallic is a similarly obtuse but fascinating attempt at making a pop album, while Zaireeka represents the Lips at their most indulgent. It's impractical—a box set of four CDs designed to be played simultaneously—and inspiring in its loony ambition. At its best, Zaireeka allows listeners to feel as through they're not just hearing the music but standing inside it.

The Soft Bulletin marks a turning point. Instead of clouding Coyne's vulnerability in weirdness, the ornate orchestrations heighten it. The album uses offbeat subject matter—the dizziness caused by a head wound, a poisonous spider bite, two scientists competing to find the cure to a disease—as a doorway to universal subjects such as failure, perseverance, and mortality. Coyne's lyrics display a newfound directness that is disarming, while the retooled lineup bypasses rock in favor of sumptuously arranged, ultramelodic grandeur.

On the surface, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a return to the artfully conceived strangeness of the band's earlier work. Its cover image is a cartoon that depicts a tiny heroine facing off against a forbidding giant: a Power Puff girl versus Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," a not simplification of the band's sound. There's a greater emphasis on computerized drumbeats and loops, with sometimes clumsy results. But there's no denying the emotional punch of the songs. Once again, Coyne strips away his emotional armor on "Do You Realize?," an anthem to transcending tragedy that suggests a cross between acoustic John Lennon and a Disney movie soundtrack.

The Lips lost their way on At War With The Mystics, which found the band on a pop star Pixy Stix high, too enamored with their own cheery arena hooks. Coming in the middle of a wartime morass, Mystics is full of politically pointed material made annoyingly cute when blended with Coyne's quixotic wonder: the chattering "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)" ponders the future of the world through a grating cartoon chant, "Free Radicals" calls out a "poor man's Donald Trump" over some funky butt-rock, and "The W.A.N.D." mixes an MC5 album's worth of leftist slogans into a song that could be about an actual wizard's wand.

With the release of their long-in-the-works Christmas On Mars sci-fi film and the highly experimental album Embryonic, the Lips had strongly swung back to their avant-punk roots, albeit with their loopy populist streak somewhat intact. The Mars score outdoes the lo-fi stoner ambitions of the film: It's an expressionist series full of haunting synth drones, woozy coo and wind chimes. But the lush, heavily layered studio album Embryonic masterfully completes the Lips' retreat back into the art-fuck world, diving headfirst into two harrowing CD's worth of vocoder honk, krautrock meanderings and mountains of echo—not to mention weirdness like cellphone interference noise and animal noises, the latter delivered by the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O. —GREG KOT AND CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

Rock has produced few stranger or more daring bands in the last 20 years than Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips, who embrace everything from merry prankster psychedelia to orchestral pop. At the outset, the Lips tried to bridge the gap between bubblegum pop and Butthole Surfers–style dementia, with mixed results. Their early albums are jumbles of ideas, the weirdness genuine, the songs expansive and sometimes giddily incoherent. They're as much a response to hardcore punk's inflexible pithiness as to mainstream rock's polish.

With In a Priest Driven Ambulance, a coherent vision starts to peek through the chaos. It comes courtesy of an irony-free cover of the standard "(What a) Wonderful World," sung with wobbly conviction by Wayne Coyne. For all its disorienting ugliness and alienating strangeness, the world really is a wonderful place, the Lips insist—an unfashionable stance that the band would continue to explore with increasingly weird results.

The addition of guitar-effects maestro Ronald Jones and monster drummer Stephen Drozd gave Coyne the musical muscle to carry out his ambitions, and on Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, the Lips fashioned their first masterpiece: The Buttholes-bubblegum was fusion fully realized in sing-along noise anthems such as "Turn It On" and "Be My Head," and the strangely poignant "Pilot Can at the Queer of God." Despite the fluke hit "She Don't Use Jelly," the album transcends novelty. Its multilayered production rewards headphone scrutiny and inspires head-banging, thanks to Drozd's John Bonham–like beats.

Clouds Taste Metallic is a similarly obtuse but fascinating attempt at making a pop album, while Zaireeka represents the Lips at their most indulgent. It's impractical—a box set of four CDs designed to be played simultaneously—and inspiring in its loony ambition. At its best, Zaireeka allows listeners to feel as through they're not just hearing the music but standing inside it.

The Soft Bulletin marks a turning point. Instead of clouding Coyne's vulnerability in weirdness, the ornate orchestrations heighten it. The album uses offbeat subject matter—the dizziness caused by a head wound, a poisonous spider bite, two scientists competing to find the cure to a disease—as a doorway to universal subjects such as failure, perseverance, and mortality. Coyne's lyrics display a newfound directness that is disarming, while the retooled lineup bypasses rock in favor of sumptuously arranged, ultramelodic grandeur.

On the surface, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a return to the artfully conceived strangeness of the band's earlier work. Its cover image is a cartoon that depicts a tiny heroine facing off against a forbidding giant: a Power Puff girl versus Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," a not simplification of the band's sound. There's a greater emphasis on computerized drumbeats and loops, with sometimes clumsy results. But there's no denying the emotional punch of the songs. Once again, Coyne strips away his emotional armor on "Do You Realize?," an anthem to transcending tragedy that suggests a cross between acoustic John Lennon and a Disney movie soundtrack.

The Lips lost their way on At War With The Mystics, which found the band on a pop star Pixy Stix high, too enamored with their own cheery arena hooks. Coming in the middle of a wartime morass, Mystics is full of politically pointed material made annoyingly cute when blended with Coyne's quixotic wonder: the chattering "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)" ponders the future of the world through a grating cartoon chant, "Free Radicals" calls out a "poor man's Donald Trump" over some funky butt-rock, and "The W.A.N.D." mixes an MC5 album's worth of leftist slogans into a song that could be about an actual wizard's wand.

With the release of their long-in-the-works Christmas On Mars sci-fi film and the highly experimental album Embryonic, the Lips had strongly swung back to their avant-punk roots, albeit with their loopy populist streak somewhat intact. The Mars score outdoes the lo-fi stoner ambitions of the film: It's an expressionist series full of haunting synth drones, woozy coo and wind chimes. But the lush, heavily layered studio album Embryonic masterfully completes the Lips' retreat back into the art-fuck world, diving headfirst into two harrowing CD's worth of vocoder honk, krautrock meanderings and mountains of echo—not to mention weirdness like cellphone interference noise and animal noises, the latter delivered by the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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