The Flaming Lips have for eight years been making some of the wiggiest pop records this side of Julian Cope. At one time, it might have been easy to dismiss the Oklahoma City quartet as overly enamored of whimsy (“One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning”) or excess (the 23-minute “Hell’s Angel’s Cracker Factory”) or British acid rock.
But unlike the insular, in-jokey atmosphere of previous Lips releases, Transmissions From the Satellite Heart< doesn’t make the listener work as hard to enjoy the journey. At the outset, guitarist Waye Coyne yelps, “When you ain’t got no relation to all those other stations/Turn it on!/In your houses when ya wake up/Turn it on!”
The tender “Chew in the Apple of Your Eye” drifts in like a scratchy, dust-covered singer/songwriter record from the early ’70s, complete with wan whistling and a cherub choir, as Coyne tries to make sense of a world that’s just bottomed out. He’s not pissed off so much as disoriented: “It’s like at the circus/When you get lost in the crowd/You’re happy but nervous.” Sonic forget-me-nots abound. On the comedy of manners “She Don’t Use Jelly,” someone blows his nose. Voices out of “I Am the Walrus” peek between tubular bells on “Superhumans.” “Pilot Can at the Queer of God” sticks a Vanity Fare keyboard riff beneath a barrage of static.
Throughout, distorted guitars do battle with Steven Drozd’s enormous, John Bonham-like drumming. Best of all, the bubblegum melodies — “Turn It On,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Be My Head” — make even the most absurd imagery insidious: “You can be my head/For they’ve eaten this one.”
With Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, the Flaming Lips join the ranks of rock & roll’s most endearing eccentrics.