As listeners, we always have a certain amount of say in how an album gets heard. We can choose where we want it to start and stop. We can crank up its treble and drop out its bass. On their 10th album, Zaireeka, the Flaming Lips take it one step further — they make the listener finish mixing it.
Ingeniously but inaccessibly packaged as four separate and musically distinct CDs designed to be played simultaneously, Zaireeka leaves the listener to piece together the album’s incomplete musical puzzles. It’s a shame that such a project virtually guarantees an audience limited to those who happen to have both the patience and the four stereos needed to hear it: Zaireeka‘s wall-of-surround-sound approach melds droning-rock dissonance with warped, off-kilter pop melodies, producing a totally immersing, post-Pet Sounds audio séance.
The album teems with odd characters, uncomfortable noises and jarring juxtapositions. When an insane pilot hangs himself in an airplane bathroom on the desolate “Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair,” you hear the deafening whir of the jet as if you were sitting directly over the wing. When a blast of hair-raising screams rips through layers of guitars, piano and strings on “Riding to Work in the Year 2025,” you’re trapped in a mocking hall of mirrors that only seconds ago used to be the Brill Building.
By the time Zaireeka envelops you in all of its feedback and regal horns, all of its barking dogs and disintegrating moths, you no longer care whether the whole equals the sum of its parts. As one song puts it, “The only thing that mattered were the pieces that prevailed.”