Wayne Coyne is a god. It’s just that simple. Christians latch onto a man that has been dead (the resurrection is semantic) for approximately 2,000 years, which is just absurd when, in these modern times, Mr. Coyne resides within the very boundaries of the continental United States in dusty Oklahoma City. I do not mean to insinuate that I worship the man — it’s just that I have never seen anyone receive the kind of triumphant reception that he triggers as soon as his white suit is seen sweeping across the stage as he arranges it for the astonishing spectacle that is the live show of his resilient band, The Flaming Lips.
If you can see the Lips play anywhere in the world, you need not look any farther than Chicago. I saw what I thought had been the pinnacle of my concert-going experiences at their Unlimited Sunshine Tour with, I kid you not, Cake. After an army of confetti-filled balloons pummeled the audience for over an hour, only the truly masochistic could have stayed to hear “The Distance.” Then, of course, came the 2004 New Year’s show with the White Stripes, from which I am still in a state of blissful convalescence. In both instances the band inhabited the penultimate spot, and in both concerts, it became abundantly clear that in order to follow the Flaming Lips, you must unleash a musical arsenal of unprecedented intensity. Needless to say, Cake was not up to the challenge.
At the time of the tour, both Cake and the Flaming Lips were one-hit wonders. Yes, Cake had placed at least one other song on the charts, but their sound is so monotonously innocuous that their singles inevitably congeal into one tangible Jell-O mold in your head. The Lips, on the other hand, released one of the strangest singles in recent memory with “She Don’t Use Jelly,” from 1995’s “Transmissions From The Satellite Heart.” To everyone’s amazement, she DID use Vaseline on her toast. Aided chiefly by Chicago’s alternative radio station Q101 (I lament thy subsequent demise), MTV eventually picked up the slapdash video, and the band skyrocketed to fame, only to skydive into familiar obscurity months later.
Cursed with BMG’s dubious “11 CDs for a penny” deal, I found myself lacking the ability to produce an eleventh CD that intrigued me. So, having been an avid MTV viewer, I decided to take a chance on the Lips. With characteristic youthful ignorance, I was very disappointed. I hated the chaotic guitar noise that I later embraced as an emblem of skillfully pure expression and consequently hocked it to a friend who, being nine months older, kept it and continues to treasure it to this day. Unfortunately for yours truly, I repurchased the disc several years later, wiser for the wear.
What made me change my mind? 1998’s “The Soft Bulletin,” a symphonic masterpiece hatched from the same crucial gene that inspired Brian Wilson to compose the Beach Boys’ invincible “Pet Sounds.” Nothing can prepare you for the deluge of adrenaline that invades your bloodstream a mere five seconds into the first song, “Race For The Prize,” a tale of scientific ambition. If that sounds too ambiguous and just plain odd, I can sympathize. Wayne Coyne is a notorious advocate of Dadaistic wordplay. His song titles and subject matter range from moths in incubators to pugilistic robots. As if that rush of energy were not enough to satiate your carnal desire for transcendence, the Lips present “The Gash,” a song about a wound that manages to physically levitate your entire body several feet above your previous resting place.
The secret to such musical jubilation is easier to grasp than you might think. It’s very simple, actually. Questionably intricate instrumentation bonds perfectly with undeniably captivating melodies, and the process itself is known as song writing. Do not think for a moment that the spectacle and kitsch of the Lips’ live show conceals their musical prowess. Ever since Steven Drozd entered the lineup in the early ’90s, the Lips have maintained a phenomenal musical aesthetic.
Just look at 2002’s conceptual “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and the unmitigated precision of that album’s singles. “Fight Test,” the opening song, is a marvelous variation of an old Cat Stevens melody — quite the Midas touch, if I may say so. There are about three more mesmerizing songs until you reach “Do You Realize?” — a song to which I could easily lend my ears ad infinitum.
The poignancy of the lyrics is what mainly distinguishes this album from its predecessor. “The Soft Bulletin” has touching songs, particularly “Waitin’ for a Superman,” but the early Dada influence infuses most of the songs. Some residual, surrealistic tendencies do pervade several songs on “Yoshimi,” but the album is unavoidably a concept album based on a Japanese woman’s struggle against menacing, destructive robots. The album’s crucial songs do not adhere to this restrictive criterion. “Do You Realize?” addresses humanity’s inherent beauty, and “The Hypnotist” is a candidly literal, wide-eyed love song.
In 1966, The Beatles released the artistically assiduous “Revolver.” Then a year later came “Sgt. Pepper,” the archetypal concept album. Although I am extremely adamant that the first remains extremely superior to its venerated successor, I have no idea where I stand with respect to the Lips’ parallel albums. I do know that when their next release will become available, but I will have the prescience to keep it until I can properly devour the contents.
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