Release Date: Jun 26, 2012
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Bon Iver, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and Ke$ha (yes, Ke$ha) score golden tickets to the Lips’ sonic Wonka factory on this exclusive Record Store Day release. Their fresh influx of ideas on The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends creates new flavor profiles for the band’s loopy psychedelic slurry: Ke$ha spews shards of sass over robot rocker ”2012” and Martin’s dreamy falsetto melts into the meditative dirge ”I Don’t Want You to Die,” while Bon Iver’s ”Ashes in the Air” casts its own woozy spell. Frontman Wayne Coyne remains a singular ringmaster, but here’s proof that even mad geniuses need Fwends.
Bono may be the archetype for the do-gooder rock star who wants to heal the world, but if any musician is going to broker peace in the Middle East, convince North Korea to deep-six its nukes, and get the original line-up of Guns N' Roses back together, it's Wayne Coyne. With the possible exception of Arcade Fire, everyone loves Wayne-- from the executives who've let the Flaming Lips follow their madcap muse on Warner Brothers' dime for 20 years now, to the Oklahoma legislators who named "Do You Realize??" the official state rock song, to Kevin Durant and the tall one from LMFAO. On paper, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends-- a Record Store Day round-up of various collaborations conducted over the past year-- doesn't appear to be the next official chapter in the band's ever-evolving history so much as a tribute to Coyne's skills of diplomacy, like his hyperactive Twitter feed brought to life.
The Flaming Lips' newest album, a collaboration with disparate musicians, got a limited-edition vinyl-only release in April for Record Store Day. Since then, it also got an unintended publicity boost when the XXX-rated video for The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, featuring a very naked Erykah Badu and her sister, had Badu in a tizzy. (She hadn't approved the final edit, thought she was making "art," not "smut," etc.) Anticipation has been high for the album's official release, and Heady Fwends doesn't disappoint.
After the release of their freaked-out twelfth album, Embryonic, the Flaming Lips went on a predictably unpredictable musical bender. Rather than just getting back to it and putting out another full-length, the band seemed to be following whatever flights of fancy came their way, first covering Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety before embarking on a string of psychedelic collaborations released in giant gummy skulls, ultra-limited vinyl, candy fetuses, and even actual human skulls. While getting hold of a lot of these limited-edition EPs generally required some combination of dedication, luck, and money (with the human skulls containing the bands 24-hour long song costing $5,000 each), the Lips brought a lot of these hard to find team-ups, as well as a host of new collaborations, to the masses with the 2012 release of The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends.
The Flaming Lips. . .
Is that Ke$ha fondling Wayne Coyne's foot? It certainly is....
It sounds like the kids’ show from hell. “Hullo there! Wayne is tripping in the bathtub, trying his best to ignore the tiny screaming faces in the wallpaper. ‘Do you realise we’re all going to die?’ he appears to be gibbering — and wait, look, here are all of his friends! Nick Cave, Yoko Ono… er, is that Ke$ha? Oh now this is getting ridiculous…”Luckily ‘The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends’, conceived by Wayne ‘You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Jam Here’ Coyne and his Oklahoma pals, is not some CBeebies nightmare, but it isn’t short on hallucinatory weirdness – or collaborators, including the aforementioned trio plus Bon Iver, Erykah Badu, Neon Indian…From afar, it’d be easy to dismiss The Flaming Lips as the clowns of psychedelic rock, walking a fine line between blotter-munching buffoonery and saucer-eyed, heroic confusion.
It’s kind of great to hear the Flaming Lips truly not give a damn anymore. Back in the late ‘90s, these Oklahoma-bred psych-rockers slowly built up an acid-drenched following with their absolutely oddball, out-there (yet-fully realized) psych-rock sound, releasing albums filled with in-joke weirdness and drug-addled insanity to a slowly swelling cult audience. Yet over time, Wayne Coyne’s cryptic tales began finding their heart, and by the time 1995’s Clouds Taste Metallic came out, fans knew that something was changing deep inside the band: their songs were getting warmer and sweeter, all without having to sacrifice their love of the bizarre.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, a compilation of musical collaborations the Lips recorded over the past year, was initially a Record Store Day special, and one that sold out quickly. It's a curious move by Warner Bros. to release such a fan-only release more widely, and perhaps it's only a chance for the label to make a few more bucks. Or maybe it's a chance for the fans who may have missed out the first time to snag their very own copy without the worry and guilt of illegal downloading (we still feel those emotions around that, right?).
Much as I love the childlike wonder that glows from the Flaming Lips, the title of their new album makes me want to fwow up. Therein begin its problems. By the Lips' standards, the experiment behind it is fairly conventional: challenging themselves to release new music for every month of 2011, they collaborated with a disparate bunch of musicians, from Erykah Badu to Bon Iver, and this compilation is the result.
Like the dreaded remix record, collaborative albums tend to do little more than provide justification for the existence of the skip button. Jazz aside, rappers tend to pull off this kind of project better than indie/rock acts (Method Man/Redman, Jay-Z/Kanye etc.) and it helps if there are just two artists/groups collaborating with one another. I mean, now that the dust has settled I think we can all agree that Lou Reed & Metallica’s Lulu is the second greatest album ever made.
There are few better adverts for the desirable long-term effects of youthful drug-taking than Oklahomans the Flaming Lips. Over the course of a 29-year career, the Lips have evolved from weirdo noiseniks into a prestigious 21st-century cult act espousing joyful derangement, both in tune and in deed. Few bands have ever come with more daft gimmicks. Their quadraphonic 1997 album, Zaireeka, needed four stereos to be heard as intended.
As anyone who has ever had the unadulterated joy of catching the Flaming Lips live can attest, our Oklahoma heroes are without challenger to the title of ultimate psychedelic party band. But stripped of all the puppets and giant hands, balloons and confetti, you’re often left with an uncomfortable truth; Wayne Coyne’s voice is kinda weak. With a cast of such impressive cohorts, from Bon Iver to Nick Cave via Tame Impala, you can’t help but worry that they’ll show up his cracked vocals.
First album of original material since 2009’s Embryonic for Oklahoma’s finest. Paul Lester 2012 Following The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War With the Mystics, The Flaming Lips were poised to supplant R.E.M. as the world’s biggest major-label alternative rock band. But never ones to do the obvious, 2009’s Embryonic was anti-commercial even by their early-career standards.
As if the word “Fwends” wasn’t enough of an indication, the first song on The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends—“2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)—hints that the album is going to fall squarely on the Lips’ impish side. Impish and annoying. Like the Mr. Mxyzptlk of indie rock, leader Wayne Coyne uses the grinding, hookless mess of “2012” as a flimsy excuse to throw together guests Ke$ha and Biz Markie.
It pains me to slate an album by a band I love, but needs must; The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends is a flatulent folly, humming with the sulphurous reek of self-indulgence. Much like that sentence, you might add, but bear with me. The F'Lips' 2009 album Embryonic was the sound of a band re-energised, adding a heady dose of krautrock and electric Miles Davis to their classic formula of huge drums, fuzzy guitars and bubblegum psych.