The Flaming Lips: Heady Fwends Review
It is hard to separate The Flaming Lips who are news makers with The Flaming Lips as musicians. The band have proven over the years (especially since the mid 1990’s) to be equally talented at creating weirdo pop bliss as they are at creating PT Barnum worthy stunts. The list of exploits the band has partaken in is long and illustrious. Starting with ZAIREEKA, their album which was four discs and required four stereos being played at once to their gimmick last year of releasing albums on flash drives imbedded in gummy fetus and inside real skulls, the band seem on a quest to outdo themselves. This says nothing of their whacked out rainbow fantasy on acid live show. Their latest effort is the 4 LP, superstar laden effort The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. Spanning 13 songs (plus 4 interludes), the record finds the group collaborating with everyone from pop superstars like Ke$ha to Yoko Ono to lesser known bands like Tame Impala and Prefuse 73. As is to be expected, the collection of music is really solid and engaging, but whether on purpose or not the release has been overshadowed by the noise surrounding the release.
The album originally was released in very limited quantity on Record Store Day, with the records containing actual blood from artists contributing to the release. Yep, actual blood. So despite the bands ability to get artists as diverse as Nick Cave, Lightning Bolt and Eryka Badu on the same record, the narrative centered back to the “weirdness” of the Lips. Now the group is releasing the record to the general public who could not afford the first run copies, which ran into the thousands of dollars, so I guess we can talk a little about the music. Jumping back and forth between their orchestrated pop sound circa Soft Bulletin/Yoshmi and their more recent fuzz kraut material, the record is almost like a guest laden primer for the bands sound sans frontman Wayne Coyne. Some of the songs we had heard before (the destroyed noise punk of “I’m Working at NASA on Acid” with Lightning Bolt and the battered electro pop of “Is David Bowie Dying” with Neon Indian), while others have slowly trickled out since the release. Even songs where they are joined by shitty artists have that Flaming Lips glow. The band take the wheelhouse sound of Chris Martin (mopey singer/songwriter) and Ke$ha (shitty pop music) and make them bearable. I don’t know which is more offensive, the title to the song or the fact that they picked Edward Sharpe for the record, but “Helping the Retarded Find God” isn’t unlistenable, which is like a director making an Adam Sandler movie good. The song almost sounds like a soundtrack to a druggy sunrise, with the listener rubbing their eyes as they see the sun hitting the tops of the tombstones.
The band really hit their stride on songs with likeminded artists, like the psychedelic ear candy “Children of the Moon” with Tame Impala and the fuzz glory of the songs with Prefuse 73 and Nick Cave, both of which settle into the obtuse grooves that made Embryonic so powerful. As if the blood wasn’t enough controversy, the group also caused a ruckus with the naked bodies in the video for the sultry Erykah Badu cover “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” which sounds like a love song for the end of the world. As has been the case for as long as I have been into the band, the stunts and gimmicks are funny, but can often distract from the interesting work they are doing. The band got together a list of artists ranging from soul singers to indie rock bands to international pop superstars….shouldn’t that be the lede? Even when they worked with artists whose own work I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole I found myself fully wrapped into the childlike wonder that the band seem to have pouring out of their ears. The funny thing is that bands with 1/1000 of the talent of the Lips, groups who could use the promotional skills Coyne and company exploit so effortlessly, have nothing on this band of merry pranksters. Despite their fun and games, albums like Heady Fwends go to show the musical weight the band is able to throw around and once again affirms their amazing talent.