October 10, 2002

Two Flaming Doses

Print More

One gets the feeling that, whatever frontman Wayne Coyne may claim now, the Flaming Lips have done a LOT of drugs in their long career. Although many fans of the band’s 1999 symphonic pop masterpiece The Soft Bulletin might not know it, the Lips first arrived on the scene in 1984 with a peculiar brand of drug-damaged psych-punk that was a long way from their present incarnation. Two new compilations have gathered up the entirety of the band’s pre-Warner Brothers material on five discs, comprising four albums, two EPs, and a wealth of demos, live cuts, and unreleased material for Lips fanatics to soak up.

The first of these comps is the three-disc set Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid, gathering up the band’s self-titled EP with their first three albums. The Flaming Lips EP finds them churning out straightforward punk with hints of psychedelic influences, but the debut Hear It Is is already a huge jump ahead, containing gems like the understated ballad “With You.”

1987’s Oh My Gawd!!! features ever-increasing sophistication. The opener “Everything’s Explodin'” was the band’s best rocker to date, a boneheaded punk stomp with joyously simple lyrics. But “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” took their experimental side to higher levels than ever, building to an explosive climax with textured guitars. The next year’s Telepathic Surgery album provided yet another leap in both technical accomplishment and songwriting. Possibly the band’s biggest mindfuck album, it most notably contains the noise collage “Hell’s Angel Cracker Factory,” a trip through opera, motorcycles, and fearsome guitar licks which is unfortunately presented here as only 3 of its full 23 minutes. Excusing this, however, are the bonus tracks presented on all three discs — an avalanche of alternate takes and covers.

For those who still haven’t got their Lips fix, the second archive collection, The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg, should provide just the right dose. This two-disc comp chronicles the Lips’ first full-fledged masterpiece, 1990’s In a Priest Driven Ambulance. This was the first album on which the band employed engineering prodigy Dave Fridmann, whose frantic style at the soundboard proved a perfect complement to the Lips’ ambitious sound. Of course, the album itself, presented on the first part of disc one, is incredible. Opening with the crazed pop genius of “Shine On Sweet Jesus,” the entire record explores a somewhat oblique lyrical obsession with religion, and musically it’s a huge leap from the albums encompassed on Finally.

The fractured front-porch blues of “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain” is a prime example of the album’s brilliance, with well-placed wails of feedback like an anguished harmonica as Coyne strums the acoustic lead.

As good as the album is, the extra disc-and-a-half of bonuses is an added treat for longtime fans, best among them being “Ma, I Didn’t Notice,” which carries Coyne’s tortured vocals along a harrowing trip through static, guitar heroics, and intense beauty.

Overall, these collections are essential for any Lips fans who want to advance back into the shadowy domain before the Warner’s years. With a total of five discs consisting mostly of unpolished punk, garage rock, and lo-fi psychedelia, it’s perhaps a bit of overkill, but the sprawling disjointedness is part of the appeal — these albums present a rowdier Flaming Lips than the studio perfectionists who crafted The Soft Bulletin, and it’s refreshing to hear them cutting loose like this.

Archived article by Ed Howard