(Planet Me)
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
THE FLAMING LIPS - “With Heady Fwends”

You have to wonder. What exactly is going on in Flaming Lips world? 2011 saw a myraid of hard-to-get, hard-to-afford, and often hard-to-enjoy, fetished releases. A 24 hour song wrapped inside a $3,000 jellied lifesize skull. A Live album inside a $200 jellied skull. A 6 hour “EP” inside a stroboscopic device. The $150 Gummy Song Brain. The $30 USB Jelly Foetus. And, not forgetting, coloured vinyl collaboration 12” EP's with Yoko Ono, Prefuse 73, Lightning Bolt, Neon Indian, and so on. And here is the latest one : a double, coloured splatter vinyl LP with no artwork, 9,500 released in US retail shops only on Record Store Day, and in a limited edition of 500 on their website (the latter of which sold out in less than an hour).

Has being a Flaming Lips fan ever been quite so difficult?

Then again, back in 1995, their CD singles came in fake honeycomb sleeves. The 2008 film “Christmas On Mars” came with a box of popcorn -which is still, no doubt inedibly, sealed in my record museum at the back of the house.

You might then be forgiven for thinking that,l since these records are so absurdly limited and expensive, that they may be justified with the excuse of “Any old crap” will do. Their studio output in 2011 totalled 33 hours and 9 separate fetish objects, as well as an insane amount of highly sugared sweets, that delivered music on every format apart from cassette.

You might also be forgiven that, given their dalliance with mainstream pop success was shattered irrevocably to pieces by 2009's weird, largely improvised, free-form jazz fest “Embryonic” - and 2010's bonkers recreation of “Dark Side Of The Moon” - that the Flaming Lips simply don't care about being accessable. It's a fallacy to think they ever did. It took them 20 years to have more than one hit. It just so happened that their world collided with the pop mainstream and high street stores for a fraction of a decade before they sheared off into their own universe. Again, as ever, following their own muse, which I suppose you must admire, or at least, respect.

This then, a limited vinyl artifact, never repressed, is a blink-and-you-will-miss-it release. The quality of what is in here is betrayed by the absurd, and limited, legitimate ways in which this album can be experienced.

Largely made of colloborations with guest musicians, vocalists, and friends – including Nick Cave and that boring geezer from Coldplay - “The Flaming Lips! With Heady Fwends” is the most accessable, pop, fun thing they've done since 2006. Starting with Ke$ha's guest vocal over a gonzoid full on freakout remix of The Stooges1969”, entitled “2012”, it owes a debt to weirdness – and The Weirdness – the size of Greece. By the time they get to “Children of The Moon”, another, brilliant, silly, song feature Tame Impala, I'm sold.

Sure, the release mechanisms for the recent Flaming Lips output is appalling, elitest and borderline abusive of the fan that isn't both lucky, and stinking rich, we still have MP3's, and best of all, we have these great, stupid songs. As was once said of Sonic Yoof, “Clever People Playing Stupid Music” is the modus operandi here, and this record is made of 17 pieces, no slabs, of immense, fat grooves, immaculately dirty fuzz geetar, and Wayne Coyne and friends talking weird, transcendental nonsense. Imagine, if you will, that Pink Floyd moved from something as masterful as “Wish You Were Here” to the crazed bonkerness of “Atom Heart Mother”. Clearly its the same band, but a flipside of the coin, yin to yang. And with little concern for conquering charts or having hits, they are off, on their own adventure, on the far side of the moon if you want to come. “I'm Working At NASA On Acid” does, by title alone, give the game away.

It isn't an easy record, or a quick one, but a dense, rewarding set of noise that bears repeated listening and will open your ears. I get it. This is artistic liberation and art fetishism. And it's never sounded so good. 

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