The Flaming Lips, those lovable ragamuffin post-punk hippie-freak-flag-flying goofball geniuses from Oklahoma, grew up at the dawn of the digital era, coming of musical age to legions of fans as the CD format was embraced by millions around the world. But, at their heart, the group — and particularly front man Wayne Coyne — were a bunch of vinyl geeks, as evidenced by the last several years of wondrous and amazing exclusive vinyl releases.
From a glow-in-the-dark 12-incher recorded with Yoko Ono to an uber-limited edition album (I think 10 copies were made) literally liquid-filled LP (with blood from the many celebrities on the album!), the Lips have pushed some boundaries over the years and arguably contributed to the resurgent popularity of the format in recent years.
Not so much from an audiophile standpoint, but from and aesthetic perspective, The Flaming Lips tapped back into the FUN part of listening to and collecting vinyl records!
Anyhow, for those of you who haven’t been following, some additional history may be helpful in putting the eventual review-at-hand — three reissued rare EPs — in perspective. The group hit a first peak of success early on in its deal with Warner Brothers thanks to the novelty-type hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” (from the 1993 album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart). Their follow on album in 1995 was the critically acclaimed Clouds Taste Metallic, a great record which did not take off commercially.
And that is kind of where we fast forward to Record Store Day 2015 for the pleasant surprise reissue-of-sorts of three rare extended play (EP) recordings from the Clouds Taste Metallic period (soon to celebrate its 20th anniversary!). You see, there were a number of CD single / EP type releases coincident with this album — remember what I said earlier about them being part of the CD era — which apparently only came out in the UK. Getting ones hands on the imported CD singles were definitely “a thing” (if you will) in the CD era — all the hip kids looked for the UK CD singles with their typically exclusive “B-sides” and other non-LP tracks.
So here we are 20 years on and the band has put out three — count ’em, 3! — 10-inch colored vinyl EPs featuring music from these rare previously-only-on-CD editions.
And Flaming Lips fans across world rejoiced merrily!
Before I get to the EPs, I will encourage those of you who may have missed Clouds Taste Metallic back in the day — especially those of you only came in to the Lips’ camp around the time of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — to check this record out as it is right up there with the best of their recordings. I have even gone so far as to argue that it marked the beginning of their more sophisticated conceptual songwriting and productions. This one has a lot of sci-fi themes which came into full flower on The Soft Bulletin and albums afterward.
So assuming you have embraced the earlier “Roland Jones” period of The Flaming Lips (one of their original guitarists, before they started more experiments with synthesizers and sampling) and now love Clouds Taste Metallic as much as you love The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi and At War With The Mystics, then you should consider getting these nifty Record Store Day limited edition 10-inch EPs.
I’ll start with my favorite of the batch, This Here Giraffe, which comes on lovely clear creamsicle-colored vinyl that has neat opaque orange splotches on it…. so it looks kinda like a Giraffe-colored record! Of course the song is a bunch of whimsical fun that sounds great — a big sounding theoretically wider-groove spin of the album version of the song.
But its the B-side that got me: a live on the radio (for a 1992 John Peel session apparently, if the Interwebs is accurate) piano-and-vocal version of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars,” arguably one of the touch-stone pieces for much of the Lips’ later more directly sci-fi oriented works. Wayne Coyne’s phase-shift-processed, fractured-Neil-Young-in-outer-space vocals work just beautifully on this heartbreaking version, with the piano masterfully played (I’m assuming) by Steven Drozd. Just lovely and haunting. “Jets Part 2 (My Two Days as an Ambulance Driver)” — which also appeared on a now-also-hard-to-find and wonderfully sarcastically titled extended EP called Due to High Expectations…. The Flaming Lips are Providing Needles for Your Balloons — is a bit of trippy sing-song-along rock with some groovy slide guitar hooks (probably courtesy of Roland Jones). That song sounds a bit skronky mix wise, I will admit, but I suspect it is one of those it-is-what-it-is things … I mean, face it, by this time period most bands were recording digitally, so take it with a bit of lo-fi acceptance and just enjoy the tune for what it is.
The Bad Days EP — on vivid sort-of-Kelly-green vinyl — includes a kick-ass bit of instrumental weirdness called “Girl With Hair Like An Explosion” which probably resulted from a jam on the riff from the song “Guy Who Got A Headache And Accidentally Saves The World” (ya can’t make up names like that folks, its a tune off of Clouds Taste Metallic). There is also a neat instrumental demo off the basic riff and some music that would become the song “This Here Giraffe.” There is a nice edit of one of the most heartwarming tunes on Clouds called “Bad Days” (which optimistically muses “… and all your bad days will end” in a rollicking fuzz-guitar rock ‘n roll manner). There is also a “primitive demo” of the band’s big breakthrough hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” (basically a cassette recording of Wayne Coyne singing the song accompanied only by an acoustic guitar). My only glitch — if you can call it that — is that the labels on my copy are flipped, but I think I can figure out which side is which regardless.
The final EP, on yellow vinyl, Brainville includes a “slightly changed” version of a song called “Waterbug,” a song-tale Wayne tells about his brother’s experience taking some drugs which kick in while shopping at a store, resulting in his being taken to a hospital. Its sort of a Bruce Springsteen-storytelling-styled piece by way of Hunky Dory-era Bowie (or Imagine-era Lennon, depending on your perspective) with just lovely piano and slide guitar accompanying Wayne’s charming broken vocals. This and the very cool acoustic guitar, piano, bass and trippy-effects version of “Evil Will Prevail” are performed live on KCRW-FM’s “Brave New World” program. The title track is of course also from Clouds Taste Metallic.
For those of you audiophile Flaming Lips fans, I think you’ll enjoy these EPs. They aren’t particularly cheap (at about $15 each) but they are cool to have and they sound real good, perfectly centered, very thick (probably the 10-inch equivalent of 180-gram), dead quiet colored vinyl.
This is a great way for the Lips to kick off their 20th anniversary celebration of Clouds Taste Metallic. Each of these EPs bear a sticker touting an expanded edition coming this Fall, so they are a great teaser for that upcoming release.
Yay! More Flaming Lips fun to come!