The prospect of a “greatest hits” collection from The Flaming Lips is both exciting and terrifying. Over the course of their 35-years-and-counting career, the group has morphed in many directions across different incarnations of the group, so much so that at times it’s admittedly hard to get a complete picture of what the band is really about. Are they punk freakazoid weirdos? Are they pop geniuses carrying the torch of Brian Wilson and Pink Floyd? Perhaps they are all this and more. To that, what’s kind of amazing about The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition) is that over the course of the three CDs it does capture that sense of continuity permeating much of their work, at least since the early 90s when they were signed to Warner Bros. Records and started having mainstream hits under the guidance of longtime producer David Fridmann.
I first noticed this when I got the album Clouds Taste Metallic a record which pre-dated by several years their critical breakthrough The Soft Bulletin. Like many fans these days, I came on board with The Flaming Lips after that and around the time of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. So, while I’ve followed their path ever since, I’ve also been going back to catch up on things I missed along the way. Clouds quickly became a fave and I realized that it was more or less the beginning of the more progressive-rock, pop-leaning trajectory for the band, a directive that took them through At War With The Mystics and into Embryonic, The Terror and to last year’s Oczy Mlody. Individually, these albums sound pretty distinctive. However, when you listen to The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol.1 you start to connect the dots, primarily due to long standing members Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivans who have been there from the start and Steven Drozd who has been on board since the early 1990s.
Beyond just offering fans an easily digestible package of hits, The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition) prompts us to reconsider tracks we may have overlooked such as the mad fun opening track from their fifth album (and first for Warner Brothers, Hit to Death in the Future Head), the inspiringly titled “Talkin’ ‘Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants to Live Forever).” Within that first CD in the new set you travel from that new beginning (if you will) through key tracks from Clouds Taste Metallic and on to classics like “Race For The Prize” and “Waiting For A Superman” from The Soft Bulletin. It all fits together, as you rocket into the cosmos via Yoshimi, At War With The Mystics and on through to Oczy Mlody‘s haunting and beautiful “How??”
Now, how about a sweet bonus for streaming music fans: up on Tidal, you can hear the single-disc version of The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 1 in 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity and it sounds pretty fab from the tracks I’ve sampled! I’ve embedded links to the single disc version (which is probably what the LP version was mastered from) here. The “deluxe edition” version (also on Tidal) seems to include tracks streaming at a variety of resolutions ranging from 24-bit / 44.1 kHz to 48 kHz and at 96 kHz for some tracks (such as “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Slow Nerve Action” from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart). “The W.A.N.D.” from At War With The Mystics comes through at 24/88 while “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung” comes through at 96/24! I suspect this must be a case of the producers offering us the “best available” sources for each track, which is cool. It certainly will put your DAC through its paces switching to different resolutions from track to track! The only glitch I’ve had is an ongoing issue I’ve had with my ISP, Comcast, which is forever dropping out on me (which makes streaming less of an appealing thing for me).
For the hardcore fans, Disc 3 is the treasure chest compiling 17 rarities including a number of unreleased demos and such. This is handy as the disc gives us stereo versions of tracks which previously only were available as bonus tracks on the wonderful-but-less-portable DVD Audio Disc 5.1 surround sound versions of The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi and At War With The Mystics. Notable is the amazing “The Captain” which the band has issued a new video for (check the hyperlink I embedded in the title).
And you get tracks like the fabulously titled “Enthusism For Life Defeats Existential Fear Part 2″ which was only included on the Gummy Song Fetus EP and…. um…. product. Yes, product: via their website, The Flaming Lips sold an edible gummy candy fetus which had a flash drive embedded at its center which included this song. So you had to eat the thing to get the music! You’ve got to give these guys credit for their brilliant 21st century music marketing tactics which were all really mad fun to follow as they were released. I did buy some of their offerings, but not the fetus, alas. The song itself is actually a sweet little slice of what I’ll call post-electronica prog-punk psychedelia (but you might call it something else, and that is cool too).
This of course is followed by a charming cover of “If I Only Had A Brain” from the soundtrack to a video game I missed, Stubbs The Zombie — and yes, its that same “If I Only Had A Brain” by Harold Arlen from The Wizard of Oz (with some lyrical twists that probably has lyricist Yip Harburg twisting in his grave, hopefully chuckling with laughter… listen to the song and you’ll hopefully understand what I’m talking about). The album closes with a sweet version of “Silent Night” which was available on a limited edition picture disc in 2008, now streaming in 96/24 resolution up on Tidal, by the way!
In terms of pure consumer value The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition) is a no-brainer gift to the fans as well as to those who want to explore the group anew offering three CDs packed with music, a booklet, groovy artwork, a quad-fold cover design and all for about $20. There is a single disc vinyl version which offers up a different vibe entirely — and different cover art! — focusing mostly on the band’s bigger hit tracks. My only critique there is that it would have been nice if they at least included a rare-ish track like “The Captain” on it, which would have made the single disc LP a bit more special (ala ChangesOneBowie).
My only other disappointment here is that the album isn’t sequenced a little bit more creatively. Opting for mostly what seems like a fairly chronological approach, The Flaming Lips are one of those bands I hoped might reimagine this music’s presentation for a hits collection, much in the way that The Moody Blues did with their fairly legendary two LP set This Is The Moody Blues (which reinvented many of the tracks by presenting them with new segues and unique remixes that actually worked separate from the original albums). But I guess, in these days of downloads and individual tracks being so popular, perhaps that’s not a reality with the mindset of current day consumers. Maybe someday I’ll create my own Moody Blues-styled mix of Flaming Lips tunes culled from these tracks.
Anyhow, this deluxe edition CD package of The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 1 is a winner end to end, including the wonderful cover art by main songwriter and lead singer Wayne Coyne.
Now I’m very much looking forward to The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 2!