Friday, April 26, 2013

The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends -- The Flaming Lips -- Review

A black-and-white photo of Kesha holding her foot to the camera with a smiley face drawn on her toe, standing in front of Wayne Coyne who is giving a peace sign with his fingers and smiling. The title of the album and the collaborators are written in red to the right.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (2012)
Rating: 9
".....I man the controls"
Best Song: I'm Working at NASA on Acid
Worst Song: Tasered and Maced

       After the countless EPs the band dropped in 2011, our boys decided that it would be a smart idea to release a compilation of sorts, combining various songs from all these EPs with some unreleased tidbits as well. Now, I can't really comment on any of the EPs -- as I said in the Fetus review, that's the only one I own -- but I can firmly tell you that throughout all of this insanity, the band continued in the noisy style developed on Embryonic. Is this a good thing? Sure, I guess, but after releasing SO much content in the same style, they kinda blew their metaphorical wad, so to speak. 
       You see, if they had released nothing between Embryonic and The Terror, everyone would've still been oohing and ahhing over the band's newfound experimentalism. But by continually reminding everyone of their existence, they made all of these new ideas and innovations WAY less interesting than they would have been otherwise.
       But never mind that -- let's talk Heady Fwends. For the record, every single track on here is featuring another artist; none of these were worked on solely by the Lips. Of course, oftentimes it's hard to know where the Lips start and where the guest begins, as this is a VERY disorienting and confused album -- quite possibly their most difficult ever, and I don't say that lightly. The general sound is EXTREEEEMELY noisy, almost revoltingly so, and this noise far exceeds that of the early 90s stuff. No, at times this thing approaches unlistenability, as its occasionally quite literally painful to sit through some of these, or at least nearly impossible to sit through them without constant adjustment of the volume knob.
       Take the album-opening, Ke$ha-featuring "2012" for example -- at heart, it's a fun, stomping remake of The Stooges' "1969" filled to the brim with tribal rhythms and a cool vocal performance from little Miss Dollar-Sign herself. However, instead of just letting well-enough alone, the band had to go and throw in an absolutely EAR-SHREDDING guitar line, one that makes me enjoy the song quite a bit less than I would otherwise. Bah. The things some people will do in the sake of experimentalism...
       On the opposite end of the spectrum, the song featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, "Helping the Retarted to Find God", is absolutely gorgeous. Sounding like something of a cross between Pink Floyd's folk ballads and the title track from Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain, the song coasts along glorious choral vocals, soothing acoustic melodies, and neat synth noises to wonderful effect. Similarly pretty is the Erykah Badu track, an ambient, space-rock cover of the well-known folk ballad "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". Does it justify the full 10 minutes that it wails on for? Nah. But, it's very nice and pleasant, it doesn't actively annoy me in any way whatsoever, and it paved the way for the 13 minutes of "You Lust" on the next album, so I suppose it's fine. 
       The track with Prefuse 73, "Supermoon Made Me Want to Pee" (so weird...), is nothing more than a three minute burst of energy, but it's definitely exciting and also quite catchy, so I have no real beef with it. The band also did a song with Yoko Ono (!) entitled "Do It!", but it...kinda sucks, so let's forget about it. The other major misfires are "Tasered and Maced", which just features the lead singer from Ghostland Observatory telling a story for 3 minutes (WHYYYY?!?!?) and the directionless "Girl, You're So Weird" featuring New Fumes, which starts off decently enough but just sinks into nothingness after a bit.
       I'm also not fond of the two rockers, "You Man, Human?!?" with Nick Cave and "That Ain't My Trip" featuring Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame. Neither are too horrible, but they're both ridiculously loud and merely decent melody-wise, and mediocrity + irritating noise = not that great of a song. At least "Ain't My Trip" has a decent melody -- "Human" features hardly anything but irritation to me, and yes, that includes Nick Cave's over-the-top performance which is just, well, irritating! I'm sorry, but it is! (to my ears, at least)
       Now I'm a big fan of Tame Impala, but...geez, the pop number "Children of the Moon" is pretty sub-standard as well! Sure, the guitar line is epic (though a bit overloud....), but the melody, while pleasant, is just that -- pleasant. Nothing particularly memorable or catchy, and it just winds on and on for five minutes...urk. 
       That's not to say that all of the album is worthless; absolutely not! Take the song with Lightning Bolt, "I'm Working at NASA on Acid". That's gotta be one of the best tracks the Lips have ever done! It starts out with some cool astronaut noises before gradually winding into a minimalistic (but still epic!) ballad, one that reminds me of early Bowie (think "Space Oddity" and "Five Years"). Wayne gives an eerie, distant reading to the lyrics, which works wonderfully in an almost Embryonic sort of way. However, after the ballad winds on for a few minutes, the band slowly stops and starts drifting in a weightless-feeling bit of noise. The song floats around in this for a second before a chipmunk-voice comes in squealing "ONE TWO THREE FOUR!" and the band rushes headfirst into one of the most insanely noisy, chaotic, and downright fun jams I've ever heard. It combines the reckless energy of "Supermoon" from earlier in the album with a melodic sense that sounds almost like Kraftwerk's "Kometenmelodie 2", and I love me some "Kometenmelodie 2".
       After a bit of this, the band slowly returns to the noisy stasis that it previously occupied, before finally fading into complete silence. And that moment when Wayne moans (in the most epic way possible) that pained "I man the controoollllsssss....and I'm control...something...that can never be controllleddd!" absolutely blows my mind every time I hear it. It's a definite "goose-bump moment", and easily the best part of the album. The song then winds down in the same pattern it began in, and it's just positively terrific. Well done, boys. THAT'S how you do noisy space-rock.
       "Is David Bowie Dying??", a collaboration with Neon Indian, is quite similar to "I'm Working at NASA", but hey -- if a song's gonna sound like something else on the album, it might as well be the best thing on there, eh? And there are some small touches here that distance the track as well -- those guitar licks are especially great.
       So on the whole, I like it decently. It's not one of my favorite F'Lips albums, but it's definitely worth hearing for any major fans of the band. Oh, and it should go without saying that everyone needs to hear "I'm Working at NASA on Acid" -- it's a new Lips classic, fo' 'sho.

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