The Flaming Lips have been around for a while, just take a look at Wayne Coyne circa “She Don’t Use Jelly” era- such a baby face! One of the reasons it’s hard to fathom how much staying power they’ve had is owed to their versatility and the evolution of their sound throughout the years. Clevelanders will have an opportunity to experience the brilliance of the seminal neo-psychedelic rock outfit August 17th at the newly remodeled Agora. PressureLife will be on hand for all the wonderful weirdness and will fill you in on all the fun if you can’t make it. But in the meantime, join us as we countdown the best ten Flaming Lips albums of all time.
10: Oh My Gawd!!! (1987):
An early, fun, loose exercise in noise, Gawd really flexed a lot of sonic muscle. The band maintained its grungy origins while beginning to experiment with more nuanced compositions. It’s easy to lose this release amid the bulk of the Lips catalogue, but one shouldn’t if they want to appreciate the full range of the Lips.
Standout Track: “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” A mouthful to say with a track as dense as its title. One really sees the depth of their musical acumen in the long-running track.
9. The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and the White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing Dark Side of the Moon (2009):
Sure, bands cover classic songs all the time. It’s rare that they cover entire albums. Rarer, still is how close they come to competing for which version is better. The album never sounds like a retread of Pink Floyd standards but walks the tightrope of reinterpreting the songs into their own vision while remaining true to the concept and tonality of the original. Having Rollins perform the spoken words elements with Peaches handing the vocals of “Great Gig in the Sky” was a masterstroke.
Standout Track: “Us and Them” Such a fragile track handled with elegant precision by Stardeath and the White Dwarfs and closed with Rollins’ musings.
8. Oczy Mlody (2017):
By now the Flaming Lips have carte blanche to put out whatever they fancy. Lucky for us they fancy transcendent meditations of the surreal. Oczy can at time feel shiftless, like swimming through a fog, but the immersive nature the album crafts is truly transformative.
Standout Track: There Should be Unicorns” It’s easy to get lost in this album. This track is something of a tangible respite amid the ambiance and questions why there are cops in the first place and not more unicorns? Fair point.
7: Zaireeka (1997):
This one is certainly an “A for effort” entry. Released as a four part album, Zaireeka only boasted eight songs; each of which feature on all four of the records, but only in parts. Only when played simultaneously, one could hear the songs in their entirety. The idea was for fans to simulcast each of the four records in cassette forms in their cars in parking lots for a communal symphonic experience that would be slightly unique to each listener. Thankfully, with simple programs like Bandcamp you can compress the tracks together and listen to the songs comprehensively.
Standout Track: “Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair” Despite the gimmick to the album, the tracks are truly exceptional on their own accord. This song sets the stage aboard a commercial aircraft carrier when the pilot starts feeling suicidal; a really unsettling atmosphere in an otherwise lighthearted affair.
6. Hear It Is (1986):
The band’s first full length, Hear It Is, often plays like a different band, and for most of its parts it was. It’s great to hear what could have been with the Lips in this much harder, much crunchier thrash-grunge album that never lets off the gas.
Standout Track: “Jesus Shooting Heroin” The name just about says it all…
5. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002):
This album put the band back on the map after their initial 90s alternative heyday and showed that they had staying power and artistic vision that carried on through a beautiful concept album that is equal parts tragic and fun.
Standout Track: “Do You Realize?” A more poignant and wistful treatise on the impermanence of life is hard to come by.
4. Embryonic (2009):
Perhaps one their best blended affairs that drifts into choice psychedelia while maintaining a tight running order that never gets bogged down or masturbatory. After their early 2000s induction into the mainstream, the band pushed back and went away from the disposable pop sensibility heard in At War with the Mystics for a more nuanced and penetrative double album release.
Standout Track: “See the Leaves” You really can’t go wrong on any of these 18 tracks, but “See the Leaves” allows the listener a taste of the whole and its one hell of a savory morsel.
3: The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (2012):
Somewhat anomalous, the band took a backseat on this one to allow each track a featured guest performer, hence the heady fwends. While this could have gone sideways in a hurry, the Lips prove a steady hand in composition and steering the ship to shore while providing accomplished soundscapes for the likes of Nick Cave, Erykah Badu, My Morning Jacket, Yoko Ono, Biz Markie, Ke$ha. This album is really an embarrassment of riches.
Standout Track: “2012… You Must be Upgraded” So who would have thought that you would hear Ke$ha and Biz Markie on a track together in 2012? Who would have thought that it would go together like chocolate and peanut butter?
2: Transmissions from the Satellite Heart (1993)
Not their first album, but one of their earliest records that captures the crunchy bubblegum pop-grunge of their formative years. Often overlooked under sheer volume of succeeding albums, Transmissions is a joy to listen to from beginning to end and near impossible to listen to without singing along.
Standout Track: “She Don’t Use Jelly” Sure it’s been played out over the years but this track put the band on the map as well as MTV and for good reason.
1: Soft Bulletin:
This was a make or break album in many respects. Without the success of Soft Bulletin it is likely the Lips would be one of many “remember when” bands. Serving as their OK Computer in many respects, the Lips went back to the drawing board and reinvented their sound with a much more orchestral vision.
Standout Track: “Racing for the Prize” Coming out the gate swinging its brassy presence with swagger, this album opener declared the band had more in store than listeners were ready for. The inclusion of a theremin is always a win in my book.