Over the past 18 months, The Flaming Lips have released a four-track EP encased inside a skull made of gummy bears, a six-hour song and a 24-hour song that was put on a hard drive inside 13 actual human skulls. And that’s just three of the myriad releases the Oklahoma City freaks have dropped since their last album proper, 2009’s Embryonic.
On Record Store Day this year they released The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, an album of collaborations with artists as diverse as Kesha, Nick Cave, Biz Markie and Yoko Ono. A vinyl release limited to 10,000 copies, each one coloured different to the next, I managed to snag one of them through their website before they sold out.
It arrived today, and as you can see below, it is glorious. Anyone who has seen The Flaming Lips’ live show or any of their artwork knows the band loves colour, but this is taking it to a new level.
The thing is worth owning simply for its aesthetics alone, but in a slight surprise for an album that was pieced together from short collaborations (the closer, “I Don’t Want You To Die”, features Chris Martin on vocals taken straight from a voice recording Martin made on his phone) it stands on its own musically.
Some of the tracks have been released already. “Is David Bowie Dying? (ft. Neon Indian)”, “Do It! (ft. Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band)”, “I’m Working at Nasa on Acid (ft. Lightning Bolt)” and “Supermoon Made Me Want To Pee (ft. Prefuse 73)” have all appeared on EPs released since the start of 2011. “Is David Bowie Dying?” is a great extension of the heavy psych-rock that they’ve played around with since Embryonic. The lurching guitar rocks and it became a staple of their live shows (with the guitar played on an iPhone app by Steven Drozd).
The Kesha track, “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded!!!)”, which also features Biz Markie, opens the album with dissonant electronica and actually rocks reasonably hard. Kesha is a terrible artist, but I do wish she’d release it as a single of her own, breathe some fresh air into the mainstream.
The Bon Iver collab “Ashes in the Air” is an affecting six-minute wash of synths and processed drums featuring Coyne and Justin Vernon trading vocals. Not going to going down in the annals for either artist, but still a good tune. Other highlights include the Yoshimi-esque Tame Impala collab “Children of the Moon”, the elegiac “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” with R&B queen Erykah Badu on vocals and “You, Man? Human???”, as oddball as you’d expect from the Lips and Nick Cave.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album but it has exceeded any expectations. We really need to cherish The Flaming Lips because no other band in history has been as creative and as willing to try something as they have. They don’t owe us fans anything, and yet they continue to give and give and give, releasing music profusely and blowing fans away with life-changing live shows.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends will be released on CD and through iTunes later this month.