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Monday, February 04, 2013

The Flaming Lips -- The Soft Bulletin


Ah, back to the summer of 1999. Sitting in my car on my Win-Dixie lunch break, eating a sandwich, drinking a hot coke. Feeling fearless and carefree while paradoxically feeling the entire weight of the world on my shoulders, as only a seventeen year-old can. The radio, as always, tuned to your original alternative, when this song came through my Thunderbird's speakers.

And for about the dozenth time that summer, a band had perfectly captured my immediate feelings.
This being the age of dial-up, my best bet for music research was the 30-second clips posted on If I really, really liked a song, I could download it through the night from or audiogalaxy. Pitchfork and all those other taste-making websites weren't nearly the forces they would one day become, so the only opinions on the music I was interested in that I had to deal with were the listener reviews on Amazon. I never bought anything from Amazon back then because I didn't have a credit card OR a bank account. I only had cash, and rarely, as car insurance and helping out the family took up the majority of my fund allocation. With all that said, I had really no reason to know that the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin was that big of a deal. So when I eventually dropped hard-earned cash on it because of my love for "Waitin' for a Superman," I had only had my own opinion to go on. Despite the fact that I am trying to influence your opinion with this review, your own opinion is really the only thing you need (not mine or anyone else's). My opinion was, while "Waitin' for a Superman" was a great song, the Soft Bulletin's use of Wayne Coyne's voice over the course of 58 minutes was too much for me to take. His whiney, Midwestern drawl was great in doses, but throughout the melodies of The Soft Bulletin, it slowly went from endearing to blackboard-scratching. Little did I know, I had only a slightly-above average opinion of an album many publications were mantling as a masterpiece.
As I look back at The Soft Bulletin now...I still hold court with my younger self. That guy was smart (He was also of a strong opinion that I needed to take a break before college, so that I could further ruminate on my academic direction...he was overruled by circumstance). As I listen to The Soft Bulletin now, I merely hear a decent album, with "Waitin' for a Superman" as the clear standout. Anytime a band smoothly goes from rawer, less-palatable racket to a more classic-pop indebted sound, they are going to receive a large mass of accolades. In truth, The Soft Bulletin just shows The Flaming Lips relying on more keyboard and utilizing more vocal harmonies than before. It's pretty good stuff, but over the full course of its nearly hour-long air length, it becomes cloying and abrasive. The spectrum of sounds explored here actually isn't that wide. On top of that, Coyne's delivery can get downright obnoxious and sticky. Checkout "Buggin'"

I don't do drugs, so maybe they make the song better? After a while, all I can hear is "Bugs, buzz, buzz..." Or maybe it's just not my thing. Whatever the case, there are some really good songs here, particularly "Race for the Prize," "The Observer," "Waitin' for a Superman," "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," and "Sleeping on the Roof." I could take or leave the rest then and now. You might love it, though. Hooray for individuality.

1999 Warner Bros.
1. Race for the Prize (Mokran Remix) 4:09
2. A Spoonful Weighs a Ton 3:32
3. The Spark That Bled ("The Softest Bullet Ever Shot") 5:55
4. The Spiderbite Song 4:02
5. Buggin' (Mokran Remix) 3:16
6. What Is the Light? ("An Untested Hypothesis Suggesting That the Chemical [In Our Brains] by Which We Are Able to Experience the Sensation of Being in Love Is the Same Chemical That Caused the "Big Bang" That Was the Birth of the Accelerating Universe") 4:05
7. The Observer 4:11
8. Waitin' for a Superman ("Is It Gettin' Heavy?") 4:17
9. Suddenly Everything Has Changed ("Death Anxiety Caused by Moments of Boredom") 3:54
10. The Gash ("Battle Hymn for the Wounded Mathematician") 4:02
11. Feeling Yourself Disintegrate 5:17
12. Sleeping on the Roof (excerpt from "Should We Keep the Severed Head Awake??") 3:09
13. Race for the Prize ("Sacrifice of the New Scientists") 4:18
14. Waitin' for a Superman (Mokran Remix) 4:19

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