This feature originally ran in 2013. We’re reposting today as the band’s latest album, Oczy Mlody, gets set to drop.
Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Wayne Coyne’s spongy, gooey mind.
A biology class dissection is normally an easy, albeit squeamish, process to get through. The animal is long dead, and all you have to do is just slice, slide, open, and extract the organs and limbs you’ve been instructed to remove. But what if you make that first puncture and the fetal pig slips off the table, bouncing off the ground and ricocheting off the wall. You reach down to pick it up, only to discover you can’t get a good grip as it keeps sliding out of your grasp, bouncing once more. To make matters stranger, upon closer inspection you see it’s really just a gummy fetal pig, and once you finally begin your dissection, instead of removing organs you remove a USB drive.
The biology teacher would surely be fired for wasting school funds on gummy candy instead of the real deal.
Taken outside of the classroom, though, it’s not as far-fetched as you’d think. Oklahoma City’s own The Flaming Lips have hidden away EPs on USB drives in similar ways over the past few years, from gummy skulls to chocolate hearts. Due to this and their over-the-top live performances, the band have long been labeled as strange, bizarre, odd, obtuse, and every other adjective synonymous with the word “weird.” They’ve earned it, and they wear it as a badge of honor. What may get lost in these perceptions is how strange the actual music is, as well.
In order for us to dissect the true-blue band of fearless freaks, we needed to remove cover albums, collaborative albums, and soundtracks from the dissection tray (Ke$ha has been put back into the freezer for future study). Along with another pair of fearless freaks (Len Comaratta and Zach Schonfeld), the three of us discovered we still had over a dozen exhibits to slice apart and inspect. No one will ever really know what makes Wayne Coyne and company tick, but by Plastic Jesus did we give it our best shot.
Senior Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: Associate Editor Lior Phillips recently spoke to Wayne Coyne about his band’s discography. You can find his thoughts on each album included throughout this feature. For the full Flaming Lips catalog breakdown with Coyne, click here.
Hear It Is (1986)
Superhumans (Band Lineup): Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Richard English (d)
Duration: Originally 10 songs, 41:51; later CD pressings included “Summertime Blues” making it 11 songs, 44:22 (early pressings on the Pink Dust label also included the self-titled debut EP)
Longest Track: “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin”, clocking in at 7:21, takes the title.
Most Bizarre Song Title: The Lips aren’t too crazy this early out with “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” being the most outlandish song title.
Album Cover Imagery: The front cover is simply a photo of the band while the back cover is rumored to be Richard English’s eye while tripping on LSD (though the lack of dilation leaves me calling bullshit).
Just Like Before (Song Reprisals): “With You” opens the album and then reappears in a brief reprisal at the end of album closer “Staring at Sound” to give the obvious song title “Staring at Sound/With You II”.
Shine on Sweet Jesus (Songs That Mention Jesus): 2, “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin”, “Charlie Manson Blues”
Other People Name Dropped: Well, Mary gets named in “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin”, Charles Manson – “Charlie Manson Blues”, Clint Eastwood – “Godzilla Flick”
Does Godzilla Make An Appearance?: Yes, in “Godzilla Flick”.
Number of Covers: 1, “Summertime Blues” was included with later CD pressings. The Lips attack the song with Blue Cheer’s ferocity only instead of Cheer’s sludge, the Lips favor Eddie Cochran’s hair gel.
Verdict: This is the Flaming Lips at their most rock ‘n’ roll. Much of the album has a strong connection to the American Underground of the mid-80s. The Lips are perhaps at their most Replacements-like with songs such as “Staring At Sound”, “Trains, Brains and Rain”, “Charlie Manson Blues”, and “Man From Pakistan” featuring Coyne’s voice in a slightly Westerberg style (if years of alcohol and smoking hadn’t made their marks).
Fans of the group’s more recent fare might find some comfort in “She Is Death”, a dimly psychedelic haze. However, it’s between the dark, brooding nature of “Jesus Shooting Heroin” and the subject matter of “Godzilla Flick” where the roots of The Terror can be found. —Len Comaratta
Wayne’s Words: “If you listen to Hear It Is, it’s radically different to who we are now. If you didn’t know it was the same group, you could easily like what we do now and really hate what we did then. Some people would see that it’s just an evolution of personalities. I loved those early records because they are just so far away from who I am now. I see them being done by a different person. They are just ridiculous, ridiculous records. The part of our past I really like was how it was always a little bit of a surprise. There was no particular style; it was just very freaky music. That first album forced me to find a way to sing more emotionally. Back then, it was a lot of screaming and out-of-tune guitar. We are always trying to be more emotional, and if we hadn’t been able to do that, we would have stopped and killed ourselves.”