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Dissected: Every Flaming Lips Album with Guest Commentary from Wayne Coyne

Strictly their proper studio releases -- you think we're nuts?

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By George Salisbury

    This feature originally ran in 2013. We’re reposting today as the band’s latest album, Oczy Mlody, gets set to drop.

    dissected-logoWelcome 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.

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    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.

    –Justin Gerber
    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.

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    Hear It Is (1986)

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    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).

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    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”

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    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

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    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.”


    Oh My Gawd!!! (1987)

    gawd

    Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Richard English (d, p, v)

    Duration: 11 songs, 47:59

    Longest Track: The grandiloquently named “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” (which translates to one nanosecond, if my math is correct) times out at 9:21, or 561,000,000,000 nanoseconds.

    Most Bizarre Song Title: Once again, the weirdest song title also goes to the longest song on the album.

    Album Cover Imagery: A truly tripped out image that would make Salvador Dali blush with pride, the complete cover spans both the front and back in a gatefold manner with images that appear to come from the songs themselves, including skinless skulls, one of which is riding the tail of what appears to be a fish monster, a rendition of the burning Vietnamese monks, and a valley of flowers nestled amongst images of chaos.

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    Just Like Before: As far as songs go, “Ode to C.C.” is reprised, with part 1 clocking in around 45 seconds and part 2 at just under 2 minutes, appearing five songs later. However, the Beatles can also be said to be reprised with an appearance at both the album’s opening and closing. Opening track “Everything’s Explodin’” features a sample from “Revolution 9” while the closing song, “Love Yer Brain” ends with a vocal sample taken from “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

    Shine on Sweet Jesus: 1, “The Ceiling Is Bending”

    Other People Name Dropped: Salvador Dali – “The Ceiling Is Bending”, Evil Knievel – “Maximum Dream For Evil Knievel”

    Does Godzilla Make An Appearance?: Yes, in “The Ceiling Is Bending”, Coyne sings “Godzilla is a cowboy”.

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    Number of Covers: None.

    Verdict: Though this album might effectively mark the beginning of the band’s entry into playful experimentation, it’s an album also rooted in classic rock, with elements of Zeppelin, Mountain, and Deep Purple showing up in songs while “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” shows off the band’s penchant for Floyd.

    The ‘Mats vibe shows up again on the album opener “Everything’s Exploding” while “Can’t Stop the Spring” hints at later Lips’ album, Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. Oh My Gawd is the Lips showing off their skill at balancing punk with sweeter acoustic numbers. –Len Comaratta

    Wayne’s Words: “While the sound feels rooted in rock, you must remember I grew up in the late ‘70s for the most part. I mean, I was born in 1961, so I was meant to be a weirdo in a ‘70s rock group. Luckily, punk rock came along, and it was the loudest style out there and allowed us to be a group and make this record. We aren’t real musicians. We were nothing without punk rock giving us the kind of freedom to do anything without being so embarrassed about it. And then before you know it, we are making strange, arty records, pushing through what should have been a really awkward situation because we didn’t really know how to play and record music. We were just figuring it out as we went along, and I think we were just very lucky.”


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    Telepathic Surgery (1988)

    telepathic-surgery

    Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Richard English (d, p, v), Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue joins the group as sound technician.

    Duration: Originally 12 songs, 38:36; the CD version features the addition of “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” and “Fryin’ Up” to give 14 songs, 64:23.

    Longest Track: “UFO Story” at 6:41 had it until the CD version of the album included “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” and all its 23 minutes of chaotic glory.

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    Most Bizarre Song Title: Though “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” is a great song title, this album’s oddest entry should probably go to “Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon (Fuck Led Zeppelin)”.

    Album Cover Imagery: The front cover shows a fish-eye image of a shirtless man and a bullhorn.

    Just Like Before: No reprisals, but the song “Chrome Plated Suicide” was based on Guns ‘n Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.

    Shine On Sweet Jesus: 1, “Drum Machine In Heaven” with the lyric “Give us a twentieth century Jesus guy”.

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    Other People Name Dropped: Iggy Pop – “Chrome Plated Suicide”; Hindu deity Krishna and hard rockers Led Zeppelin in the title to “Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon (Fuck Led Zeppelin)”; Ronnie Van Zandt (his ghost) – “Redneck School of Technology”; Captain Marvel – “The Spontaneous Combustion of John”

    Does Godzilla Make An Appearance? Sadly, no.

    Number of Covers: There are no covers on the album, however, the B-side to first single “Drug Machine In Heaven” had both a cover of The Sonics’ “Strychnine” and Brinsley Schwartz’ “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” though the Lips’ version favors Elvis Costello’s take on it over the British pub rockers.

    Verdict: The Flaming Lips are still very much a guitar band but that said, Telepathic Surgery is a prime example of the group exploring the guitar and not just playing it. Considered something of a companion album to Oh My Gawd, Telepathic Surgery doesn’t necessarily abandon what was presented before, but it’s a far grittier, punkier album throughout.

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    Delivered with a rawness only touched upon on previous releases, generally speaking, most of the tracks on Telepathic Surgery are mid-tempo aggressive pop tunes with a few minor exceptions such as “Miracle on 42nd Street”, “UFO Story”, and, of course, “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory”. —Len Comaratta

    Wayne’s Words: “I think we definitely were influenced by the likes of Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth and other noise groups. We were finding the limits of our musicality. But at the same time, we were thinking: ‘Well, we can be noisy too!’ I don’t think we were very good at doing the noise stuff, though. Sonic Youth were coming around that time and were doing it really, really well. I think we will always just be too wimpy. We will always just want to go back to doing weird sounds and being emotional.”


    In A Priest Driven Ambulance (1990)

    preist

    Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Nathan Roberts (d), Jonathan Donahue (g)

    Duration: Originally, 10 songs, 46:39; now it is 15 songs with the additions “Lucifer Rising”, “Ma, I Didn’t Notice” and the complete “Drug Machine” single for 70:51.

    Longest Track: The original iteration would have given it to “Mountain Side” with 6:36, however, later versions give it to “Ma, I Didn’t Notice” which runs 8:11.

    Most Bizarre Song Title: “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain”

    Album Cover Imagery: The front image is a slightly distorted black and white photo of the band.

    Just Like Before: Technically not a reprisal, the secondary title “Jesus Song” is featured three times. “Take Meta Mars” is modeled after Can’s song “Mushroom”.

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    Shine on Sweet Jesus: 4, Three feature Jesus in the title – “Shine On Sweet Jesus: Jesus Song No. 5”, “God Walks Among Us Now: Jesus Song No. 6”, and “There You Are: Jesus Song No. 7”; “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain” with the lyric “I was born the day they shot a hole in the Jesus egg.”

    Other People Name Dropped: Lucifer – “Lucifer Is Rising”; JFK and John Lennon – “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain”

    Does Godzilla Make An Appearance? No, but Mars makes its first appearance.

    Number of Covers: 1, “What a Wonderful World”, most famously performed by Louis Armstrong. However, later releases featured the “Drug Machine” single with the Sonics and Brinsley Schwarz covers previously mentioned.

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    Verdict: The Lips have discovered new avenues to explore. The punky nature isn’t gone, but it isn’t on display — in fact, a few tracks on In a Priest Driven Ambulance show off the band’s tender side through a folkier or lo-fi acoustic approach (“Five Stop Mother Superior Rain” or “There You Are” ) while others tend to show off the band’s burgeoning eccentricities (“Take Meta Mars”, “Mountain Side”, “Lucifer Rising”).

    This is perhaps the first album to “sound” like a Flaming Lips album, especially to someone more familiar with the group’s post Soft Bulletin material. Opener “Shine on Sweet Jesus” immediately shows off the band’s playful side in the studio, something that is definitely on display throughout In a Priest Driven Ambulance.

    Something of a concept album, this is also the first Lips’ album to exhibit a sense of continuity and cohesion throughout. To quote music critic Jason Ankeny, “For the Lips, the future begins here”. –Len Comaratta

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    Wayne’s Words: “This was the first record where we had Dave Fridmann join us. This is the man that ended up being the producer that made most of our records. We also had Jonathan Donahue, who was performing with his group, Mercury Rev. I think both of them together really gave us another sound, a great sound that came with a boost of confidence, more of an ability to make music and write songs that would eventually be based in an emotional world. They were there to coax us along and say, ‘Well, this part’s good enough; this part isn’t.’ I think that started to lead the way more towards The Flaming Lips sound and the band that we became. There is something childlike here, and there is something still kind of punk rock. There was something that feels more like a family of people doing something together. If we hadn’t found Jonathan and Dave at that time, we probably wouldn’t have carried on. Joining forces was a real great leap forward.”


    Hit To Death in the Future Head (1992)

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    Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Nathan Roberts (d), Jonathan Donahue (g) (however, Roberts and Donahue left the band prior to its release and the tour featured new members Ronald Jones and Steven Drozd)

    Duration: Originally, 10 songs, 39:42; however, the hidden bonus track “Monster In Beast Jailbreak” on later versions adds 29:16 for a total run time 68:58.

    Longest Track: The bonus track “Monster In Beast Jailbreak” with 29:16 dwarfs the next closest track, “Halloween On the Barbary Coast”, with its paltry 5:42.

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    Most Bizarre Song Title: Hands down, album opener, “Talkin’ ‘Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)”

    Album Cover Imagery: A photo of a decorative toilet seat, with the lid raised to fully show off the colorful print.

    Just Like Before: No reprisals in songs, but certainly in themes, as Coyne once again addresses concepts of religion and God.

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    Shine on Sweet Jesus: 1, “You Have To Be Joking” with the lyric “Oh, my Jesus, it’s worse than you think.”

    Other People Name Dropped: Only God and the Devil both in “You Have To Be Joking”.

    Number of Covers: No covers per say, however, on “The Sun” Coyne quotes Carole King’s “So Far Away”. In the song “You Have To Be Joking” the group uses a sample from Michael Kamen’s score to Brazil, the clearance of which actually delayed the album’s release by almost a year.

    Verdict: The first major label release for the Lips, Hit to Death marks the beginning of the group’s relationship with Warner Brothers. Hit to Death sees the Lips continuing to thread themes and songs together, though not quite in the conceptual way In a Priest Driven Ambulance exhibited.

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    Certainly exploring more outsider approaches to apply to their pop, Hit to Death may be viewed as the bridge between the first, far more noisy rocking, phase of the Flaming Lips and the second, which took the group down a more psychedelic acid pop path. —Len Comaratta


    Transmissions From the Satellite Heart (1993)

    transm

    Superhumans: Wayne Coyne (g, v), Michael Ivins (b), Ronald Jones (g), Steven Drozd (d)

    Duration: 11 tracks, 43:04

    Longest Track: “Slow Nerve Action” at 5:56.

    Most Bizarre Song Title: Though the parenthetical title to “Oh, My Pregnant Head (Labia In the Sunlight)” makes a strong case to scratch one’s head to, the award of most bizarre title this time goes to “Pilot Can At the Queer of God”.

    Album Cover Imagery: A black and white distorted image of a person sitting next to a speaker with a reel-to-reel on top.

    Just Like Before: No reprisal, but almost a year after its release, Beavis and Butthead played the video for “She Don’t Use Jelly” which caused the album to finally get noticed.

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    Shine on Sweet Jesus: 1, “Plastic Jesus”

    Other People Name Dropped: Cher – “She Don’t Use Jelly”; Mary once again, this time as both Madonna and the Virgin Mary, in “Plastic Jesus”.

    Number of Covers: 1, “Plastic Jesus”, originally written by Ed Rush and George Cromarty. On the album the song is credited as “*******”.

    Verdict: This is it – the first album to feature the Coyne-Ivins-Drozd lineup (however, this album and the follow-up Clouds Taste Metallicalso feature Ronald Jones on guitar). Though the hit was second single “She Don’t Use Jelly”, it’s the far tighter, groovier, and grittier numbers like “Turn It On” (the first single released), “Superhumans”, “Pilot Can at the Queer of God”, and “Slow Nerve Action” that really notch up Transmissions.

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    Jones’ and Drozd’s guitar-work is nothing short of incendiary. Many songs on Transmissions such as “Oh, My Pregnant Head” and “Plastic Jesus” also feel a bit less crowded or claustrophobic, and demonstrate a stronger comprehension of space, something that will certainly be explored (and perhaps exploited) in later albums. –Len Comaratta

    Wayne’s Words: “The group that started off with the Transmissions From the Satellite Heart album really opened us all up where anything felt possible. Steven [Drozd] and Ronald [Jones], as such, were master musicians compared to what we were doing previous to that. Steven and Ronald could play with Miles Davis. They could write music with Igor Stravinsky; they are at such a high level. By being with them, we immediately jumped into a different category; there would be this rich, childlike sound that I would be able to bring to the group, but then there was this emotional, beautiful, and delicate stuff that Ronald and Steven started bringing to the group. We started to do the stuff that we were only previously able to dream about.”


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