Ten Years Later: The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
May 17, 1999
Warner Bros. Records
Victim of Loudness War? No
In June of 1999, all bets were off as to which release would receive the honor of being regarded as the best album of the year. The remaining six months would have no chance of producing a fine a record as The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, a lush and vibrant soundscape that was as subtle as it was bombastic. As impressive a feat as that was at the time, it is perhaps more of a testament to the album’s strength that few others have been released since by any artist that have come close to matching its near-perfection. Sure, masterminds such as Radiohead, Neil Young and Wilco have all come extremely close, but none have been able to top Wayne Coyne and Co’s hour of pure magic.
The album opens with “Race For the Prize,” which roars with thunderous drums and captivates with swirling synthesizers. Steven Drozd’s work on this track is that of inspiration, making you want to play the drums much the same way Keith Moon could when he really let loose. It’s a performance quality that he maintains throughout the record, never once faltering in his position of backbone to the varied set of songs. This can be seen on the other album standouts, most notably “Waiting For a Superman” and “Buggin,” both which steam along with the same intensity as “Race For the Prize.”
The Soft Bulletin should also be recognized for its quieter moments, which mirror the more rambunctious ones in number. The seamless combination of “What Is the Light?” and the instrumental “The Observer” is pure brilliance, the soundtrack to a relaxed summer evening that you never want to end. Later entry “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” follows along the same trajectory, although this track may also be better utilized for a relaxed summer evening drug trip rather than merely for the evening itself.
The true brilliance of The Soft Bulletin comes in its masked simplicity. Although some of the musical arrangements may appear complex and intricate, they are all tied together with simple lyrical themes. Wayne Coyne, more often than not, seems to be singing for the listener rather than to the listener, allowing for a truly personal experience when spinning the record. “The Spiderbite Song” relates a true concern for a friend; “Waiting For a Superman” addresses the average man’s anxiety over the sheer weight of the world he lives in; “Buggin’” speaks of the sheer joy of love. All of Coyne’s lyrical messages remain remarkable undemanding, which provides a beautiful juxtaposition to the elaborate instrumental tracks.
The bottom line is that ten years removed, The Soft Bulletin is still an undeniably essential listen that belongs in every record collection.
– Ian Rice
To purchase The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, please click here.
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