SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-The Soft Bulletin (1999).
This album brought The Flaming Lips out from the underground (or one-hit wonder status) into the spotlight of Well Respected Bands. It made a whole bunch of best of 1999 lists and even a few best of the 1990s lists.
The album is a lot more commercial than their previous records. The choruses are catchy and they swell in beautiful strings. And the songs themselves display amazing songwriting prowess. Lyrically, the songs are also much deeper and more sophisticated. While writing this up, I learned that this record was something of a payback for Zaireeka. (They promised a more commercial release in exchange for the crazy experiment).
And yet despite all of that, in no way is this a sellout album, or an obvious contender for top 40 status. The lyrics are neither cynical nor ironic, they are simply human, emotional pleas for friendship, for love. It would be embarrassing if they weren’t so thoughtful.
“Race for the Prize” (two versions on the disc) is full of big, loud, brash drums, smashing away as a beautiful synth intro fades away into quiet verses and a very tender bridge. It’s followed by “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” a delicate ballad, with a minor orchestral feel to it. At times the tinkling pianos are almost Disneylike. And then the big brash heavily distorted, and yet not unpleasant, bridge crashes in, keeping you dizzyingly off balance.
“The Spark That Bled” is yet another song with several different sections that meld nicely together. The opening is emotional and delicate: “I accidentally touched my head and noticed that I had been bleeding.” This portion morphs into the uplifting, impossible no to sing along with: “I stood up and I said Hey! Yes!” string chorus. And just to show that that’s not all they have, the next portion of the song is a smooth and funky guitar/synth shuffle.
“The Spiderbite Song” is the most obvious, by hardly the only, use of really cool and wholly unusual drums on this album. The track starts with an extremely fast (too fast for human) drum roll that flanges around into a martial beat. And it repeats this way throughout the song. The lyrics are an earnest appeal to friendship when one of the band members got a spider bite and there was concern that he would lose his hand.
“Buggin'” is a demented pop song about bugs. More wonderfully brash drums underscore a poppy verse about mosquito bites… This segues into “What is the Light?” a ponderous track with a drum like a heart beat. During their live show, they projected a giant eyeball whose iris changed color with each beat. The next track (the instrumental “The Observer”) uses the same heartbeat drum as its foundation too.
“Waitin’ for Superman” (two versions as well) is the most straightforward track on the disc. I think of it as an uplifting song because it is musically so upbeat, and yet lyrically it is quite sad. No wonder it wasn’t the huge hit it should have been. It’s followed by “Suddenly Everything has Changed” has another fantastic bassline. And, like the title, midway through the song everything changes into a spacey keyboard motif that is so airy it almost floats away.
“The Gash” opens with what sounds like some weird Beatlesey syncopation, but it continues with the heartfelt “will the fight for our sanity be the fight of our lives?” “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” starts with such a fantastic opening: a voice drumming “bah rup bup bup bah rup up up up up.” And the drums eventually kick in following this same pattern. And once again the earnest lyrics: “Love in our life is just too valuable, to feel for even a second without it.” Fantastic.
I saw the Lips on this tour and their show remains one of the top 5 shows I’ve ever seen. Everything about the show was magical, from the band handing out little FM headphone sets so you could hear the whole show in stereo (!) to the video screens, to the simply jubilant atmosphere that the band sent out. My only regret is that this was the tour BEFORE they used the giant hamster ball or the bunny costumes. We did get hand puppets though (and real fake blood!)
I also just learned that the UK edition of the disc had a different song than the US version. Huh. And it was recently released in 5.1 surround sound mix. Who hoo!
[READ: February 10, 2008] If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
This is the sequel to Bosch’s The Name of this Book is Secret. I was really hooked by the first book, and was pretty excited to hear that the sequel had arrived. To see a summary of that book and for background info, click here.
At the end of book one, Cass and Max-Ernest were on the verge of joining the Terces Society. This book picks up several months later with the pair still waiting to hear from their secret contacts: either Owen or Pietro Bergamo.
One day at lunch, Cass receives a letter in secret code telling her to come to the docks. When they board the boat they are dismayed to see that it is full of Midnight Sun members (The Midnight Sun is the group of bad guys that they defeated in the first book. They include: Dr L. (twin brother of Pietro), Ms. Mauvais, and the Skelton Sisters). This boat trip puts in motion most of the events of the story. (more…)
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