The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends is just the latest in a series of weird moves
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (Warner Bros.)
Ever get the feeling that the Flaming Lips are just fucking with us, and taking great delight in doing so? In the past few years, the pride of Oklahoma has abandoned any pretense of being something close to a conventional rock band. Instead, Wayne Coyne and company have engaged in such antics as putting out their own track-for-track re-recording of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and releasing songs on USB drives embedded in edible gummy skulls. (You have to stick your fingers through a gummy vagina on top to get the drive out.) And then there were the real human skulls with a 24-hour song inside them, which the band was selling for $5,000 apiece. Because if you had a spare five grand burning a hole in your pocket, isn't that what you'd spend it on?
Last week, the Lips set a record by playing eight concerts in different cities within 24 hours, beating previous champ Jay-Z by one. They also put out an album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, (Actually, it first came out in a limited vinyl edition in April, but unless you're an obsessive devotee of Record Store Day, you probably didn't notice.)
Heady Fwends boasts a roll call of collaborators that certainly reads like part of an elaborate prank. Aussie psych-rockers Tame Impala? Sure, why not? And that hair farmer from My Morning Jacket isn’t too great a stretch, either. But things start getting weird right off the top, with a vocal turn from Ke$ha on the apocalyptic “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)”. Between staccato shots of ear-drilling distortion, the pop star sings lyrics that could only have come from the LSD-dipped pen of Coyne: “With the world ablaze, I’m in an acid haze.” Elsewhere, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon gets pitch-shifted on the lushly ethereal but disorienting “Ashes in the Air” and Nick Cave delivers a salacious rant over angels-we-have-heard-while-high harp and fuzz-fucked bass on “You, Man? Human???”
MMJ’s Jim James checks in on the mind-bendingly overdriven “That Ain’t My Trip”, which kicks off with the amusing—if a little gross—couplet, “You always want to shave my balls/That ain’t my trip.”
A cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is more tasteful, with Erykah Badu crooning the ballad over an expansive space-rock arrangement that would probably make a kick-ass soundtrack for a Planetarium laser show. Badu, sadly, is no longer one of the Lips’ “fwends”, having taken to Twitter to denounce Coyne for strong-arming her into recording her vocal “his way”. There was also the matter of that leaked video for the song, which featured plenty of gratuitous nudity (mostly Badu’s sister Nayrok), not to mention lots of fake blood and semen.
Okay, so maybe that part’s not so tasteful. The song is pretty fantastic, though, the highlight of an album that’s weird and not always successful but is at least consistently interesting. Sort of like the Flaming Lips themselves.