|1. Race for the Prize|
|2. A Spoonful Weighs a Ton|
|3. The Spark That Bled|
|4. Slow Motion|
|5. What Is the Light?|
|6. The Observer|
|7. Waitin' for a Superman|
|8. Suddenly Everything Has Changed|
|9. The Gash|
|10. Feeling Yourself Disintegrate|
|11. Sleeping on the Roof|
|12. Sleeping On The Roof|
|13. Race For The Prize|
|14. Waitin' For The Superman (Remix)|
The Flaming Lips, Oklahoma oddballs responsible for the four-discs-at-once headache of 1997’s Zaireeka, have crossed into the mainstream courtesy of The Soft Bulletin, NME’s album of 1999. Experimentation has been tempered; the group’s out-there tendencies reined right in for a collection that sings with the same warmth and composure that characterised The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. It’s proggy, it’s rocky – but it’s not prog-rock, really; nothing that the average man on the street can’t lean an ear towards and be immediately rewarded. Seventeen years and nine albums since their formation, The Flaming Lips are headlining at Glastonbury, playing to a packed tent.
That stage, after 17 years: the New Bands tent. On paper, it makes no sense. In the presence of Wayne Coyne and company, with hand puppets in place of crowd-surfing bubbles and multiple dancers dressed up as aliens, everything’s exactly as it should be though. Race for the Prize and Waitin’ for a Superman – these are anthems built for mass celebration, and while the crowd isn’t wholly won over yet, fast-forward a few years and the reverence for these tracks is clear wherever The Flaming Lips pitch up with their travelling freak(ishly brilliant) show.
Ultimately, this record paved the way not only for The Flaming Lips to enjoy commercial success far beyond their homes, but also opened the doors for younger acts with a spirit of adventure in their blood to breach the pop charts. Just as previous releases had influenced the likes of Grandaddy and Mercury Rev, The Soft Bulletin and its successor Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots have informed acts including MGMT and Empire of the Sun. This is an album of its time, sure – but one with a reach that continues to feel its way around the modern musical landscape. Those thousands singing along to Why Does It Always Rain on Me?, in the drizzle, are probably kicking themselves over a decade on that they missed the opportunity to be at what was, in hindsight, Ground Zero for The Flaming Lips’ evergreen appeal.
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Coyne's voice could easily be dismissed as whining, nasal and irritating but it has a teetering-on-the-edge quality matched only by Daniel Johnston; it is significant that the two instrumentals ('The Observer' and 'Sleeping on the Roof') are the driest and least satisfying tracks on 'The Soft Bulletin'. While it lacks the continual full-blast pop dynamics of 'Clouds Taste Metallic', Dave Fridmann's organised production provides compensations. The break for a solitary guitar and restrained orchestral sounds in 'Suddenly Everything Has Changed' and the abrupt shift during 'The Spark That Bled' heighten the impact of these songs. In contrast, 'The Gash', with choral effects on the vocals and thundering piano, falls prey to bombast.
'Feeling Yourself Disintegrate' survives a marching rhythm to convey the title's emotional state. 'Race for the Prize', about scientists searching for a cure but with an emphasis on their ordinary human qualities, and 'Waitin' for a Superman' are amongst their most immediate pop songs. While The Flaming Lips have not discovered a cure for cancer or communicated with aliens, they are producing music beyond the aspirations of ordinary mortals.
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