It's been almost a month since I've done a discography I love post. I underestimated the Flaming Lips discography by 4 albums, so here's sixteen thoughts on the noisy Oklahomans! And after that, I've got some significant non-album stuff to discuss...
The Richard English era
Mark Coyne was the Flaming Lips original singer, but he only stayed for the debut EP before quitting. Richard English was their original drummer, and he lasted through the whole '80s. He was a basher, a whirlwind, everything an underground freak-rock outfit could want. Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins have been mainstays from the get-go. I jumped aboard late in this period (April 27, 1988), and the journey's taken some interesting turns since then...
The Flaming Lips EP (1985) 6/10 - The only release to feature Wayne's brother as lead singer, it's a groovy affair. Still outgrowing their British post-punk roots, there's some pretty good music on here but not much outstandingly great. Sometimes it reaches the level of Repo Man-era Iggy fronting a punk-show flyer Xerox of Joy Division...
Hear It Is (1986) 7/10 - The first full-length steps it up a notch song-wise. Young men will write stuff like "Jesus Shootin' Heroin" and
"Charlie Manson Blues," but there's a quality here that breaks into its own territory. They even pull off quieter material like "Godzilla Flick" and the shimmering "She Is Death." But for the most part, they're fully flexing the rawk.
Oh My Gawd!!! ...The Flaming Lips (1987) 8/10 - My first Lips record, this might take an overall step back in songwriting, but gets points for the two awesome epics. The Floydian "One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning," and the resigned anthem of "Love Yer Brain." Other tracks are tighter and heavier than before.
Telepathic Surgery (1989) 8/10 - The much-maligned "difficult" album. Although there are several vignettes and interludes, I'm totally fine with that... some are very cool. There's also the epic studio cut-up jam/experiment "Hell's Angels Cracker Factory," which I really dig. And it still has really classic Lips stuff like "Chrome Plated Suicide," "Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon," "Drug Machine in Heaven"... Man, lots of missing old songs for samples. "Redneck School of Technology?"
All of these can be found together, with lots of bonus, on the 3xCD collection Finally The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid (2002). Right after you experience...
The Dingus Donahue era
Short and sweet-ish... Nathan Roberts played drums and Jonathan Donahue played guitar for two albums, and were there for the move to Warner Bros. Then both left, Donahue notably to focus on his own band: Mercury Rev.
In a Priest Driven Ambulance with Silver Sunshine Stares (1990) 10/10 - Considered by some to be the apex of the whole shebang, truly a monolithic album. Big, big stuff like "Unconsciously Screamin'" (above), "Mountain Side," the noise-fest "God Walks Among Us Now." They do a few "Jesus songs," transform Can's "Mushroom" into "Take Meta Mars," and finish it up with Satchmo's "What A Wonderful World."
Hit to Death in the Future Head (1992) 6/10 - Couldn't last. The major label debut syndrome hits, or just too many people not fully invested. There's plenty of okay stuff on here, but very little that totally stands up. And really only the quieter stuff: "Felt Good To Burn" is still magical, "You Have To Be Joking (Autopsy of the Devil's Brain)" is very good. Most of the rockers feel half-hearted... Probably time for some change.
The Ronald Jones era
And lo, a mighty change was afoot. Steven Drozd (drums) and Ronald Jones (guitar) join and immediately exceed all former and current band members' musicality by about infinity. Jones in particular was a guitar wizard, able to play with delicate beauty and to coax godly amounts of tuneful noise from a phalanx of effects. And lo, the albums were much improved.
Transmissions from the Satellite Heart (1993) 10/10 - Depending on your view, the surprise come-from-behind hit "She Don't Use Jelly" might be skippable. Or it's simply not the best of a superb collection of densely-woven, fully-realized, widely-ranging noise-pop. Sample it while it lasts here, on Youtube.
Due to High Expectations... The Flaming Lips are Providing Needles for Your Balloons (1994) 8/10 - The forgotten album, because it was limited release and a collection from different sources. Often called an EP, it's not really. A few covers, live record store and radio appearences, otherwise unreleased songs... It's not where I'd start, but still an awesome document of what the band was doing at the height of their popularity and abilities. Fortunately, they didn't throw "Jelly" on here for sales, and instead included a superior mix of "Bad Days" (one of their best pop songs).
Clouds Taste Metallic (1995) 10/10 - Their best album!! Mandatory.
The Stephen Drozd era
Ronald Jones left the band, from some combination of mystical awakening and discomfort with heavy drug use. Rather than replacing the irreplaceable, the band wandered the wilderness. And parking lots... Experimental car-stereo and boom-box multiple-cassette symphonies were performed. And the Flaming Lips were gradually rebuilt as yet another entity. I'm pretty sure Steven had been involved in songwriting prior to now, but over the next decade he'd become probably the primary (non-lyrical) writer in the band. Unfortunately, he also moved away from playing drums much anymore.
Zaireeka (1997) 8/10 - Out of these experiments eventually grew a 4xCD set, designed to be played simultaneously. About half is the experimental/orchestral kind of thing, and the other half are more psychedelic/pop songs. Given the difficulty of playing the album, some of the songs would only really be heard as future b-sides or live performances. A grand experiment, quality material, and a foundation for what was next.
The Soft Bulletin (1999) 10/10 - Some will say this is the best album of the '90s. And who am I to argue with them? It's certainly in the running for best Lips album, which all depends on which era is your favorite. When All Music Guide has track-specific reviews for 8 of 12 songs, you're getting there. Highlights abound.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) 9/10 - It's a legitimate opinion that this album actually improves on The Soft Bulletin, but for me it's a slight step sideways. Definitely not backwards, because it moves further away from rock music - and towards more sampling and electronic music. "Do You Realize??" became a pretty decent hit, and the state Rock Song of Oklahoma. But the album seems to have more filler than a true top-shelf Flaming Lips album.
The latter era
Since Yoshimi, things have somewhat continued on a similar path, with a few side quests and mini-games. If there's an overarching era to the late '00s, we're too close for me to see it. Quick notes now!
20 Years of Weird: The Flaming Lips 1986-2006 (2006) 8/10 - Providing Needles for the 21st century, unfortunately including one of my least favorites: "Free Radicals." This could have been made a hundred different ways, but I'm more than satisfied with the vintage selections. Again, not the place to begin, but a must-have item in 2006+ for any long-term fan.
At War with the Mystics (2006) 6/10 - We'll see where my opinion on this one goes in the future. At the moment, I dislike a greater part of it than Future Head, but I also really enjoy more of it too. With probably about half-and-half in each category. Which definitely makes it a lesser album.
Christmas on Mars (2008) 7/10 - Surprisingly enjoyable electronics and electro-Christmas music, for the ridiculous and long-awaited Wayne Coyne film project.
Embryonic (2009) 8/10 - Follow the link to my new release "review." Down the road, my opinion on this one will likely change as well - not sure which way. It's the first Flaming Lips album to ever reach the Top 10, which should have started happening about 20 years ago...
Maybe I'll do an addendum for non-discography elements. There's definitely some stuff worth mentioning, but now's not the time...