After a long spell of indulging in 24-hour jams and Stone Roses covers, Wayne Coyne’s band marshal their psychedelic powers for lush, honed songs
Before we turn to the Flaming Lips’ 15th studio album, it’s worth considering the extremely peculiar path that has brought the Oklahoma trio to this point. They began life as a minor psychedelic alt-rock band with seemingly zero mainstream commercial potential beyond hand-to-mouth survival, on the same US post-punk gig circuit that supported umpteen bands with zero mainstream commercial potential in the mid-80s. When they were signed to a major label in 1991, it looked like one of the grandest acts of folly yet in the crazed search to find the next Nirvana: their debut release under their new deal was an EP called Yeah I Know It’s a Drag, But Wastin’ Pigs Is Still Radical. Like a number of bands signed in the post-grunge goldrush, they had a minor novelty hit – 1994’s She Don’t Use Jelly – and that appeared to be that.
And then the damnedest thing happened: The Flaming Lips released the extraordinary 1999 album The Soft Bulletin, developed an equally extraordinary live show and became something like a mainstream success. Its successor, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots sold half a million copies in the US alone and won a Grammy, which the Flaming Lips seemed to take as a signal to let their imaginations run riot in the most confounding way. They released unwatchable Christmas films, 24-hour long songs, experimental double albums that frontman Wayne Coyne promoted with the suggestion that it “would have made a better single album if only the artist could have focused themselves”, a series of releases on which they covered The Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut in their entirety, and a collaboration with Ke$ha that was pressed on vinyl containing Ke$ha’s menstrual blood, etc.