The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
Released: Saturday 30 June 2012
You can always rely on the Flaming Lips to inject a little originality into the musical landscape. Late last year they released a 24-hour long song and a few years ago they made a complete reworking of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. All fairly normal activity for a band that released an album called Zaireeka back in '97 which consisted of four CDs of music, intended to be played simultaneously. In their online shop they sell something called a Silver Trembling Fetus Ornament (no, really) and a live recording of their classic album The Soft Bulletin entirely encased in a $200 gummy skull complete with marijuana flavoured brains.
The Flaming Lips make real the kind of ideas that most bands only have stoned conversations about. I mean who else would decide to make crawling over their audience encased in a giant bubble a regular part of their live set? Bearing this in mind perhaps it shouldn't be such a surprise that the Lips have released a collaborative album with acts as diverse as Lightning Bolt and Ke$ha. The real surprise is that far from being an entertaining detour, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends stands as one of their most satisfying records to date. It came out as a limited Record Store Day release but is now available to everyone else.
The record starts with the nigh on apocalyptic '2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)' which mixes The Stooges '1969' with a brilliantly feisty performance from Ke$ha. Honestly, her own songs are dire but this is an absolute revelation. 'Ashes in the Air' combines psychedelic electronica with yearning vocals from Wayne and Bon Ivor. While noticeably more sombre than the opening tracks blast of energetic alt-pop, it retains a genuine sense of fun and experimentation which runs through the whole album. The uncomfortably titled, 'Helping the Retarded to Find God' turns out to be one of the album's most beautiful, melancholic songs. Assisted by the Magnetic Zeroes, it's a classic Lips slow burner: "I stood there with you, trying not to cry… We don't pay them no mind"
The Lips are then joined by Prefuse 73 for 'Supermoon Made Me Want to Pee'. The track's hypnotic vocals and propulsive, dance-inducing rhythms show an enthusiasm for experimental pop that bands half their age don't seem to have. Tame Impala join the band for 'Children of the Moon', perhaps the most conventional song on the album. Wayne puts in a classic Lennon-meets-Prince vocal performance as he sings, "We still believe in love, we still believe in truth"
Jim James of My Morning Jacket joins the band for the superbly dramatic 'That Ain't My Trip', complete with squalling, distorted guitars and huge chimes worthy of the Bad Seeds. Speaking of which, it's none other than Nick Cave on the punishing noise-rock of 'You, Man? Human???' It sounds like Grinderman gone supernova. Fellow Australian noise-makers Lightning Bolt join Wayne on the surprisingly restrained but brilliantly atmospheric 'I'm Working at NASA on Acid'.
On 'Do it!', the Lips are joined by the legendary Yoko Ono for a track that comes across like a dub version of Bjork's 'Declare Independence'. It's probably my favourite track on the album and perfectly showcases the freshness and sonic-inventiveness present on Heady Fwends. Neon Indian collaborates with the band on the brooding 'Is David Bowie Dying?' The crashing, moody guitars wouldn't sound out of place on David Lynch's Crazy Clown Time album.
'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' is a strung-out, 10-minute, drone-heavy version of the popular song; sung with a touching sincerity by Erykah Badu. 'Girl, You're So Weird' picks up the mood with a superbly cool slice of pop-psychedelia which sees the Lips joined by New Fumes. The album closes with 'I Don't want You to Die', an echoing piano ballad that borrows liberally from Lennon's 'Imagine' and see's Coldplay's Chris Martin put in a brief appearance.
Thank fuck Heady Fwends was given a 'proper' release because it really is a brilliant record. Heady Fwends is a superior psychedelic pop album which sees the Lips continue to balance their lust for experimentation with a genuinely infectious ability for pop music that gives them such an unexpectedly wide appeal. It's an exhilarating, fun and vibrant experience. After all these years, the Lips are still one of the best bands in the world.