Friday, April 07, 2006

With the release of the Lips' latest instant classic album, here's a reminder of their finest hour thus far, the album of the 1990s (in my humble opinion)...

The classic pop album has made a serious comeback in the last couple of years. You know - the masterly crafted, wildly imaginative works of art pop that helped defined the mid-60s viz Pet Sounds, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Odessey and Oracle, The Who Sell Out, Forever Changes, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn et al.
An essential consideration in the lofty evaluation of the aforementioned platters lies in the ambition and ability to meld and fuse diverse forms and influences into something altogether fresh. Alchemy, almost.
Pop on an epic scale with heart and soul to match - such has been the achievement of stellar modern composers/performers as Supergrass (In It For the Money), Mercury Rev (Deserter’s Songs) and Spiritualized (Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space…).
Now we have the latest release (their 10th) from Oklahoma’s finest - The Flaming Lips - and the bar is pushed up even higher. The Soft Bulletin, two years in the making with a reported recording tab in excess of US$ 1/2 million, is perhaps the album of the nineties - a lovely schizoid moment captured on digital tape to lead us into year 2000 and beyond.
The 14 tracks (2 of which, strangely enough are re-mixes) on The Soft Bulletin require proper examination for full appreciation because even though there are songs of sheer immediate melodic gratification contained within, its dense multi-layered brilliance is not so easily divined.
A perfect example of this idiosyncratic trait is the bizarre and eccentric The Spark That Bled (The Softest Bullet Ever Shot) that moves from Neil Young ballad with Brian Wilsonesque orchestral backing to psychedelic Pink Floyd riffing then on to an anthemic refrain 'I stood up and I said - YEAH! which transforms into a John Lennonish Leslie echo vocal and finally closes on a calpyso styled rhythm. Whew! All in the space of six electrifying minutes!
Such dizzying shifts in styles and consistent ambition is accomplished with as much aplomb as that witnessed on Todd Rundgren's classic A Wizard. A True Star.
Elsewhere, The Soft Bulletin touches heady heights with the charismatic A Spoonful Weighs A Ton (is Wayne Coyne singing about scientific pioneers or even the aforementioned trail-blazing 60s artists - 'The sound they made was love' - who can tell?); the fragile real life experience of Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins is chronicled in The Spiderbite Song - 'If it destroyed you/It would destroy me' is expressed in Disney-ish phantasmagoria whilst the infectious Buggin' hops and bops into a sugar high with profound lines like 'The buzz of love is buzy buggin' you'.
Hearing is believing - all I have are words and already reading back they fail to do justice to the magic and genius of the music on parade here. There is just so much at work and play here that it is virtually impossible to describe adequately. Suffice to say that this is perhaps the most important album of the decade (yeah, I said that already) as it succeeds in tying up the loose threads of the last forty years of pop music. Where we go from here is anyone's guess. For the time being, rest in the knowledge that The Soft Bulletin is one of those albums that is so often trumpeted but rarely justified - absolutely essential listening for all serious pop fans.

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