(October 12th sees the release of the Flaming Lips double LP, Embryonic. Since August we’ve been looking back on some of the band’s pre-Soft Bulletin moments)
The last significant, and best, album of the Flaming Lips’ guitar-heavy vision that ran from their inception up until the late 90s, is undoubtedly 1995’s Clouds Taste Metallic. It spawned no major singles (whether in terms of their freak Top 40 “She Don’t Use Jelly,” or the alternate-universe hits of The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi..) and brought to an amazing zenith the pursuit of pop perfection and chaotic noise that the band had been after for the previous few albums. They would eventually go chase some other rabbit in the form of The Soft Bulletin and its successors, and even release a stunningly executed but undercooked 4 CD album in the form of Zaireeka first, but Clouds Taste Metallic is the finest distillation of their 90s manifest.
The band had hit its Brian-Wilson-acid-fried stride with Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, but there were still other places to venture. Thankfully not shying away from the gigantic drums that had defined the pulse of Transmissions.., the album opens with a wandering, static slow-burn in the form of “The Abandoned Hospital Ship.” From there, it’s songs that alternate between moments of space-staring and sheer pop thrills (“Placebo Headwound,” “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus With Needles,” “When You Smile“) and songs that nail down a structure and wring every last bit of noise and power out of them.
And it’s these songs that ultimately lift Clouds Taste Metallic above its predecessors. “Kim’s Watermelon Gun” is one of the finest pure rock moments of their career, careening with abandon over its three-minutes, leaving moments of noisy harmony in its wake. “Christmas at the Zoo” has Wayne Coyne actually telling a coherent story and it pays dividends as the song swoops through its odd tale. “Evil Will Prevail” and “Bad Days” offer album closing moments that allow the album to come down from its heights, but “Lightning Strikes the Postman” is quite possibly the best song in the Lips’ oeuvre. Full of short lulling moments, fuzzy, fractured guitars, cavernous drums and Coyne’s delightfully bizarre story of the world’s unluckiest postman (and the world’s unluckiest mail sender), “Lightning Strikes the Postman” represents everything that was right about the Flaming Lips and everything that would arguably start to disappear after this record. By the next time they would make an album this focused and complete, it would be 1999, it would be called The Soft Bulletin, and a new age for the band would have begun. words/ j. neas