I was born the day they shot John Lennon's brain.
In 1990, The Flaming Lips released their masterpiece, In A Priest-Driven Ambulance. 46 minutes of acid trips, questioning of faith, headache-inducing noise, and of course, the Lip's unique mishmash of 60's garage psychedelia and 80's garage punk.
Waitin' for my ride, Jesus floatin' outside.
The results of the Lips' 1988-1989 recording sessions, with the band newly invigorated by the additions of the new guitarist, Jonathon Donahue, and new drummer, Nathan Roberts, were much tighter and much more focused than previous material. Donahue, (later of Mercury Rev added his unique style of guitar playing, more akin to washes of feedback and wails of noise than riffs and chords. The Lips' previous drummer, before Roberts, was much sloppier than Roberts, and with Nathan now in the band they sounded much more professional. But the band was about to grow even more, upon the addition of their new producer, Dave Friddman.
Yer fucked if ya do, and yer fucked if ya don't.
In many ways, In A Priest-Driven Ambulance symbolized the new Flaming Lips, a band much less held back by their former retro 60's sound and their former tendencies for ironic jokes or novelty tunes. They were now their own band. Producer David Friddman engineered their new sound, which was more in debt to The Jesus and Mary Chain than they were to, say, The 13th Floor Elevators or some other obscure 60's nugget (Pun intended), with it's echoes of feedback and noisy guitars supporting Beach Boys melodies. The Lips continued to ride this new sound until 1998's Zaireeka, but that's another tale.
This is my present to the world, and I want you to take it.
So what's the record sound like? Simply, Led Zeppelin meets My Bloody Valentine. Perfect Sound Forever. The lyrics are surrealist, referencing everyone from The Beatles to JFK, from the mind of an LSD junkie who's recently found religion. In fact, religion is a major lyrical theme on the album. It's certainly not a religious album, but rather it explains lead singer/guitarist Wayne Coyne's view on religion. Though an atheist himself, Wayne praises the power of faith itself, rather than the actual deity that said faith is directed towards. As Coyne explains in the liner notes of the album's 2002 reissue, The Day They Shot A Hole In The Jesus Egg:
I had wholly rejected the idea of religion when I was seventeen. But, in hindsight, I didn't really know what it was I had so easily dismissed. It was around this time of 1988-1989, I was 27 or 28 when I began to understand and appreciate how useful and genius this invention of God, Jesus, and any form of sacred submission truly was. The humbling capacity of worshipping something more powerful than yourself and the unquestioning moral structure it rewarded you with were both aspects of religion I once pointed out a signs of weakness -I now looked at as simple human needs. The desire to believe is so instinctual and so pleasurable that for most people it's never challened. But I had challenged it and decided to side with science. It's easy for a seventeen year old - much toughter for a twenty-seven year old.
It used to be alright, but things got strange. Used to be uptight, but things have changed and God walks among us now!
Shine On Sweet Jesus - Jesus Song #5-4:27. The album opens to the sounds of a quiet, bouncy synthesizer, suddenly erupting into a distorted bass groove, while Donahue's UFOs swirl around. The song is pure bubblegum pop, but performed in grungey noise-rock fashion, with a barely on-key singer wailing away, with pitchshifted backing vocals in a drugged-up duet.
Unconsciously Screamin'-3:52. Making the previous song sound lightweight in comparison, this rocker cruises by with it's pounding drums while the guitars mesh into a noisy mass of fuzz that barely qualifies as a riff. The wah'd lead guitar scorches through, but the song is still a pure pop tune underneath all the searing noise. The end is particulary dangerous if you wear headphones.
Rainin' Babies-4:28. If performed by (almost) any other band, this would be a simple acoustic ballad. of course, the Lips slap on some echoing feedback and turn it into an epic. Strangely emotionally affecting.
Take Meta Mars-3:13
Me and Michael Ivins had recently been turned on to Can's Mushroom Head. And we ended up just messing around with this riff that we thought sounded like their tune. You see we didn't actually have a copy of the song and we only heard it just the once...
-Wayne Coyne, in the reissue liner notes.
This track is a heavy repetitive groove, heavily influenced, as you can read above, by Can
. The rhythm section plays hollow German funk
while the guitars screech and howl.
Five Stop Mother Superior Rain-6:19. Another acoustic ballad, this one with some country influences. Wayne twangs out surrealism while Donahue's distorted slide guitar moans, and the noise builds to a staggering climax. A brilliantly affecting song.
Stand In Line-4:36. A strange acoustic tune, substituting guitar noise for tape experiments. The pounding middle section, with it's mysterious horn crescendos, is just as eerie as it is uplifting.
God Walks Among Us Now-4:52. This track starts off innocently enough with the sound of a crying baby, but suddenly explodes into one of the noisiest, heaviest songs ever written. A simple punk bass groove pushes through acres of fuzz and distortion, while Coyne's fuzzed-out vocals hiss out the repetitive lyrics. Possibly the only Flaming Lips song that could be aptly described as "brutal".
There You Are - Jesus Song #7-4:31. Another beautiful acoustic tune, much more modest than Rainin' Babies or Five Stop Mother Superior Rain, simply an acoustic guitar, Wayne's cracked voice, the sounds of trucks going by and crickets chirping, and some seriously dark and depressing lyrics. Another truly powerful song.
Mountain Side-6:36. Another pounding noise-rocker with distorted vocals, but this one is slightly overlong and a little too controlled compared to the chaos of tracks like Unconsciously Screamin' and God Walks Among Us Now. However, no power is sacrificed, and the song is still a fine noise-rock gem in its own right.
(What A) Wonderful World-3:41. What a way to end this album. A Louis Armstrong cover done in the Lips' signature noise-rock style, and Coyne gives it a truly powerful and affecting vocal. When the album is over, there are mixed feelings of sadness and hope, and one can't tell if the last song was sincere or sarcastic. But it sure is moving.
There you are, and you stand in the rain, and the rain fills your brain, and it makes you think that God was fucked up when he made this town.
This is a powerful album. If you have any interest in The Flaming Lips, noise-rock, indie rock, or just great music in general, give it a try. Just be prepared to some heavy sonic trips. The Lips have been poppier, more delicate, and even rougher, but this album is truly unique and possibly the best thing in their excellent catalog. If you can find the 2002 reissue with the bonus disk of extra material (The Day They Shot A Hole In The Jesus Egg), get it. It's worth it.
The Day They Shot A Hole In The Jesus Egg, 2002, Rykodisc.
Uhh...my own brain?
whew...my first node.