If someone would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would purchase and enjoy and album by the group who wrote the song "She Don't Use Jelly," I would have smiled and replied "yeah, right." If the same person would have told me that I would not only like and enjoy the album, but I'd end up putting it among the better albums I'd heard that year, I would have laughed so hard that I doubled-over and fell on the ground while grasping at the sky for air.
I'm glad that such a person didn't come along, because after reading quite a lot of good about the new album by the Flaming Lips from different independent sources, I went out and purchased it. The craziest part of the whole equation was that after listening to it for quite some time, I've found that it is going to make my list of top albums for the year. Not only have I been singing along with the very smart lyrics, but I've been humming along with the rifs and imitating the huge drums and other funky noises that the group has mixed together on the disc. They sing songs about mathmeticians and scientists and the problems of everyday people, they have somewhat silly songs about the fear of spiders and feeling bad about hitting bugs with a car. Not only that, but the groups sound has evolved so much in the past couple years that its not even funny (okay, perhaps a little).
"Race For The Prize" starts off the disc with some swirling keyboards, pianos and a fairly fast tempo, but it's the second song "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton" where things really take off. Starting out with some pretty stringed sounds and some deft piano work, Wayne Coynes wounded-sounding lyrics arrive in a somewhat stark way, but fuel the song along until the chorus when a HUGE analog bass sound drops and the guitars strum a riff that sounds like it was culled from an old Zeppelin tune. After the explosion of sound, things drop off again for awhile before blasting right back into things again after a bit. It's a wonderful play of dynamics and shows that all the groups experimentation with sound over the past couple of years (including their 4CD quadraphonic experiment Zareeka) has paid off.
"The Spark That Bled" is really a song in three movements as it starts out with a heavenly chorus and very minimal percussion. After a minute or so, things pick up a little with guitars and shakers. Finally, with about 2 minutes left, some big drums drop and the guitar strumming becomes a lot more playful. "The Spiderbite Song" again plays the light sounds of harps and piano against large, swirling drum hits and "Buggin" is so nicely put together that it will be an injustice when it isn't a huge single for the group.
After the great "What Is The Light?" and the less-exciting instrumental "The Observer," the group comes right back with another track that has single material written all over it. "Waitin' For A Superman" is another mid-tempo track with nice piano sounds and soft vocals offset with the very crisp drumming. It's sad and solemn, yet quite good. The disc closes out with several other solid tracks, one not-quite as interesting one, and one remixed version of both "Race For The Prize" and "Waitin' For A Superman." Although the versions aren't too much different, they don't sound unwelcome and make for a smidge more music. Overall, the disc is kind of a surprising release for the group (in my opinion anyway) and a very good slice of experimental pop either way you look at it.