Review Summary: Pointless, yet strangely good.
If I had to make a list of the most pointless albums ever released, I would easily put the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka at the top of that list. The problem is, making a list like that would be ironically pointless.
Zaireeka consists of four discs, each with the same goddamn songs on each one. The discs are meant to be played simultaneously, which, if you don’t think about it too logically, may not be such a bad idea after all: the Flaming Lips allow the listener not only to control the order and volume of which to hear these songs, but they also allow the listener to mix the album as well. But once the haze clears and you put the LSD away, you realize that you’re going to need four ***ing stereos to hear the album the way Wayne Coyne and his supporting cast meant for the album to be heard. Do you know how much stereos cost? A ***ty one is, like, twenty dollars, and four of them equal eighty clams. My personal stereo costs three times that! To get good sound quality, you’re going to need to spend over five hundred dollars. All of the sudden, Zaireeka has become the most expensive album you’ve ever purchased.
But, the thing is, the songs really aren’t that bad. Zaireeka may be the Lips’ most experimental album, and not just in concept either. Everything is droning and features a lazy ambience, while maintaining the quirky melodic features normally found in a Flaming Lips album. Everything is warped and fragmented, and the songs seem much longer than their average five-and-a-half-minute running time. Uncomfortable sounds surround ambience, such as the screeching and ear-ripping screams that rip through the guitars and fragile vocals during “Riding to Work in the Year 2025”, which is apparently about a secret agent from the future (presumably 2025) and imagines his death being because of his status of the world's greatest secret agent. All the songs seem to have concepts, which only adds to the album's obnoxiousness. "Thirty-five Thousand Feet of Dispair" is about an airplane killing himself, and "A Machine in India" describes the insanity of the menstural cycle. Yeah, like we all want to know about that.
All the drone and the gloom does get predictably repetitive, and the instrumental and vocal work isn’t as top-notch here as on other classics such as The Soft Bulletin and In A Priest Driven Ambulance. Zaireeka isn’t very song-based though; the album was definitely made for the audience participation. The songs often feel disjointed and desolate, and that’s because they are: you’re only listening to one-fourth of the full experience.
This awkward experiment of an album manages to have some redeeming qualities. The songs are never the same, whether or not you have four stereos, since you’re not going to be able to start all four albums at the same exact time. Despite being four versions of the same damn song, they are all instrumentally different, with CDs one and three being guitar-based and straight-forward, while discs two and four are more experimental and drum-based than the others. It almost makes it seem as if you have four discs of completely different material, if the melody of the songs wasn’t the exact same on every one. Keep in mind, despite their differences, these songs are still meant to be played simultaneously. If you attempt to listen to all four of these albums one after another, you will quickly be bored out of your mind.
The Flaming Lips’ eighth album shows no mention of the genius that was about to follow; of the nearly perfect records before and after. Zaireeka is a purely experimental album, considered today by the Flaming Lips as a result of spontaneous creativity than a thought out, expertly crafted release. Despite this, Zaireeka’s pretentious concept still receives deserved attention, and, besides the ridiculous concept, features some worthwhile songs. But it’s still four pointless discs, all of which seem to be missing something, and the money needed to shell out for the box set and the stereos is better used to wipe your ass. Zaireeka probably would have faded into obscurity if released as one disc. But with its unique format, it lives on forever.