Review Summary: One of the most creative, yet ultimately pointless, albums of all time. Put in the effort, and "Zaireeka" will become the coolest musical experience since...hell, I don't even know when.
THE FOLLOWING IS THE DOCUMENTATION OF A JOURNAL ENTRY RECORDING THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE OF “ZAIREEKA” AND IT'S EFFECTS ON THE BODY AND MIND
~Question: “What musical qualities of “Zaireeka” have attributed to its reputation as an underappreciated masterpiece?”
A little back story; the end and beginning of a "new" Flaming Lips all met at the crossroads of "Zaireeka". Guitar wizard Ronald Jones recently left at this time, growing ever more paranoid and fearful over Steven Drozd's (drummer) drug abuse. While I love the guitar work of Ronald Jones, this couldn't have been a better time for him to leave. With "Clouds Taste Metallic", the Lip's previous record, they had reached a definitive peak of their artistic endeavors that have been built up since "In a Priest Driven Ambulance". It contained crazy-ass feedback noises, a colorful variety of instrumentation, and a focus on pop song composition; all of which were individual qualities isolated on previous albums. They now all appeared on one record, and to the select few that knew the band as more than the "She Don't Use Jelly" guys (also known as; the only people not to sell their copies of "Transmissions from the Satellite Heart" to the used bin), "Clouds Taste Metallic" was the pop masterpiece of the 90's. However, the Lip's had reached the peak of their trademark sound on that album, and since they were never satisfied with self repetition, the Lip's decided to indulge in a crazy idea of Wayne's known as "the parking lot experiments".
These experiments consisted of dozens of people bringing their cars to a parking garage, and having all of them play cassette tapes of the same tracks in unison order. From this, Wayne realized that he was able to create an artificial live experience simply by piling multiple version of the same track on top of each other, and scattering the sound to different corners of a room. The second piece of the puzzle came when Wayne attempted to recreate this experience on a compact format. He was playing around with two tracks in the same manner; a single version and album version of the same song (since single versions differ slightly from album versions in most cases, this would be interesting), and noticed something new; firstly, no matter how hard you try, no two CD players will stay in sync for the entire duration of an album. Secondly, it was possible to make up for this drop out of synchronization, by having new pieces of music fill the gaps left between the two tracks. So the objective now was to create a live concert atmosphere, with songs that always changed no matter how many times you hear them. The end result? A four-CD set that required you to gather four stereos and play all four CD's in unison at different parts of the room; no, I'm not kidding.
~Hypothesis: “Listening to the album “Zaireeka” will inflict the following affects on the human body and mind: feeling of physical/mental alteration, experience a feeling of being in the presence of a live band, and the phenomena of never experiencing the same song the same way twice.”
Okay, “Zaireeka” is all set up as it should be. I’m a little mad I have to play two of the tracks out of one pair of speakers (explained later), but it has to be done. Anyways, the maneuver I have the pull to get this thing started is a feat of Olympic gymnastics; seriously, I can see why nobody really wanted to listen to this damn thing. There’s a stereo to my left, so I get on the floor and put my left hand’s pointer finger on the play button, then, my right hand controls the mouse on my computer, which must switch between two media players and sync them up (in fact, I had to take one of the CD’s on the media player, and fast forward about 5 seconds in to where Wayne says “…and number 4”), lastly, my leg is extended to the right on the floor near my computer tower, where the final stereo system is located (my big toe being the implement in which I will press play on that system). So, I’m ready, I’m set, let’s do this thing.
Track One: “Okay, I Admit, I Really Don’t Understand” (yeah, I know what you mean Wayne)
After three tries I finally get the track playing. Bass line emits from one speaker, then, a few seconds in piano keys bounce from one stereo to another. Big ass drums kick in (giving that feeling of a live show), and ghastly vocals start up. Now, I’ve heard a mixed down version of this before, and I gotta say, I never heard this many voices before. They all seem to start at one part of my room, and travel to the next, like the sound is swishing back and forth within my room. Cool effect, and for an album opener, it does its job of being short, simple, yet displaying all the qualities of “Zaireeka” in their basic form. 5/5
Track Two: “Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (You’re Invisible Now?" (Wow, deeeeep maaaan)
Surprisingly, this sonovabitch starts up quite nicely, and here we go. Okay, so this is sort of a fan favorite song, probably because it’s the most “normally” constructed song on the album. Starts off with some distant drumming, and then WHEW WHEW!!! WOO WOO!!! WHEW WHEW!!! WOO WOO!!! Synth and vocals and other crap I can’t describe (and a piano, damn, forgot that) just explode! Wayne’s voice just completely envelopes my room. The thick bass line, beautiful piano work, and heavy drumming all explode at different parts of the room. Then the big spacey vocal arrangement part kicks in; gorgeous. Screaming erupts from all the corners of my room, and the song goes back to where it started. Mixed down it’s an amazing song, on “Zaireeka”, it’s quite possibly the greatest song they’ve ever written. 5/5
Track Three: “Thirty Five Thousand Feet of Despair” (Where the Flaming Lips go emo...not really though)
Okay, this bitch took several tries to get right. When I finally did, the song unfolded and became a slow burner…to bad it really didn’t grow into anything. This is probably the only throwaway track in that it’s entirely forgettable. Honestly, I can’t remember the melody of this damn song. I know it’s good! I just can’t remember why! What the hell? So, I’m obligated to give it a 3/5. Honestly, I know it’s a pretty good song, but the fact that a song being played in this manner doesn’t even manage to stay memorable make it my least favorite on the album. Oh yeah, just remembered, there are horns, synth, and Wayne's spacey vocals again. Whatever.
Track Four: “A Machine in India” (bleeding vaginas?)
The “centerpiece” of the album, so to speak. It’s over ten minutes long and it’s fantastic. Like the previous track, it has a tiny problem in that it’s not as memorable as I would wish, however, the dozens of instruments, soaring vocals, and pretty acoustic guitars all form a wonderful symphony. It’s not so much about being a well polished song, but displaying all of the “Zaireeka” qualities at their finest, and it does so perfectly. Room shaking, crazy feedback, layers of unbelievable variety; it’s really what this album is all about. Oh, and it's about the menstrual cycle. Cool. 5/5
Track Five: “The Trains Runs over the Camel But is Derailed by the Gnat” (I don’t even wanna explain)
Okay, this one sure is memorable! After a minute or two drums just barrel in all crazy like, nearly exploding from my left speaker. Out of all the songs, this one went out of sync the most, but amazingly, went back into sync! How? It doesn’t make sense! Anyways, the song is rocking like the first two tracks, this time though, accompanied by some clever organ work near the end, which gives it a more of a "twist" then those other two songs, or should I say, it sort of “evolves” like no other song on the album. Cool stuff here; I don't understand the lyrics, or even Wayne's explanation of them though. 5/5
Track Six: “How Would We Know? (Futuristic Crescendos)” (*throws up*)
Each CD, save for one, plays at very extreme frequencies. At its core, it’s a very short, very pretty pop song. With the other three CD’s, it’s a ***ing splitting headache. There’s actually a warning label on this album because of the song. You know what though? It’s ***ing cool! Sure, I can’t sit through the damn thing, but to know how physically stirred I am by a song is just crazy! Anyways, I can’t really rate this on the basis I can’t make it trough it. So I give it a ?/5.
Track Seven: "March of the Rotten Vegetables" (*** Moby Dick, this right here is a REAL drum solo!)
Okay, at the beginning it’s just a bunch of noise. Sorta boring, but it does that thing where the sound all sorta swims around you in the room. It’s cool, but hardly a song at first. Then this neat little piano fill kicks in, then the drums. Oh god the drums! So loud! Classic Flaming Lip drum sound playing a crazy ass solo emitting from all four speakers! It’s without a doubt, the most incredible drum solo I’ve ever heard. Crazy song! Sure, not catchy or anything, just really cool! Conceptually, Wayne says it's a conceptual piece set to a nonexistent children’s show about vegetable people, meat land, and bats. Yeah. 4/5
Track Eight: “The Big Ol’ Bug is the New Baby Now” (Dawwww)
Cutesy children’s keyboard music, with a little story by Wayne; sort of a sequel to “UFO Story” from “Telepathic Surgery. It’s one of those deals, like “Christmas at the Zoo”, where Wayne can turn something really insignificant and childish into something life affirming. I have no idea how, but he does. It isn’t until the “chorus” kicks in that the whole “Zaireeka” effect comes into play; and it’s a wonderful moment. End the thing with a symphony of dogs barking from all corners of your room, and you’re left with one final jump in your seat as “Zaireeka” signs off. 5/5
What I find most amazing about this record is the amount of time and effort that went into making sure the project never falls apart into dissident noise (assuming you synced it correctly). Somehow, even though songs go out of sync, they come back in sync. It’s amazing really; I don’t understand how it happens. I suppose when one track goes out of sync, another comes in to fill it’s place; it’s like each time a track falls out of sync, new passage ways in the music is opened up and the song goes off on a totally different path. You know what kind of skill it takes to pull this off? To compose one song on four separate discs in such a manner that when the discs inevitably go out of sync, the song isn’t ruined? I can’t imagine all of the trial and error associated with arranging which tracks go on which disc; the only no brainer would to put the bass and drums on the same CD, but beyond that, I would be lost.
“Zaireeka”, no matter which way you put it, is a work of genius creativity. Yes, it’s significance in Rock’n’Roll history is rather absent in the present time; and there is still the valid argument that this experiment was just that; an experiment. “Zaireeka” could never possibly have the wide spread influence that albums such as “Pet Sounds” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” had; but it really doesn’t seem that this is what “Zaireeka” aims to achieve. More or less, it seems like something Wayne had to do, a crazy idea that had to be put on tape, so that he didn’t loose his mind like other great Rock’n’Roll icons did in similar situations (I think immediately of “Smile” and the “Life house” projects). Maybe in the future this album will follow the path bands like The Velvet Underground took to garner critical acclaim, but until then, we really can’t be certain. All I can say is, if you're at all interested in this album, buy the physical product and attempt it yourself.
No, don’t get a mixed down version or play all four tracks in four media players on your computer; it really defeats the purpose. And don't try to listen to the album disc by disc, or you'll end up disregarding this album as crap (like our friends at Pitchfork did when they reviewed this album; honestly, I'm shocked they were so eager to give out a 0/10 without even listening to the album the correct way). In the end though, “Zaireeka” is not essential in understanding the evolution of the Lip's sound, save for the fact that the orchestrated composition point somewhat towards "The Soft Bulletin", just a lot darker (then again, the point can be made that songs like "They Punctured My Yolk" did this before "Zaireeka" did); and it's not really all that important in the grand scheme of all things Lips. Listening to "Zaireeka" can only grant you the satisfaction that out of all the Flaming Lips fans in the world; you actually managed to experience this thing.