Review Summary: The scattershot approach seems to work for The Flaming Lips on their sixth album, an album of obscure genius and good quality filler.
Shotguns work on a fairly simple basis. They explode and fire out lots of little pellets, each of which causes individual small scale damage, which, when combined causes even more damage. There are obvious limitations of shotgun shells. For example, the shell can not fire from a long range, and as such damage decreases over distance.
This seems to me to be the perfect analogy for the Flaming Lips. The band pools all of it's energy into a few strong tracks per album, loads it in, and fires, hoping for the best. Occasionally this works for some bands, and on Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, the band's sixth album, it all (bizarrely) seems to work for the Flaming Lips. Up until this point the band seemed content to fill albums with crap and forgettable alternative rock, and slip in the odd excellent track.
But no, this album is not like that. It is perhaps the band's most solid album to date in fact, and as such it carves itself out a very unique niche in 90's alternative rock, amongst tough contemporaries, R.E.M., Nirvana and Pavement, a sound which still sounds fresh and well executed today.
Turn It On opens the album and sets out the band's slacker ethos and sound from the very start, with Coyne's barely in tune vocals, loose guitar work and fleeting drumbeat, an enjoyable and memorable sound that is continued and expanded upon in Pilot Can at the Queer of God and Oh, My Pregnant Head (Labia in the Sunlight). Flaming Lips were, and still are known for their quirky, often nonsensical song titles, some of which are extremely fun, while others just miss the mark. The former is annoying and nonsensical in the worst, most grammatically-subversive and self conscious way, the track, thankfully is a great experiment in atonal noisy rock, which doesn't overstay it's welcome at just over four minutes. The latter is a less successful track, slightly rudderless and not really as fun as the album could have had it.
Thankfully the album doesn't fall by the Lips' side at this point, and She Don't Use Jelly follows; a triumphant, ridiculous and utterly obscure gem of a track, which even more bizarrely, became a massive hit single for the band, breaking them into MTV and the mainstream, a position which they've obviously held ever since. Chewin' The Apple Of Your Eye and Superhumans are fun, if not slightly arduous tracks which continue in the vein of the precedent set.
This is the problem and indeed the solution to this album. It's predictability is indeed a limitation and a plus point, because it simply is so ingenious, why the hell would you not want to imitate it? Yet somehow this logic seems flawed in itself, an assumption that the Flaming Lips could do considerably better throughout mires the album from track six onwards. The benchmark is set high on the first four tracks, and as such the rest of the album can play out as consistent and excellent as the rest of it, or it can play out as boring, pointless and ground that's already been covered. It literally is up to you to decide which camp you fall into.