Sitting here, I really don't know how I should go about writing this. Have you ever had that, a sort of writer's block that isn't necessarily that? I guess you say that it's called running short on ideas or not being able to put out a competent review. I don't know, that doesn't really seem to be the case this time. The only case I can comprehend right now is that of The Soft Bulletin
; the movie poster artwork, the shadows, staring at the ground. These colours have never really seemed the same since I first saw the art. Lawrence Schiller's photo embraces the colour like a mother just giving birth to bloody child, yet there's that faint nostalgia that goes hand-in-hand with it, kind of how I'm sure people will see the album in years to come. Then there's 1966, the year that photograph was taken: just before the Summer of Love, during the wake of such pop tour de forces
such as Revolver
and Pet Sounds
. Wreaking of innocence, it's a time that is as naively smirk worthy as it is enviable. The Soft Bulletin
, though, gives me that same feeling that I'm sure people had during that time period. I'm one of them...
As most classic bands of their respective eras have evidence of growing and maturing, it's hard to ignore the changes in The Flaming Lips' sound over the years. Their earlier albums were as blissfully uncaring and free as they were underwhelming, always seeming to border on maturity in some places but never quite being able to reach that feat. After the four-disc Zaireeka
, an album that was made to be listened at once with the discs in sync, in 1997, The Flaming Lips sound began to grow from frustrating experimentalists values to what we have in The Soft Bulletin
, an album that is refreshing and mature, focusing on the many topics that one would come to expect from Wayne Coyne by that age: love, mortality, mankind's fate, et al. His voice has grown into that of an sincere, hopeful man facing the world around him one day at a time. None of the songs here are ridiculous or pretentious, nor are they overly self-conscious and heady.
Along with the natural human maturing, there is also the ever-expanding dialect of the experimental, something that the Flaming Lips have never shied away from. Scattered about The Soft Bulletin
is the hard evidence: synthesizers, strings, horns, vocoder, drum machines, piano, harmonies that shoot out the ceiling, and plenty of genius studio trickery to along with it all. Drummer Steven Drozd even apparently recorded his drums primarily one track, somehow obtaining a Hammer of the Gods sound that beautifully compliments the orchestral leanings of many of the songs here. "Race for the Prize" brings all of this into perscpective immediately, with acoustic guitars, piano, and warped synth-strings that are probably some of the most anthemic songs you'll ever hear. Coyne's fragile voice adds more to the flush with his thought-provoking but simple lyricism with lines such as " Theirs is to win, ifit kills them. They're just humans, with wives and children"
with just a dash of humanity and hope, a common feature among the lyrics here. "A Spoonful Weights a Ton" is a gorgeous, sweet song where Conye's lyrics are some of his usual stuff: "Yelling as hard as they can, the duobters were all stunned. Heard louder than a gun, the sound they made was love".
, shuttering back and forth between liquid calm and that faint stadium-rocking feel that carries quite a bit of the album.
"The Spiderbite Song", however, is the most personally afflicted song on The Soft Bulletin
. Here, Coyne sings in his tender warble of recent near-tragedies including Steven Drozd's "poisonous spiderbite" ("When you got that spiderbite on your hand, I thought we would have to break up the band"
), which was later determined as a result of heroin use, almost causing his arm to be amputated, and bassist Michael Ivins near-death experience in an automobile accident ("When you had that accident in your car, the whole thing just seemed really too bizarre
"). This is accompanied by some of the best music on the album; mournful piano, chiming guitar, keyboard flourishes, drum rumblings, dramatic, warped backup vocals and bleeps coming from everywhere that sound as engaging as the singing, making it easily one of the best songs on the album.
"What is the Light?" goes from a muted thumping to some of the most uplifting music I've ever heard, with a stuttering, semi-funky drum beat, organ, booming bass, horns, and more soaring vocals. "Waitin' for a Superman" may be the most conventional song on The Soft Bulletin
, with shuffling drums and grand piano work, quite a bit more understated than the rest of the album, and it works well as a contrasting piece to the aural onslaught of the rest of the album, and being inspired by the death of Wayne Conye's father only makes the song more emotionally dense. "The Gash" ties with "Race for the Prize" as the most kickass song on the album, fusing Led Zeppelin and Queen together to form a song that is the only one to border on weird, but not. Featuring a choir singing in interesting intervals and some pounding drum work. But, it's also uplifting and hopeful, as Coyne asks "Will the fight for our sanity, be the fight for our lives?"
. It all ends on "Sleeping on the Roof", a mournful but onward looking coda to an album that's presence can sometimes be overwhelming.
...The Soft Bulletin
somehow proves to be an unsatisfying album to analyze, though. No matter how hard I try to explain what feelings these songs invigorate or how they sound, I know I'm going to come short in some way. But maybe it's one of those things where we really don't need to know everything to love it. Would you still believe in The Soft Bulletin
if you couldn't actually see it? If it were playing in your head, some untold masterpiece that had never been heard, would you put it to plastic and spread the word? We all fall down in deserted forests sometimes, but what we can rely on is that this album will always be there to hear it, pick us back up, and put us back into our roots and into the ground with which we were first planted so long ago. It's a timeless album when the times seem to be rushing by so quickly. Rejoice.