The Soft Bulletin

The Flaming Lips

Warner Brothers Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


At first, The Soft Bulletin may sound like an album that you need be a bitter graduate student to enjoy: It has song titles like "The Spiderbite Song," Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, has a high-pitch, shaky voice and at first listen, The Soft Bulletin is a whole lot to digest.

Let it sink in though, and The Soft Bulletin feels right at home with other sprawling epics like The Wall or Operation:Mindcrime. Some tracks sound like they could have been recorded in a garage while others, such as the sweeping, "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton" will test the limits of your headphones. The band proudly displays the "concept album" tag on this album by making some of the credits appear to be credits on a movie poster.

The Soft Bulletin is a great grasp at making a typical rock record from a group that is anything but. Coyne once produced a small symphony featuring the sounds of car engines and their last album, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Zaireeka, could only reach its maximum effect if the 4-disc set was played on 4 separate audio systems simultaneously. That trick may have been used to bring Flaming Lips fans together, but it's hard to find another Flaming Lips fan in a small town, yet alone three to share that experience.

The Flaming Lips, like Radiohead, were deceptively tagged as a "one-hit-wonder band" when they appeared on "Beverly Hills 90210." The Top 40 song "She Don't Use Jelly" immediately cast them as a novelty, even though they were struggling since they formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City. Still, all of their creative weirdness paid off with The Soft Bulletin.

Some bands try to produce a piece as weird as possible to thin out the heard of fans who "jumped on the bandwagon." In The Flaming Lips' case, the band members are genuinely eccentric as hell and are making an honest effort to connect with the audience. For as odd as a song as "The Spiderbite Song" is, the song came from a true story. One of the band members did sustain a spider bite wound on his hand, and almost had to have it amputated as a result. Therefore, the once goofy lyric, "When you got that spider bite on your hand/ I thought we would have to break up the band," rings true.

The heartbeat that you hear on "What Is The Light" seamlessly fits itself in with percussion and keyboards. The song, which is about whether the chemical sensation of what we know as "being in love" is the same chemical that caused the "Big Bang" is both a trippy odyssey and emotionally draining. Perhaps the biggest technical marvel on The Soft Bulletin is the sweeping march-like epic, "The Gash." The percussion, which even includes gong, backs up Coyne's best lyric in the album, where he cries out, "Will the fight for our sanity/ be the fight of our lives?"

The album is bookended by two songs, "Race For The Prize" and "Waiting For Superman." Some may call putting in a song twice in an album a gimmick, but these two songs neatly tie in the themes for The Soft Bulletin. It is a big album, full of big ideas, but deep down, it's an album that everyone would have on their high-fi and listening to in their basement if it were released 25 years ago. Don't let the weirdness of this group's past fool you: The Soft Bulletin thoroughly rocks.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


© 2001 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.