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Flaming Lips, ‘The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends’ – Album Review

Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
Warners Bros.

Wayne Coyne’s got pull. He and his Flaming Lips, already masters of reinvention, find themselves again in the most unexpected of manners: by way of collaboration. The Lips have assembled a roster of playmates equally rogue’s gallery and who’s who, ranging from the top of the pops to the furthest avant garde. With ‘Flaming Lips and the Heady Fwends,’ the Oklahoma City band tap the vein of weirdness and wonder that animated their earlier work, while touching, even for a moment, the pop sensibility that ushered them into the mainstream.

Surprisingly, the track with the biggest pop star–that’s Ke$ha on the new cover–is the most startling. Also featuring rapper-turned-TV-host Biz Markie, ‘2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)’ is more panic-inducing than the 80th time you heard ‘Tik Tok‘ in a night — a frenetic frenzy of cataclysmic surf rock. The waves calm down, as you might imagine, with the entre of Bon Iver. ‘Ashes in the Air’ is a post-apocalyptic lullaby of trippy guitar shimmers with Justin Vernon’s voice providing alien echoes of Coyne’s morbid lyrics — flesh burns, skeletons drool, and the like — all floating through space. After the storms of the first two tracks, ‘Helping the Retarded Find God’ is the sun breaking through dense clouds, with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (or at least a few of them) adding to a hopeful swell remiscent of ‘Do You Realize?’ — but the peace does not last.

‘Fwends’ flips between extremes of tranquility and terror, and the smashes assisted by Prefuse 73 on ‘Supermoon Made Me Want to Pee’ are on the rough end of the spectrum. Australian psychonauts Tame Impala come out to play on ‘Children of the Moon,’ all flower-power affirmations, butterfly strumming, and thunderbolt lead. Jim James from My Morning Jacket stops by for the lurching rocker ‘That Ain’t My Trip’ — which also features the album’s strangest lyrics. Did you ever want to hear about Coyne’s distaste for ball shaving?

Hardcore noise-experimentalists Lightning Bolt add a charge to ‘I’m Working at Nasa on Acid,’ and the grand dame of the indie world Yoko Ono squeaks in the background of ‘Do It!’ At least one track feels a tad too far on the formulaic side — the Neon Indian featured ‘Is David Bowie Dying?’

The album’s standout track is its most controversial. You’ve already heard about the NSFW video Erykah Badu-assisted video for ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.’ Tweet-eruptions aside, their version of the Roberta Flack classic is a transcendent, ten-minute kaleidoscope that both Badu and Coyne should be proud of, if either of them could get over their pride. It’s a tough act to follow for New Fumes and ‘Girl, You’re So Weird,’ a slab of doot-doot-pop that is a candle in the sun. As a closer, we’re shortchanged on the titanic Chris Martin in exchange for a guy named Adam Behrens talking about a police beatdown on ’Tasered and Maced.’

Employing a breadth of sounds and players, ‘Fwends’ eclipses 2009’s ‘Embryonic’ and will join the Lips’ prog rock canon–in the most idiosyncratic of fashions.

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