Record #164: The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

Too often, The Soft Bulletin’s significance is attributed to the creative leap forward it was for the Flaming Lips. It marked the moment the acid-dropping punks decided to get serious and make some seriously beautiful pop music.

And while that’s true, it discounts the strength the album holds on its own…

Personally, the first Lips record I ever heard was 2009’s Embryonic, which played more like the psychedelic soundtrack to a 1950’s sci-fi horror movie than anything the Flaming Lips would have turned out.

And that, along with “Do You Realize,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” and the Postal Service’s cover of “Suddenly Everything has Changed” were my context for hearing this record.

And I instantly loved it.

The urgent, overdriven drums, the synth strings, the sprinkling harp, the extended instrumental passages, and Wayne Coyne’s shaking, wild-eyed voice that ties everything together. It’s an album of unveiled optimism, young love, friendship, and occasionally drugs (this is the Flaming Lips, isn’t it?) that begs the listener to live and be alive, even in the face of hopelessness.

And fourteen years later, there hasn’t been much to rival moments like the opening strains of “The Race for the Prize” or the instrumental groove in “The Spark that Bled” or the closing crescendo of “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.” It’s an absolute classic, regardless of its context in the Flaming Lips’ or anyone else’s discography.

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