Artist: The Flaming Lips
Album: Heady Fwends
Label: Warner Brothers
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
2011 was a cornerstone year for The Flaming Lips for a lot of reasons. Without a label to dictate or control their releases (the band’s contract with Warner Brothers ended at the end of 2010, but the band didn’t renew for another year), The Lips had a sudden control and freedom over their music that they hadn’t had since their days as a punk band in the 80’s. Their audience was much, much smaller in the 80’s, though, and the band with their massive fanbase of now seemed prepped to carve into a new territory of old school DIY ethics like major acts Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails had done memorably in the decade before. This led to the band self-releasing a string of bizarre gimmicks like a 9 pound gummy skull with a USB of music embedded in the skull and a song that lasts a straight 24 hours. Regardless, their more traditional releases were a series of collaborative EP’s with the likes of Neon Indian, Prefuse 73, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, and Lightning Bolt. Although only a handful of tracks from those initial EP’s appears on this release, Heady Fwends is still a culmination of everything the Lips have accomplished in the past year.
Probably the most surprising thing about this record is how cohesive it sounds. While collaborations between artists (especially when it involves two or more) typically dilute into multiple egos drifting past each other only making very surface level music, the Lips have managed to keep things relatively tight. Whether this is because the band chose their collaborators wisely or it’s because the collaborators were given nothing more than a (mostly) fleshed out track to add their own personal dressing to, Heady Fwends never sounds like it’s moving illogically from track to track. This doesn’t mean that the tracks don’t sound as polished or as well constructed as they should be, though, and it’s hard to think how many collaborators literally phoned in their part (the final track with Ghostland Observatory is just a rant about punching cops in the penis that Lips frontman Wayne Coyne recorded on his iphone). In fact, some tracks from the band themselves like the aforementioned Ghostland Observatory track and their track with New Fumes feel phoned in and rushed, as well. The band was only given a short amount of time to complete a lot of these tracks, and unfortunately it shows.
This record still has its fair share of psychedelic freak outs, though, and tracks like “Is David Bowie Dying???” with Neon Indian and “I’m Working on Nasa on Acid” with Lightning Bolt are highlights. The track featuring Ke$ha is probably way better than a lot of people apprehensive towards her thought it would be, but tracks with rock-history legend Yoko Ono seem almost throwaway (especially in comparison to the other great songs that came out on their four song EP with the Plastic Ono Band). Regardless, their track with Bon Iver, “Ashes in the Air,” and their collab with Edward Sharpe, “Helping the Retarded to Know God,” are classic Lips tracks. Heady Fwends is a lot better than it was expected to be, but as a worthy follow-up to their LP release, it is not. This is no worry, though, as the band is prepped to put out a new record in the fall. And as always, The Flaming Lips have been way more interesting and enjoyable than any other band out there when they’re experimenting and braving into territories few do, even if they don’t succeed.
Note: the final track on the CD release, “Tasered and Mased,” was replaced by the track “I Don’t Want You To Die” with Chris Martin originally on the vinyl release due to licensing issues. This track is way better than the Ghostland Observatory one, and you should definitely check it out here, if you haven’t heard it already.