You may or may not know about the latest
blunder release from The Flaming Lips – yet another in their (hopefully ending soon) series of re-makes of entire LPs. They first tackled Pink Floyd‘s magnum opus “The Dark Side Of The Moon” in 2009, which featured guest appearances from Stardeath and White Dwarfs (a Lips-ish psych-rock band from their immediate area, Norman, Oklahoma – featuring Wayne Coyne‘s nephew on guitar and vocals, no less), Henry Rollins and a few others. The results seemed mixed, to me anyway – far less satisfying than the genre-hopper rock-to-reggae version by Easy Star All-Stars. The Lips have (or had) their own brand of psychedelic playfulness which didn’t seem to lend itself to Roger Waters‘s mannered observations. They followed that up few years later with a re-make of King Crimson’s classic 1969 progressive rock album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. I’ve not heard it yet, but The Lips were never really known for their dextrous musicianship (aside from Steven Drozd), so I’m guessing a lot of the K.C. flash has been substituted for more of a ‘mood’. They then decided to try their hands on The Stone Roses‘ debut album. I’ve heard parts of that and while some of the covers seem interesting – the youthful exuberance of Ian Brown‘s gang are transformed into melancholy dirges. Coyne and Co. sucked all the funk and swagger out of the tunes.
Now they’re back (after releasing the possible nadir of their studio records, The Terror) with another covers album, a version of one of the most iconic LPs of the rock era, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The question seems to be: does the world need another one of these? Particularly when you consider the disastrous 1978 film, featuring The Bee Gees and the much-better NME 1988 compilation, “Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father“. A bit more obscure are the “Trance Remixes“, created by someone (or collective) called Nasty Little Dog and the mash-up collection “Sgt Pepper’s Mid-Life Crisis“, released for free on the internet for the 40th anniversary of the release of the album.
In any case, The Lips gathered together the usual suspects, along with members of neo-psych bands MGMT and Foxygen and…uh…Miley Cyrus (??!!!). The record was just released this month and is getting middling reviews. A video was made ‘starring’ Cyrus and a nude blonde girl (Coyne seems big on nudity these days), for their version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It’s…interesting, but lacking in the kind of delirious hope that characterises a lot of their earlier work.
So what’s happened to a really great band? Damned if I know, but it does seem that Coyne’s had a bit of a topsy-turvy existence the past ten years or so. His parents have both passed away now and Coyne was reportedly close to both. His beef with Win Butler tarnished Coyne’s “nicest guy in rock-n-roll” image – though it wasn’t the first time he publicly trashed another front man. Remember the whole Richard Ashcroft thing, back in 1994 (and again in 2006)? He’s also split from his long-time wife, Michelle Martin (though that was first announced in 2012). To be fair to the guy, he’s had a shocker.
Still, it’s probably no surprise that his extra-cirricular activities are affecting the music of the band. Getting his Instagram accounts shut down for nudity and drug use. The whole tiff with Erykah Badu, over filming her sister nude (I see a pattern emerging) in a tub filled with glitter and corn starch for the video, for their cover of Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“. His cavorting with pop tartlets Ke$ha and Cyrus makes it seem like he’s desperate to ‘keep up with the kids’, or at the very least, courting shallow pop audiences. Luckily, the rumoured ‘Lip$ha‘ album never materialised, as that might’ve been another nail in the coffin of their credibility. Then, of course, the whopper of them all, the very public exit from the band by long-time touring, then officially studio drummer Kliph Scurlock. Scurlock initially claimed Coyne was verbally abusive and that he (Scurlock) was outraged over Coyne’s friend, Christina Fallin (daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin), wearing a Native American head-dress. Coyne hit back, calling Scurlock a ‘pathological liar’ and dismissing his hatred of a wide spectrum of bands and Lips friends. To be fair on Coyne, despite the vitriol he expressed about the split in the ‘Rolling Stone’ interview, Scurlock did a semi-reversal and issued an apology days after the story broke.
So where does all this leave the music? Well, again, “The Terror” received mixed reviews and the tracks I heard (“You Lust“, particularly) just didn’t seem to have much going on (for thirteen minutes, as well). Maybe not Lips-by-numbers, but sorta lifeless. Sure, they’re trippy – but sometimes that’s not enough to carry the album. There seems to be a lot of recycling from the past few records. The collaboration EPs, released throughout 2011, were also a bit of a disappointment, even the ones that, on paper, should work really well. Some of them were O.K., like the EP with Neon Indian, but even the best track on it, “Alan’s Theremin“, is eight minutes of a synth arpeggio and two guitar chords.
It’s tough to say where they’re going from here. Hopefully, The Flaming Lips will become more of a balanced project and not just the Wayne Coyne Experience. Sure, Steven Drozd does contribute most of the musical ideas (and musicianship), but lately it sounds as though he’s hit a wall. Michael Ivins, there from the very beginning, seems to have been sidelined in a band he co-founded. Perhaps they’ll take a looooooong break after this “Sgt Pepper’s/Fwends (yes, it actually has the word ‘fwends’ in the title)” business. Wayne may be running away from a role (imposed from outside, of course) as one of the elder statesmen of American “alternative rock”, but I don’t know, it seems like the dude needs to chill for a little bit and pull the group back from novelty and gimmicks (gummy foetuses, songs buried in skulls, cover albums, etc.). I hope they can get it together, ‘cos it’d be a shame to lose a really, really great group.