"The Soft Bulletin" by The Flaming Lips (1999)
This is the first 5 I've given. I've been waiting for a record that could go head to Radiohead with O.K. Computer, and at long last my wait has ended. Where O.K. Computer borrowed liberally from Yes, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles, Soft Bulletin is content to "just say Yes." Yes could have released this album between Fragile and Close To The Edge, and no one would have noticed.
Rock critics have made quite a bit of sport of bands such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, ELP, Rush, and yes Yes--pretentious, bombastic, bla bla . . . whatever. All I know is that during the salad days of "art" rock, I was stuck in the middle of Radio Free Utah, and it was either Disco, top-40, or seek out the arty, progressive/jazz-fusion type stuff--t'is what I lived for. I own 8-track tapes of cool "art" rock bands that few Earthlings have heard of.
Thus, I'm thrilled to proclaim that The Flaming Lips have re-lit the torch and carried it forward to higher, more user-friendly realms. As with all truly brilliant albums, you're not going to be knocked-out on your first spin. I wasn't. Much Like Geddy Lee, (or for those of you more "chronologically challenged"--Perry Farrell) singer Wayne Coyne's voice takes a little getting used to. It's registered high, a little bit whiny, and at times brings Neil Young to mind.
I don't mean to frighten you off, (you should check out this album even if you don't like Yes) in my opinion it's the years' best, so far. It's "art rock" in the same fashion as XTC's Skylarking--inventive, conceptual, and above all accessible--however derivative. The Flaming Lips build The Soft Bulletin on a rock-hard foundation of Steven Drodz (John Bonham-like) drumming. It serves as a sturdy handrail for these stunning sonic field trips that Coyne and Michael Ivins lead the listener on. Would I say it's superior than O.K. Computer? Musically, I'd give a slight nod to Radiohead. Thematically, both albums revolve around man's reckless progress and its resultant dehumanization. O.K. Computer's program is a bit gloomy and bleak; whereas, The Soft Bulletin broadcasts subtle messages of hope. Opposite sides of the same brilliant coin.
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