MUSIC REVIEW | The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s so impressive that even though the actual music isn’t the kind of thing I’m that into, I can’t help admiring it.”

Bulletin 1.jpg
In my vast Wikipedia research for this review of the Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, I discovered that, “Pitchfork Media ranked the album 3rd on the Top 100 albums of the 1990s list, and awarded it a rare score of 10.0.”  Making the best of the 90s list didn’t really surprise me.  The Flaming Lips have been critical and music snob / cool kid favourites for a long, long time.  But the perfect 10 score surprised me and had me a little worried about listening to this record.  Pitchfork is one of the internet’s biggest suppliers of disaffected snark, where nothing can be fantastic, because as we all know, you can’t be cool and impressed at the same time.  So to know that they gave it such a high score, I half expected The Soft Bulletin to be way too inaccessible and avant-garde to actually be enjoyed.

An assumption immediately alleviated by Race for the Prize, a tight, lush, melodic and beautiful piece of song writing that couldn’t be any easier to get lost in.  It even has Wayne Coyne at his most pitch perfect as his voice dances around expertly within his range.  Which can’t be said for the off key warble of A Spoonful Weighs a Ton.  But he’s always known exactly how to exploit his vocal limitations for maximum effect.  Which he does here, amongst the trippy, dreamy versus, and crashing, bass heavy choruses.

One thing I have always appreciated in my limited experience with The Flaming Lips is the conceptual feeling of their records.  I have no idea how connected they are thematically, because I have zero interest in reading the lyrics and trying to figure out what’s going in Wayne Coyne’s wackadoo head (I assume the inside of his head looks the Beatles Yellow Submarine movie, only weirder and with more colours).  But their records always sound and feel like a single being, a connected whole, not just a dozen songs they happened to wrote in the same general time period.  All of that is to say the flow from The Spiderbite Song, to Buggin’, to What is the Light?, to everything before and after feels like different aspects of a single experience.

And it’s that conceptual, whole feeling, that even makes an aimless (if admittedly pretty) instrumental like The Observer feel necessary.  It’s a good song on its own, it’s a fantastic song as an extended intro to the lucid dream that is Waitin’ for Superman.  And while The Flaming Lips have never been scared to try new and different things, the intricate layers of stings, intertwining melodies and general grandeur of Suddenly Everything Has Changed and The Gash makes me realise just how ambitious The Soft Bulletin is.
Bulletin 2
There isn’t much else to say about the remainder of this records.  Not because it’s just more of the same, but because it backs up my earlier comments about the coherent, thematic connective tissue of The Soft Bulletin.  It’s so impressive that even though the actual music isn’t the kind of thing I’m that into, I can’t help admiring it.  Even if I never listen to The Soft Bulletin again in my life, I can now agree that those snarky pricks at Pitchfork got it right when they scored it a perfect 10.

The Flaming Lips

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about The Soft Bulletin?
The A.V Club
Beat Patrol

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