BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 The Flaming Lips: Embryonic (Warners)

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The Flaming Lips: Powerless
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 The Flaming Lips: Embryonic (Warners)

Anyone coming to this sprawling and musically diverse (not to say sometimes bewildering) 80 minute album because they were seduced by the Lips' earlier album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (with that sublime hit Do You Realise) might want to take a big breath.

This is different in many, many ways.

This is the Lips' fascinating and eccentrically intellectual Wayne Coyne (interviewed here in 2004) back in experimental mode. His reference points here might seem to be the best of early Seventies prog-rock, groups like Can and German electronica bands, a little slice of Captain Beefheart mixed with early post-Barrett Pink Floyd, strange psychedelic instrumental soundtracks, and of course their earlier albums such as Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and To Death in the Future Head.

Late comers to the Lips' particular magic might need to know that a triple CD set of their work between '83 and '88 was entitled Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid. Sounds like they might still be (although Coyne says not).

This should by no means deter you: this music is as intricately layered as anything on Yoshimi, has the same mysterious and other-world quality, sometimes rocks hard when the effects of the trip wear off (the driving See the Leaves), and has lyrics as elliptical/political/socially aware and strange as if someone fed Dark Side of the Moon* through a poetry-making machine designed by Timothy Leary.

I have no idea what "Gemini psalms and the syringes" means, but it sounds great even though somewhere in the background a mathematician is explaining some arcane theory.

(There is a track-by-track explanation of Embryonic by Coyne here at The Fly.)

There are beautiful ballads here (the regret filled techno-coloured Evil, the spare If) but equally there are places where the band simply set their control for the heart of the sun (Aquarius Sabotage, the dark and unresolved guitar journey of Powerless). 

Elsewhere they invite in Wendy O (making animal noises on I Can Be A Frog, and Watching the Planets) and MGMT (for the trippy Worm Mountain).  And sometimes just make odd sounds and weird sonic landscapes (Scorpio Sword).

There are a lot of very different listening experiences, layers and corners to explore on Embryonic (perhaps best enjoyed through headphones) and my guess is this: as with albums by Can and Neu! at one end of the Lips' wide spectrum, and Brian Eno, David Lynch soundtracks and Sixties electronic music at the other, this will take time to assimilate fully. And it has prog-rock thrown right across the middle. 

Twitter types might want to think along the following lines: "Kid A but with more TCP", "Frank Zappa without the chewy bits", "an opera from an experimental drug lab on Neptune" . . .

Slightly difficult, enormously engrossing, quite lovely and quite strange -- in a good way. All in a good way. 

* I'm told the band's next album wil be a guest-heavy remake of Dark Side. Figures.

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