I’d never heard The Flaming Lips before but was very curious about this “Dual” disc when it came out originally in 2003 due to the publicity about its emphasis on programming it especially for surround sound – to the extent of even making “5.1” part of the album title! Why it only came in for review now is not clear, but anyway it’s a must for this site which emphasizes music in surround, and we’re glad we got our hands on it finally.
Musically, the band focuses on lead vocalist Wayne Coyne and his guitar; I couldn’t even find a listing of all the band members on the group’s own web site. No idea what their other albums are like, but this one is musically generally warm and fuzzy melodically and not exactly intellectual in the lyrics department. Guitars, saxes and brass instruments are mixed with electronics in a bubbling sort of soundscape. The band’s arranger and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd is responsible for the overall sound of the tracks, which in spite of the frequent sci-fi references is not at all hard or inhuman-sounding. The very loose, anything goes demeanor of the band is not only heard on all the tracks but also seen in the videos. Coyne is definitely not striving for a tightly-presented visual/auditory style here; his facial expressions and arm motions convey an “ehhh…who cares?” sort of attitude. In one there are frequent cuts to him playing and singing in front of a group of tuba players, but none of the players have their mouths anywhere near the mouthpieces – they’re just moving around sort of in time to the music. The songs are certainly on a different tack than the nihilistic violence of most rock today. They are often surprisingly life-affirming while dealing with robots, fist fights and the trials of turning 40.
The album has five different lists of contents: One with 11 tracks for the separate CD, one with 6 tracks for the 5.1 DVD-Audio options, and a third for the DVD Videos – amounting to ten tracks due to all the Making Of…videos. Then there are two short animated episodes provided as DVD-ROM files. I tried to open them with QuickTime, RealPlayer and WMA without success, so they must not be cross platform, thanksalot. The fifth list is of 11 tracks for which details of all the special surround effects are printed in the note booklet, so perhaps there are 11 DVD-Audio tracks – not 6 after all. The booklet notes about the surround effort will be much interest to many audiophiles. This section is titled “Michael Jackson’s Three-Dimensional Cow,” and discusses the recording of a single cow in a domed space by 500 microphones. It has something to do with Roland’s SoundSpace technology but Coyne didn’t think it was very effective. Evidently the two-channel mix for CD release was made first, and then the individual elements given to topflight surround sound mixer Elliot Scheiner, who with Dave Fridmann did the 5.1 mix for the DVD-A.
An example of the surround sound play-by-play: This is for the track Are You a Hypnotist? – Five different drum textures play simultaneously. Big rock drums front left and right. Snippets of loops front center. Electronic soft beat in rear left and right. Snare on right front and right rear. Ride cymbal left front and left rear. Above the listener’s head is a combination of electronics and live performance drum kits.
Whew! There is also a section in the video extras titled Frequency Waveform Cartoons. These are playable only using the Dolby 5.1 option and consist of brilliant color burst patterns in which different frequencies of sound bounce and pulsate in sync with the sounds of each tune. They look sort of like exploding multicolored M&Ms, and there is a different one for each of the tracks.
Oh yes – the stuff about Yoshimi and the robots? That’s a back story dreamt up by Coyne, and in fact he filmed the Yoshimi video in a restaurant in Japan. Yoshimi is a cook, lap dancer and kung fu expert who has to fight some pink robot aliens. She becomes powerful by eating a bunch of vegetables with special qualities. There are shots of her in a big tray of vegetables and some animation of a girl fighting pink robots, but the whole thing seems like a wild party in a crowded sushi bar. And there’s plenty of folks dressed in furry animal costumes, which seem to be de rigor for Flaming Lips videos. There is also a hokey movie trailer for a supposed feature titled Christmas on Mars. Coyne loves anything to do with Christmas almost as much as sci-fi, so he combined the two interests in this one. The most effective of the music videos, and probably the best song, is Do You Realize? The director of photography took the band to Las Vegas and had Coyne sing the very touching lyrics and catchy tune while walking on the Strip with an entourage of four girls in short white outfits dancing around plus two giant rabbits who don’t do much of anything. An elephant from Circus Circus also takes part, and there’s a giant frog and a pig, whose functions are unexplained. It’s a magnum opus of very informal off-the-wall music and images – not really a concept album unless good-humored craziness is a concept.
Hard to choose which of the several lists of tracks to print out here. I’ll try the first one: Fight Test, One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1 & Pt. 2, In the Morning of the Magicians, Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, Are You a Hypnotist??, It’s Summertime, Do You Realize??, All We Have Is Now, Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)
– John Sunier