This April, almost three years after the release of the adventurous and obtusely named album, The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon, neo-psychadelic rockers The Flaming Lips released their 14th full-length album, Heady Fwends.
A collaborative project, the new studio album made its first appearance as a limited edition vinyl for Record Store Day, each copy complete with its own unique pattern on the vinyl itself. Featuring collaborators from Nick Cave to Ke$ha, the 14-track project seems to be as ambitious as Wayne Coyne himself; the frontman said of the album, “you… you won’t believe how great all this stuff is.”
As it turns out, he has a point. The scale of the collaboration itself is stunning; mixing mainstream artists like Ke$ha with little-known, cutting edge talents like Prefuse 73 is daring, but in this case has been pulled off almost flawlessly. The cohesion of the album is partly the product of The Flaming Lips’ strong identity as a band, which is obvious throughout despite the overwhelming variety of collaborators who help them along the way. It’s not just the mix of mainstream and niche artists, however, but the splicing and merging of genres that gives the album its unique appeal; with fwends specialising in psychedelic, alternative and noise rock, but also in rap, hip-hop, indie and folk, The Flaming Lips are obviously part of a pretty diverse social group.
For all that diversity, the album is full of the familiar ponderous chords, occasional dissonance, deliberate lyrics and repetitive effects that characterise the Flaming Lips experience. There’s a sense that this is an album with specific appeal to both newcomers and established fans of the band; it’s fun, experimental, and really quite liberating – and that sense of freedom is emphasised by the frequent inclusion of candid, untrimmed voice clips, from Ke$ha’s hopeful, “Shit. One more time?” to Chris Martin’s “I love The Flaming Lips!”
To be honest, some of the tracks (I’m Working at NASA on Acid and Do It!) will not be easy on the ears until you’re used to them – this is one album that you will enjoy more on subsequent hearings than you did the first time around. It is a little experimental, after all. That said, not all the tracks are slow-burners, there are a few (Ashes in the Air and Girl, You’re so Weird) that are immediately accessible, with more regular rhythms and conventional melodies. In that sense it’s a relatively well-rounded package. The overall structure is also quite well-defined, beginning and ending with the crowd pleasers: Ke$ha’s 2012, and the Lennon-inspired I Don’t Want You to Die, featuring Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
14 albums is a long way to come, and Heady Fwends is a monument to The Flaming Lips’ continuing power to surprise us without changing their essential character one bit. They’re really a band who no longer have to prove anything to anyone. Yet here, once again, they have done so. Heady Fwends has got a great range of artists on a well-structured, nicely rounded album, hosted and kept in check by a band that’s only getting better with age. A twuly bwilliant performance.