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Page 32 New Musical Express 3 January 1998, written by Keith Cameron


Flaming Lips


(Warner Bros CD only)  


IN THE REALM OF musicological discourse, the term 'genius' has been

overused virtually to the point of obsoletion. So it bears stating at

the outset that with 'Zaireeka' the Flaming Lips are threatening to

reinvest the notion with its original resonance. 'Clouds Taste

Metallic' from 1995 found these fecund Oklahoman zonk rockers

pondering, "Where does outer space end?", before somewhat inevitably

concluding , "It's sorta hard to imagine". Well, 'Zaireeka' is the

sound of grown men trying so hard to get their heads around the

rudiments of astrophysics that in the process they flipped out and

invented nothing less than a new way to listen to music.

Here is an album comprising four CDs, each containing the composite

parts of the same eight songs. Thus, in order to hear the songs in

their entirety, you need four seperate CD players playing

simultaneously. Okey-dokey.


Clearly, this provides the average Lip-loving household with a major

logistical problem. Unless you have unlimited access to a large

indoor car park plus three mates with in-car CD players ('Zaireeka'

was inspired by head Lip Wayne Coyne's Parking Lot Experiments',

where up to 50 cars played specifically arranged tapes in unison) or

can afford to hire a club with four seperate PAs, the obvious

solution it to invite aforementioned three mates round to your place,

ensuring they bring their hi-fi systems as well as some beer, and

make an evening of it.


Indeed, 'Zaireeka''s bizarre format seems at least partly motivated

by a desire to introduce the notion of audience participation to the

hitherto relatively passive practice of playing an album. the thing

is, once you've counted everyone in and hit those start buttons

together, you'll be glad of the company of those helping hands. For

even by the Flaming Lips' synapse-searing standards 'Zaireeka' is a

titanic bedazzled trip to the furthest reaches of the imagination.

Ths song titles alone betray the presence of visionaries: 'Okay I'll

Admit That I Don't Really Understand';'The Train Runs Over The Camel

But Is Derailed By The Gnat'; 'The Big Ol' Bug Is The New Baby Now'.

But it's 'Riding To Work In Th eyear 2025 (Your Invisible Now)' which

most immediately repays the effort required to actually hear. Guitars

soar overhead like parabolic tracer bullets (CDs one and three) as a

heartbeat emits slowly from CDs two and four, which also provide

ghostly, distorted echoes of the main themes. According to Coyne's

sleevenotes (copious, useful, highly entertaining) the song concerns

a man who imagines he's a secret agent on his way to save the world

on a futuristic train, during the course of which he believes that

the pressure is too much and he goes insane. The man is shocked that

he could fantasisw so vividly and he screams - loudly, out of all

four CDs at around 3mins 20secs.


Granted, on paper this sounds messy and mighty pretentious, but in

the sensurround flesh it feels unprecedented, like Sun Ra conducting

The Beatles in 1967 with orchestral arrangements from Brian Wilson

and a teenage Neil Young on vocals. Only with bigger amps and much,

much better than that could possibly ever be.


What's more, every time it gets played 'Zaireeka' will sound

different. Or that's Coyne's theory, anyway. he reckons that although

they get close, CD players don't play in absolute synchronisation

with each other. Thus, subtle variations and new arrangements appear

at every session. And while it would be possible to listen to just

one CD at a time and get a passable interpretation of each song,

without the exteraneous noises - in the case of the lavish

Disney-esque ballad 'The Big Ol' Bug...', the sounds of Wayne's dogs

in his backyard - the ver-evolving collage is incomplete. There's

even one track, 'How Will We Know?(Future Crashendos)', featuring

ultra-high and low frequencies on three CDs which "can cause a person

to become disoriented, confused or nauseated" (it does), and should

not be listened to "by infants" of "while driving". Just imagine the

carnage it would cause if listened to by infants while driving...

Mad, you say? The maddest aspect of 'Zaireeka' is surely that a Time

Warner company sanctioned its creation in the first place. That and

the fact that the Flaming Lips have released arguably their most

beautiful music in a vivid new design for listening and ensured that

relatively few people shall hear it. to reiterate: a work of genius.

(4 x 2.5 = 10)


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