Transmissions From The Satellite Heart

The Flaming Lips


1993 was pretty much the peak of alternative music's popularity in the 90s.  Most every rock band was "alternative" at the time, so it was hard to separate the pretenders from the contenders.  So it's interesting that the most attention The Flaming Lips garnered at the time was from their fluke single "She Don't Use Jelly".  Not to say it's not a good song, but it's a bit bemusing considering the success of that song overshadowed the often times brilliant album that is Transmissions From The Satellite Heart.  The album is quite catchy in some parts, in others bizarrely psychedelic.  Overall though, there is a sweet poignant beauty that casts it's spell on the listener as the album progresses.  There's a somewhat pervasive vibe of lonely detachment going on here, accentuated by the psychedelic sound of the music.  And on that note, The Flaming Lips not simply rehashing 60s psychedelica here, they are reinventing it in a distinctly 90s way, creating a sound that is unique and very much their own.  Their brand of psychedelica has a bit more bite to it, as the sound on most of the songs are often sonically dense.  And then there's Wayne's childlike innocence, which give the songs a more accessible, human quality to them.

This is one of those albums that puts you in a certain mood, a somewhat strange mood.  It's an album that I have a personal connection to.  It's like we get each other, we know each other, we understand each other.  I understand what the music is feeling and the music understands how it makes me feel.  May sound like dementia to some folks, but to me, it's a really beautiful thing.


The Soft Bulletin

The Flaming Lips


Listening to The Soft Bulletin is kind of like rediscovering the magic of your childhood all over again.  The album is quite a listening experience, composed in a such a magical, grandiose manner that you find yourself "ooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" as it takes you on a delightful journey full of dramatic twists and turns as the album progresses from one song to the next.

The playful and exuberant nature of the album is on full display on the opening track "Race for the Prize".  Cheerful and up-lifting in quality, "Race for the Prize" sets the tone for the album with it's sweet and playful vibe.  In a live setting, it's common for over-sized balloons and confetti to be flying about during this song, which certainly suits the joyful mood of the track.

The next song "Spoonful Weighs a Ton" possesses an innocent, child-like quality of wonderment, with it's impressive sonic tricks and theatrical sound.  It's full of "ooh" and "ahh" moments, much like the following track "The Spark That Bled".  Perhaps the most dynamic song on the album (and that's saying something when dealing with The Soft Bulletin) it starts out quiet and vunerable, slowly building up with a brooding mood to the incredibly sweet and up-lifting chorus of "I stood up and I said yeah".  The track then takes a break from the theatrics with a crunchy rock-infused jam, only to close out on the same note that it came in on: quiet, vulnerable, and with a hint of mystery.  It's a great song and good microcosm of the album as a whole.

"The Spiderbite Song" follows, sporting a somewhat somber tone, but with a sweet and endearing quality.  The exuberant tone of the proceeding tracks quickly returns with the sunny and poppy "Buggin", which is a celebration of sun, summer, and well, bugs.  Leave it to Flaming Lips to create an incredibly catchy and sweet song about bugs.  It's another highlight.

"What is the Light?" follows, transitioning back into trippier territory with it's pulsating sound and brooding piano.  The song slowly builds up in intensity, eventually transitioning into a borderline danceable, up-lifting and sweet chorus.  It's a really beautiful song with a beautiful message, albeit a bit gushy in nature.  The song then transitions to the ominous "The Observer", a brooding instrumental piece that adds a sense of tension to the album with it's mysterious and unsettling vibe.

The eerie vibe of "The Observer" is soon enough replaced with the incredibly catchy and accessible "Waitin For A Superman" which sports a beautiful piano, smooth beats, and Wayne's patented sweet and child-like vocals.  The poppy nature of the song is soon forgotten as it transitions into "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" an aptly titled track that starts the transition into moodier, trippier territory.  "The Gash" follows which is incredibly bold and epic in quality, sounding like a scene from the "Wizard of Oz" with it's theatrical and brooding sound.  It's definitely other-worldly in quality, and borderline overwhelming in it's intensity.

It sets the stage for "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" which is an equally trippy number.  By this point in the album, the band has somewhat lost that kind of innocent, playful, uplifting feeling that dominates the 1st half of the record.  In it's place is a stranger, somewhat darker sound, equally awe-inspiring and gripping musically, but also a bit of a downer as a result.  "Sleeping on the Roof" represents that sentiment with it's eerie and weird instrumental sound, which produces a somewhat somber and unsettling quality.

The band then comes full-circle with the last 2 tracks, which are remixes of "Race For the Prize" and "Waitin for A Superman".  By rehashing those 2 songs, the band creates an interesting effect of familiarity which actually sounds refreshing amidst the dreary backdrop of the proceeding tracks.  It's an interesting way to close out the album, which gives a sense of completeness and closure to an incredibly strange and beautiful record.

Theatrical, epic, and playful in sound, The Soft Bulletin manages to accomplish a rare feat for such a wide-ranging musical composition: it's trippy without being a downer (most of the time), it's epic without sounding pretentious, and it's sweet and accessible without sounding insincere or predictable, managing to keep the listener's attention throughout the album.  Incredibly well composed album, and easily one of the best of the 90s.


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