A release to showcase a whimsical sound that can never be forgotten
With a surge of psychedelic funk and rock, The Flaming Lips rehash their ‘90s sound by releasing a companion their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. Best known for their alt-rock 1993 hit “She Don’t Use Jelly,” The Flaming Lips rebuilt their sound after the departure of guitar player Ronald Jones, fine-tuning to a more free-form tone that broke out of the need to make the next commercial smash. Though the band did struggle after their first hit, they continued to push through, and in the end, released The Soft Bulletin in 1999. Now the band has released The Soft Bulletin Companion in a refined HD, giving a true glimpse into all the intricate clashes between rock, funk and psychedelic rock. As indicated on their website, this new release features outtakes from The Soft Bulletin such as alternative mixes, unreleased songs, single b-sides and stereo versions of tracks from Zaireeka, giving the, once promo-only CD, a facelift and a brand new inside view to the band’s music.
The Oklahoma City natives began their musical career as a band in 1983, creating music for 10 years before finally cracking the charts in 1993, becoming famous for the song with the line “She uses vaseline.” Trying to propel themselves into the ‘90s alt-rock scene, the group produced two more records like Clouds Taste Metallic in 1995 and Zaireeka in 1997 in hopes they would carry on the momentum of “She Don’t Use Jelly.” With anger that their actions did not produce another hit, guitarist Ronald Jones left, leaving the group able to now make music for themselves and not for the mainstream radio play. In 1999, they released The Soft Bulletin, and though this release was a promo-only CD, it led the group to have one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the ‘90s. Though they had songs that topped charts in the UK, the group never did produce another chart-topping hit like “She Don’t Use Jelly” within the States.
“Thirty-Five Thousand Feet Of Despair” kicks off the album and is one of the stereo versions from Zaireeka, rising with a fast sweeping tone signal that catches the ears with almost off-key piano notes. Then a familiar voice greets fans as Wayne Coyne sings in a familiar ‘90s imperfect off-key tone. The song is vast and cinematic, full of analog rising and falling synthetic strings with a low thumping drum keeping a heartbeat-type rhythm.
Labeled as an early mix, “1000 ft Hands” is a welcoming, vibing track with hard-strummed acoustic guitar and jumping electric guitar picking. The vocals in this song are more refined and sweeter, pairing great with the acoustic guitar. Though headphone users beware of the track as what sounds like people laughing bounces from ear to ear, which leads to a trippy first listen.
Accompanying the early mix of “1000 ft Hands (Early Mix)” is the added “1000 ft Hands (Final Mix).” This final mix is a longer version of the early mix with a few added flavors and spices taking the track to the next “out of this world” level. The final mix now features even creepier deeper-toned laughs that cycle from ear to ear in a track that is almost three minutes longer. Losing the acoustic guitar, it is replaced with synths and a wide, crashing orchestral ensemble taking away the relaxed feel of the early mix. The vocals also dive as in the middle they shift into a deep voice that jars from the calm of the early mix, creating a completely different atmosphere.
A highlight of the album, and another version from Zaireeka, is “Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now).” While it may start with a distorted grinding synth, the track quickly gives way to a lush and whimsical soundscape. Giving the feeling of free-flowing, this track is a soul-lifting psychedelic rock song that swings beautifully with the mesmerizing bass line. Midway through, it does shift with some jarring tones that may break the listener out of the trance the song puts them in, but it quickly resumes the funky psychedelic vibes.
Closing out the record is another stereo version from Zaireeka “The Big Ol’ Bug Is The New Baby Now,” which starts like the intro to a Golden Girls episode. As the ‘80s storytime music plays, a man’s voice begins to tell a story, though it carries an air of eeriness. As he talks, there are moments where the voice changes into a deeper tone. But just like “She Don’t Use Jelly,” fans are met with a song with equally weird lyrics.
Housing several different musical elements, all of which are now presented in HD, The Flaming Lips re-release of their 1999 promo-only CD under The Soft Bulletin Companion is a great waltz down the ‘90s memory lane.