Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Freak Out vol. 4: End of the Early Years...


This is one of two Lips albums that, for whatever reason, I just don’t listen to as much and am not as familiar with. Some years back I made a mix of the highlights from their pre-Ambulance material, titled, nerdily and pretentiously, All That I Know is My Mind is Blown OR As Diarrhea Smears the Space Bible, and when craving early Lips I’ve tended to reach for that instead of an actual album. So this one in particular has always gotten the shaft.

Listening to it now, about halfway through I was ready to write it off as largely disposable. That first half does have “Chrome Plated Suicide”, which is great and a very effortless sounding pop song – but that’s about it.

Then at the half way mark you get “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory.” Well, part of it. See this was originally conceived as a 30 minute concept album sound collage. For whatever reason, the band decided to pull back from that and release an actual album. But this track contains 3 minutes from that original collage concept (there’s also a 23 minute version out there on vinyl which I must track down). And man – it’s awesome. I mean, it’s a completely ridiculous jumble of sounds, but it’s glorious. Heartbreaking to know that this was the plan for the entire album, and I do wonder why those plans changed – these guys certainly aren’t the type to edit themselves in that way normally.

After that, you get the equally bizarre “U.F.O. Story”, about half of which is just Wayne druggily telling a story about seeing a U.F.O. with no music backing him. But then it launches into this shockingly cool piano solo that is unlike anything they’ve done before (or, in some ways, since). It’s just this haunting, lovely piano only melody that goes on for about 2 minutes. And all of a sudden, after 3 albums of craziness, you see that these are real honest to God musicians buried behind these levels of fuzz. I’m including all of “U.F.O. Story” here. I wouldn’t begrudge you skipping the story intro, but I strongly urge you to listen from about 4:20 on for the piano part.

U.F.O. Story

Things never reach that high point again, though there is some other good stuff in the 2nd half including a swank harmonica bit in “Redneck School of Technology” (which is in the video below) and beautiful, lush, emotional build at the end of “Begs and Achin’” to close out the album.

In the end, much of this is pretty forgettable, but the highlights are obvious experiments that pay off spectacularly. The bummer of this album is that they didn’t take that experimentation as far as they considered, and ended up with something a bit watered down compared to the other early material.

But no matter, because just after this they got a new drummer, new guitarist, new producer, and everything changed...

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