First things first, as promised:
“Hey is that the Flaming Lips?”
“Well it’s not Michael Bolton.”
For a band that has released Zaireeka, made a movie in their backyard featuring an army of marching vaginas, and done more acid than most of us could ever dream of, this remains one of the weirdest moments in their career. You really, really should watch it.
TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART (1993)
This is the point that a lot of people, myself included, check into the Lips chronology. I remember hearing “She Don’t Use Jelly,” being intrigued by its odd qualities, and stumbling across the disc in a used record bin for $7 in Ohio. I bought and, and, well, it hooked me. I’m listening to that very copy right now.
To get the bio stuff out of the way – at this point we’ve lost Donahue and Roberts. They were replaced (respectively) by guitarist Ronald Jones and, of course, drummer Steven Drozd. This is the line-up that in many ways I still think of when I consider the Lips as a unit. Drozd in particular is a massively important addition to the band, as his drumming is just head and shoulders above anything they’ve had previously. When he really cuts lose (like at the end of “Slow Nerve Action”) you can see that he adds that one final missing element to the band – the kind of thing you didn’t even notice was missing, but once it’s there it’s so obvious. I mean, come on, listen to this thing:
Overall, it’s taken my awhile to hear this album as something other than “the album with ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ on it.” But, that song removed, it’s another really strong album that continues the direction they’ve been going in. They really push that crazy, frenetic joy sound here that they started on Hit to Death – take a listen to something like “Turn It On” for that endless joy that made these guys a nice change of pace from your Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden world. Of course, at the same time, they are able to maintain their freaky weirdness. Again, “Turn It On” has a great simple pop structure, but then really runs off the rails (in the best possible way) at the end, and lets their early drug years seep in.
Sometimes those freaky elements do get in the way though. “Oh My Pregnant Head (Labia in the Sunlight…)” is a pretty drab spacey number and, on retrospect, shows the kind of slow, spacey pace that characterizes much of their current sound. But that’s an exception. More often, they find a great balance. Fridmann in particular really shines here, as he has mastered that full on wall of sound. There’s just so much going on in each song, but he still keeps it all under control – the way the main guitar lick in “Pilot Can at The Queer of God” becomes more and more prominent each time is just a great example.
Of course, then there’s “She Don’s Use Jelly.” I’m not really sure what to say about this one. It’s the kind of song that I can’t even listen to it as just a regular song on the album – when it comes on it’s like everything just stops for a moment, we hear this single, then we’re back to the album. That’s not a condemnation of it or how it fits in, it just has such a life of its own that it’s hard to evaluate. I will say this – it’s a mighty fun song still to this day, and it is the first time they really nail that quiet verse/loud chorus structure they’ve always toyed with. It’s not completely different from everything else, but remains a bit of an anomaly in their catalog – more of a novelty song than normal. The fact that they never really tried to recapture that novelty hit says a lot about them. I don’t know though – what’s your take on this song?
I leave you with one bit of miscellany – the totally fantastic “Turn It On (Bluegrass Version)” from the “She Don’t Use Jelly” single. Listen to it – love it.
"Turn It On (Bluegrass Version)"