The Flaming Lips – Clouds Taste Metallic

cloudstastemetallicThe psonics are cute – pretty but hard, as befits a hippie punk band – but only half the loony tunes sink in.

As a document of where the band’s head was, Clouds Taste Metallic has its place. The Lips toy with the studio, producing a kind of symphonic grunge. Of special note is the guitarist, Ronald Jones, whose noodle-slides and fuzzy licks define the album and this stage in the band’s career. (Think: Syd Barrett via Led Zeppelin, as fronted by Wavy Gravy.)

Later, on The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and parts of At War With the Mystics (overt to near-overt concept albums, one and all), Wayne Coyne sings much the same – “We’re out there but in here” – thumping his heart, looking up, and beseeching the stars: a determined, optimistic avowal of childlike innocence, of maintaining your equilibrium by smiling, laughing, and making a practical choice to hope despite (or because of) life. On Clouds, the band clouds the message. It’s willfully weird, but it lingers1. I’m not sure they even knew they made a concept album.

And what, pray tell, is that concept? Well, dip deep and you’ll hear a sad, cracked tale about a group of scientists who, having abandoned a hospital spaceship, run a zoo, on Earth or some interstellar landscape. They conduct experiments on each other and the animals, all in a vain but noble effort to save themselves from themselves. The animals pity the humans. Images are Cronenbergian: a man with a magical head-wound; a lobotomized man who laughs with a giraffe; a scientist whose head explodes. Needles carpet the ground. The album is a druggy Z movie shot in widescreen, to which only the soundtrack remains.

And some reels are missing.

1Distorted and obscure, Embryonic (2009) harkens back to this approach.

Rating: B-

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