|The Soft Bulletin||1999||2.90/pi|
Main lineup: Wayne Coyne: guitars, vocals. Michael Ivins: bass. Steven Drozd: drums, since 1992.
Other personnel: Mark Coyne: vocals, until 1985. Richard English: drums, until 1988. Nathan Roberts: drums, 1988–92. Jonathan Donahue: guitars, 1990–92. Ronald Jones: guitars, 1992–96.
It’s rare for me to fall in love with an album from the moment it comes on, but this was one of those instances. I pressed play, and what did I hear? A spine-crushing synth-pop gem with warbled lyrics about scientists sacrifing their lives to save the universe. That was my introduction to the Flaming Lips, and it was a damn good one indeed.
The most obvious feature here is the sonic palette: ultra-bombastic orchestral synthesizer stylings with blasting drums that could have, in lesser hands, become a limp “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” pastiche. Here, the arrangements resonate with utter sincerity—Wayne Coyne’s lyrics perfectly balance their goofiness with genuine emotion. This is no parody, but the band doesn’t take itself too seriously, either.
The Soft Bulletin is, roughly speaking, a concept album about vast armies of scientists, mathematicians, superheroes, and various others battling to lift up the sun every morning. But Coyne uses this scenario as the perfect excuse to wander off into love, life, religion, and existential angst. He milks his convoluted metaphor for all it’s worth, turning songs like “Waitin’ for a Superman” and “The Gash” into improbably inspirational quasi–sci-fi anthems.
There is one little weakness that keeps the album from perfection: the sound can get slightly monotonous. It would be nice to hear the band set their guitars to “rock” once or twice, like we know they’re capable of. But don’t let that discourage you! Just turn up the volume and repeat after Wayne: “Theyyy’re just huuumans with wives and children…”