Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Way-back Wednesday

In my column in Friday's weekend, I write about The Flaming Lips, who perform in New York Sunday and Monday. I talk with bassist Michael Ivins, which was a pleasant surprise since each time I've talked to a Lips member it's been Wayne Coyne. It was kind of cool to the speak with the most silent guy in the band.

So in preparation for that column, I thought we'd make this week's Way-back Wednesday about the Lips' "Hit to Death in the Future Head," the band's 1992 major-label debut. There's no doubt the group's masterpiece is 1999's "The Soft Bulletin," a record I consider one of, if not the best of that decade. And I also believe that the trio's last three discs, beginning with "Bulletin," are clearly its creative peak, but "Future Head" has a special place in my heart.

Most critics consider 1990's "In a Priest Driven Ambulance" the best disc made by the Lips during its noise-rock period, meaning pre "Transmissions From the Satellite Heart." They consider "Future Head" just a step sideways from "Priest," and although I agree that it doesn't do much sonically different than "Priest," "Future Head" features better songwriting.

From the apocalyptic "Frogs" to the Jonathan Donahue-penned "Gingerale Afternoon," the record is incredibly tight, with not a bit of filler. "Future Head" also finds Coyne and the boys experimenting with some of the pysch-heavy, acoustic-based pop of future albums on tunes like "You Have to Be Joking," which could be an outtake from "Transmissions" or "Clouds Taste Metallic."

Overall, this is just one of the discs that rewards upon repeated listens. When judging the Lips, so many use advancement as a benchmark. People won't give records that don't represent a large step forward a fair shake, and that's the problem with "Future Head": It doesn't deviate enough sonically from "Priest."

But I don't care. It's my favorite pre-"Bulletin" record and I'm sticking to that. Go take a listen and judge for yourself.

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