Classics That Kick Asics
The Soft Bulletin was The Flaming Lips’ 5th Major Label release to date (Released on May 17, 1999), and the second attempt to establish a sound outside of the talents of guitarist Ronald Jones. The lips had steadily gained notoriety for the perverse exercise of alternative instrumentation; through the complex layers aural excitement; the niche had carved itself into an intimidating box of expectations from WB, along with limited musicians to fulfill an expressive void, reflective of the group’s identity; while dismissive of the industrial and socially awkward crisis they enveloped from an album to album basis.
When The Soft Bulletin’s predecessor Zaireeka was instituted, it created a template as to the future of recording, despite the overlook of the album’s ambition to do something separate of Jones’ ambiguously experimental nature. It was not in the norm to trust your audience to allow an orchestration it’s layers, despite being able to assemble atonement unto it’s own. Naturally, WB counted their loss, mistook them for idiots, and placed tremendous pressure regarding The Soft Bulletin’s reception; despite the knowledge that Zaireeka and The Soft Bulletin were recorded simultaneously.
The sample in “Race For The Prize” was a manipulated tape recording of Stephen Drozd playing sound modifiers through his synthesizer. A separate kit was used for the chorus (heavy kit), and the verse (soft kit) creating a fluctuation between the dynamic of the song and simulating separate musical infusions. The abandonment of guitars and distortion are prevalent upon the beginning of the album. Laying emphasis to the vulnerable lyrics scattered across what are otherwise joyous tracks.
For “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton”; (A questionable outing of Drozds’ power amidst his heroin addiction) are the lyrics “And though they were sad, they rescued everyone.” Coyne stated, “Usually you’ll say something that is somewhere within you; that you know isn’t a lyric… but you want to say it.” Drozd recollected in a Pitchfork interview sending a copy of “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” to WB executives only to hear the criticism; “ Man, those vocals sound like shit… What’s that singing he’s doing?” He further noted the initial rules of the album the band from using distortion or even electric or acoustic bass lines for the majority of the album. His rocker ego was inherently shattered once hearing from Coyne that experimental parts for A Spoonful reminded him of John Tesh.
Coyne once described the approach to the album masterfully;
“You can’t just write a song because you’re sad, you can’t just do it because something happened to you. So I think I always looked at it as; that is the type of music we should make. So I think once we’ve got a taste of that, which we have never had done previously; we were playing, She Don’t Use Jelly. I mean all of that stuff is fun, but it doesn’t demand or have that same connection as Superman, or Spoonful Weighs a Ton or Race For The Prize; where someone is invested, and this is their song. You are singing about their life and their identity now.”
While wrapping the album, the Lips shook hands, and assumed the worst to come from their experimental album. Aside of Drozd who felt assured his pop hit Race For The Prize was capable of committing some billboard acclaim. It was met desirably, allowing a multitude of opportunities for future releases, despite Drozds’ incapacitation to play live due to substance abuse.
“ The Soft Bulletin when I listen to it now, really is about despair, but there is no despair in it… I mean; sometimes you think you want to sing about despair,; but really it is about being in despair and singing.” – Wayne Coyne