Wayne Coyne must be the most popular person in music. Is it his overarching weirdness? His relentless creativity? Or his boundless optimism which casts him as the musical pied piper of this new century? After listening to The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, it’s apparent that what likely draws people to Wayne Coyne is that he’s just a fun dude.
Rather than being anything close to a studio-follow up to 2009’s Embryonic (that comes later this year, apparently), Heady Fwends sees the Lips having a bunch of fun in the studio with the most eclectic array of artists they could muster. From the a-typical rock and roll weirdos (Nick Cave, Edward Sharpe, Tame Impala) to avant-garde stalwarts (Yoko Ono, Lightning Bolt) to, well…Ke$ha.
It’s the latter who helps kick the album off; with ‘2012 (You Must Be Upgraded).’ A cocksure take on The Stooges’ ‘1969’, it’s a decisive opener which blends a freewheelin’ spontaneity with a science fiction despair which lends the album more cohesion than it ought to have. Ke$ha bursts out of the blocks, demanding “put me under your acid spell”; but what follows is a ‘bad trip, man’. Eerie synths swarm with guitar screeches; and all the while “the end is near”.
The scene doesn’t get prettier on the Bon Iver-fused ‘Ashes in the Air’, instead coming across like the soundtrack to Ziggy Stardust’s funeral. In the truly ramshackle spirit of the album, the track was sent via email between the Lips and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon; they all still have yet to meet.
‘Helping the Retarded to Know God’ is more optimistic than its predecessors. Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert’s fragile baritone fits in well with Coyne’s creaky falsetto, as the pair recount a story of bullies attacking a mentally ill girl from Coyne’s childhood.
For the most part, the album’s at its best when things are at their weirdest. The drum and bass groove of ‘Do It!’ plays with Yoko Ono’s screams and guitar squeals, and provide one of the album’s highlights. Similarly, hearing Jim James sing “you always want to shave my balls/ that ain’t my trip” atop apocalyptic choirs and bombs dropping-guitar white noise is pretty fucking entertaining.
Heady Fwends is a double edged sword however. It’s fun, but nothing within moves beyond that. Aside from the ghostly, epic, Erykah Badu infused cover of the Ewan McCall/ Roberta Flack tune ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’; there are no points at which you take things all that seriously. If that’s an issue, you might not enjoy it. Similarly, it’s unlikely any Ke$ha fans are going to become Flaming Lips converts as a result of the album.
But for diehard fans, or even those semi-acquainted with just how psychedelic The Flaming Lips can be, Heady Fwends is great fun. On an album this weird, the only real problem is that the Nick Cave helmed track ‘You, Man? Human???’ wasn’t called ‘Vampire Goes out with Underage Lifeguard Gal That’s Into S&M’ as originally intended.
- Alastair Matcott
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