The Flaming Lips

I Like To Masturbate and Think Of Outer Space

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 16 Apr 2006
In Bradley Beesley's 2005 biopic 'Fearless Freaks', Wayne Coyne goes on record to state his ordinariness and that of his fellow Flaming Lips; "We're just normal guys trying to make interesting music". This was his counter to the charge levelled by Michelle Vlasimsky, their manager from 1986-1990 who sternly stated that "These were not normal guys from normal families - you're talking about freaks."

So maybe the jury's still out on that one. If you happened to catch their last appearance in these parts and observed the enormous disco mirrorballs, rabbit and frog costumes, hand puppets and giant bouncy balloons being slapped around by the audience you might suggest they plead guilty and get on with it – but there's been a strange sensibility to how the Lips' career has gone in the past decade or so.

Formed 23 years ago by Coyne and his brother Mark (the original singer), their hazy, acid-rock performed at booming levels offered only snatches of the delightful psychedelic pop that would follow. Personnel issues didn't help their consistency, with many members coming and going (including Mercury Rev's frontman Jonathan Donohue who had a fleeting stint in the 80s). Coyne realised something needed to be done, and suggested that after 8 years, the band should perhaps learn to play their instruments.

With a settled line-up providing consistency (the constants being drummer/instrumentalist Steven Drozd and bassist Michael Ivins), the Lips were finally able to plumb the recesses of their imaginations. By the late nineties they had released Zaireeka, a 4-cd set which only sounded right when all cds were played simultaneously, and conceived of the boombox experiments, where 40 volunteers with tape players were "conducted" - directed to vary the volume, speed or tone of the tape they were playing (all of which were made by the band) - by the band's lead member, Wayne Coyne.

Emboldened by positive reaction to these oddities, The Flaming Lips now had the confidence to produce 'The Soft Bulletin', the transcendental winner of multiple 'best album' awards in 1999. Tweaking that sound ever-so-slightly to include traditional catchy melodies on 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' in 2002, the Lips were suddenly among the biggest names in the industry, with an impressive line-up of celebrity friends to boot – not bad for a bunch of LSD-soaked good ole boys from Oklahoma.

This year finally sees the release of long-awaited movie 'Christmas on Mars' - its theme, funnily enough, being seasonal festivities on the red planet. Most pertinently, we get the first new LP since 'Yoshimi'. 'At War with the Mystics' is borne of a political subtext but listeners will embrace the familiar lush psychedelia and eccentric song titles. The award probably goes to 'My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (The Inner Life As Blazing Shield Of Defiance And Optimism As Celestial Spear Of Action)' but it would have been a close run thing if Mr Coyne had, as he imagined in his head, written 'It Overtakes Me' for Gwen Stefani with its intended title 'I Like To Masturbate and Think Of Outer Space'. That these Lips may never be doused.
Flaming Lips play the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on April 19.
'At War with the Mystics' is released through Warner on April 3.