Hear It Is
Oh My Gawd!!!…The Flaming Lips
In A Priest Driven Ambulance (With Silver Sunshine Stares)
Hit To Death In The Future Head
Transmissions From The Satellite Heart
By the mid-90s Compact Discs were the only game in town for listening to music. Prices had dropped and the volume being sold meant that there were constant mark-downs and clearances of excess stock in the major stores.
In the city where I live, there was one retail outlet that specialised in ‘cheap’ (you can read more about it here). Their policy was to turn the stock over quickly, meaning that there were constantly new albums arriving in mark-down bins. Needless to say, I was vacuuming up CDs at a rate of knots and wishing I’d bought shares in the company.
One album I took a chance on for a tenner ($10AUS) was the oddly titled Hit To Death In The Future Head by a band I’d never heard of, The Flaming Lips. I enjoyed its plaintive psychedelic sounds and some of the catchy songs, so when I happened across a further pair of titles a couple of weeks later, I grabbed those too. One I didn’t find a way into, the other was enjoyed but quickly smothered by the avalanche of incoming discs. Then, a few years later, The Soft Bulletin arrived and totally transformed everyone’s perception of Wayne Coyne’s band.
So it is well and truly time to re-evaluate Transmissions From The Satellite Heart (1993) which was, after all, the Lips best seller until Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots came along in 2002.
I have always loved albums that open with some kind of “calling on” song, and Transmissions delivers with “Turn it on”. There’s a snatch of radio-dial noise at the beginning before a conventionally structured song with a hummable verse and sing-along chorus. But this is The Lips, so in addition to some nicely squally guitars, there’s a swathe of electronic freakoutness at the end; the satellite heart may be turned on, but it’s drawing static.
Things get nicely weird with the second song, the strangely titled “Pilot Can at the Queer of God”, which, if you read the lyrics, is surprisingly fitting. That’s an odd song title, you think. Well, get ready for “Oh My Pregnant Head (Labia in the sunlight)”, including the following psychedelic sonnet:
When will you stop all your buzzing
Skull crushing hummingbird
Somewhere a star burns the universe
Gold eagle paints at my fingers
Can of spaghetti diseases
Hoping that you can still play guitar
I don’t think these lads spent their formative years having tea and biscuits with aged aunts and reading Wordsworth.
But it’s notable that mixed through the noise and crunchy guitars is plenty that is accessible and kinda sweet. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the bonkers single “She don’t use Jelly”. When I saw the Flaming Lips at The Palace Theatre in 2003, levitating on the sweat and volume, it was astounding to hear the audience singing along… She uses Ta-a-a-an-gerines.
There are lots of audible influences in these Flaming Lips songs, but all get subsumed into Wayne Coyne’s unique brand of acid-drenched whimsey. “Be my head”, for instance, could be an early B-side from The Nice played through mistreated speakers while “Moth in the incubator” — after an acoustic guitar around the campfire beginning — has an almost glam stomp to it. Brain-dead is how it always ends, sings Wayne.
If all that sounds a little like hard work, it’s really not. Despite Coyne’s tentative, nasal delivery, there is an eccentric cheerfulness about Transmissions From The Satellite Heart that grows (rather than diminishes) with repeated listens. As the opening song says,
Turn it on
Turn it on and all the way up
Turn it on
In your houses when you wake up
Turn it on
When you ain’t got no relation
To all those other stations
Turn it on
A series of articles about sixth albums to mark a 6th anniversary
#2 The 90s
#1 The 70s