7. Zaireeka (1997)
In theory, this could be one of many Zaireeka reviews, but I was rubbish at combinatorial math, so this will cover a one-CD mix of the four CDs. Yes, the Flaming Lips may be the only act in history to release a quadruple album before the double. The project originated in 1996-97, with the band's Parking Lot Experiments: dozens of cars playing unique pieces of a composition (one of them was "Should We Keep The Severed Head Awake??," which ended up on The Soft Bulletin as the instrumental "Sleeping On The Roof"). According to Mark Richardson's 33⅓ book on Zaireeka, the band dreamed about a 100-CD home version before talking themselves down to four discs. It was never intended as a "proper" album, or even a stopgap release -- Warner Bros. would not distribute Zaireeka until the band agreed it wouldn't count toward their seven-album obligation.
In the liner notes to The Soft Bulletin, Coyne writes about taking a walk in Western New York during the recording sessions. The "soundlessness" he experienced -- just the dim hum of nature coupled with his own breathing -- really freaked him out. That's not how most people think. I would wager that the average person sees silence as a valued thing, and proper maintenance of acoustic ecology as a worthy pursuit. Not so the Flaming Lips. Zaireeka is a sonic splatterfest, laced with infinitely stacked screams, demented Hollywood synth ascensions, and Geneva Convention-flouting high and low frequencies. Occasionally, Ivins's simple bass ostinatos provide a fixed point (as on opener "Okay I'll Admit That I Don't Really Understand," a fine companion piece to Radiohead's millennial Weltschmerz-core), but time after time, the Lips bomb meter into the ground with freeform aural assault.
All of this would be difficult enough to digest in a single-disc format. But, infamously, the band parceled tracks onto four discs designed to be played simultaneously. Or designed not to, since Coyne and company were very aware of the different load times and miniscule-but-crucial differences in playback between any two CD players. For those who acquired a copy of the record, trying to overcome these challenges was part of the appeal (as was the creative agency and group listening that Zaireeka demanded). For those who didn't, it didn't matter; like any great work of conceptual art, just hearing the project's premise was enough to make this release a major part of the band's legend.
No matter how it's heard, it's still one hell of a statement. Genial humor, un-self-serious creative restlessness, Coyne's melodic gifts, Drozd's physical drumming, a knack for earworm guitar figures, the band's desire to surprise and delight: They all come together here. And Soft Bulletin's beloved opaque, keening synths got their first workout here. The Lips aren't dumb; they knew that following one of the oddest major-label releases in history with a universalist pop record could only boost their rep. And it did.