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The Soft Bulletin

music reviewmusic reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: The Soft Bulletin

Artist: Flaming Lips
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: June 1999

Review by LarryG
4 stars out of 4

Flaming Lips have recorded for more than 15 years, making often interesting records, but it wasn't totally unjustified that, except for a novelty hit with She Don't Use Jelly, Flaming Lips had a fairly small cult following. They seemed to show they were resigned to obscurity with their last release, Zaireeka, 4 cds designed to be played simultaneously on 4 different cd players. But their new record is accessible and a very pleasant surprise.Soft Bulletin is easily their career best. It's a brilliant, breakthrough record that deserves to bring them a far wider following. Soft Bulletin resembles the Beach Boys' classic Pet Sounds. Like on that record, the music of Soft Bulletin is carefully constructed and layered and achieves moments of pure beauty. The music is lush with gorgeous keyboards and string effects. The undeniable appeal of Soft Bulletin also comes from the lyrics and vocals of Wayne Coyne. His voice is thin and shaky but has a poignant vulnerability and realness. The vocals perfectly communicate the lyrics. Though he's clearly been around, Coyne still seems to have a real sense of wonder about the world. In song after song, Coyne invokes the word "love" with a truly worshipful admiration. A Spoonful Weighs A Ton tells a mythic tale of a community who worked together to overcome adversity and "lifted up the sun", receiving the reward of love. Most of the Spiderbite Song is a sweet but fairly slight series of thanks regarding accidents to friends that didn't turn out as badly as they could have, "I'm glad it didn't destroy you cause if it destroyed you, it would destroy me." But Coyne reaches a empathetic climax on the last verse. As he sings, "love is the greatest thing your heart can know but the hole it leaves in its absence can make you feel so low", a choir and harp rise in the background. Buggin' is a joyful, uplifting song which kicks into gear on the choruses with Steven Drozd's drums. Piano and keyboards evoke an idyllic outdoor summertime scene. Coyne sings of an atmosphere thick with the buzz of love well worth appreciating even if it's accompanied by metaphoric mosquito bites and the occasional splatter of bugs against your windshield.

Race For the Prize is an irresistable single. It's the most rocking song on the album with a nice sweeping retro sound created by analog keyboards. Coyne expresses his admiration for human achievement and potential. Coyne creates a vivid image of two scientists racing each other to cure an unnamed disease. With relatively few words, a number of interesting ambiguities are raised. The characters are idolized as noble people undertaking dangerous, tremendously valuable work but they're also regular guys. They're "humans with wives and children." Should they jeopardize their lives for a greater good? The song also raises the question why they're competing, rather than working together. Waitin' for a Superman, an elegant, austere song, shows Coyne's sad resignation that things are "getting heavy" and the world doesn't always match his optimitic view. The only slightly weak moments on Soft Bulletin are a couple fairly meaningless instrumentals but they still fit within the leisurely feel of the record, adding to the sense of Soft Bulletin's affinity for dreamy 60s or 70s concept records. The music throughout the record is great. It's extremely listenable and imaginative. Soft Bulletin is a rich, mature rewarding record.



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