2019 has been a year jam-packed with special album anniversaries. Pixies ‘Doolittle’ turned 30 in April, Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ hit the same age in June, Blink 182’s stand-out, ‘Enema of the State’ hit 20 as did Red Hot Chilli Peppers ‘Californication’. Joining that list in a big way is the album that set the Flaming Lips alight, ‘The Soft Bulletin’. The band’s ninth studio album was the turning point for the Oklahoma group, a notion that frontman Wayne Coyne realises.
“We were so lucky that when it first came out it was really picked up by the people that were really hungry for a cool meaningful record and we thought well this is great. If you had have asked me back then if in 20 years we would be talking about this record, I would have just said ‘oh no, no’,” says Coyne. “Since the album came out in 1999 we’ve always kind of played it…we’ve always kind of been with it so it’s never really left us.”
It never really left fans either. After 20 years the album is still considered a masterpiece along with its follow up, the 2002 ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’. Whether it’s the obscure layers of psychedelics, intricate arrangements and sonic exploration or the deeply emotive and thought-provoking lyrics, the album permanently branded fans, critics and new-comers.
“We got extremely lucky early on in the recording of [The Soft Bulletin] because we weren’t trying to be commercial and we weren’t trying to sound like anything on the radio or any of that sort of stuff, which we wouldn’t have had a clue of any of that stuff,” Coyne says. “We just were just trying to make this record that we really, really loved and we didn’t really care if anybody loved it the same way we did. I think it’s when you say these innermost secret things about yourself that you think no one else believes this…that music can turn into this universal thing because everybody is probably thinking those things but they don’t have a vehicle by which to say them or sing about them and that’s exactly the great mission of being a songwriter and being in The Flaming Lips.”
I do think the state of mind that I was trying to express was also intertwined with the state of mind that Steven [Drozd] was trying to express but also with Dave Fridmann, our producer, so we would reach a lot of moments where we could say ‘we don’t really know what we’re trying to do but we would know what we were not trying to do’.”
Since the standout album, The Flaming Lips have released a further eight studio albums, including this years’ concept album for an art installation, ‘King’s Mouth: Music and Songs’ featuring narration by the legendary Mick Jones, each of which has been entirely different from The Soft Bulletin. But the boys have no desire to replicate the masterpiece, nor does Coyne think they can.
“I think there’s really no way that we would ever be able to make another record like The Soft Bulletin because the three of us would never be in that state of mind again. We made The Soft Bulletin as this little journey that we all were on. It was about the journey of being an optimistic sensitive person believing the world was great and wonderful,” Coyne explains. “The Soft Bulletin album was really our way, I think of saying ‘we’re not really freaks’.”
The Flaming Lips will be in Australia Thursday 3 and 4 October as part of Melbourne International Arts Festival, playing The Soft Bulletin in full. You don’t want to miss it. Tickets at Melbourne International Arts Festival website.
Written by Tammy Walters
Photo by George-Salisbury