Headliners: The Flaming Lips

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

With Embryonic, their first album since 2006's disappointing At War With the Mystics, the Flaming Lips have tackled that age-old rock opus, the double album. They'll preview songs from the lengthy collection Friday at LC Pavilion.

Whether Wayne Coyne and company came closer to the epic scope of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti or the self-indulgent failure of Bob Dylan's Self Portrait remains to be seen - the album drops Oct. 13, and nobody's sent us a review copy yet. (Ahem!)

So let's look back instead, album by album, to track the recorded history of these "Fearless Freaks" from Oklahoma.

Hear It Is (1986)

The Lips' debut is a roughshod collection that jumps from navel-gazing folk to riff-heavy punk to jangly REM-influenced pop within the first three songs. There's hardly a trace of today's Lips in there.

Oh My Gawd!!! (1987)

Everything about the previous record got bigger, brighter and weirder on another patchwork quilt of acid tabs from the band's early days. The ceiling is bendin' indeed.

Telepathic Surgery (1989)

By now, the band was becoming one of the most reliably unpredictable acts in underground rock. Coyne's mastery of melody began to really rear its head on "Chrome Plated Suicide."

In a Priest-Driven Ambulance (1990)

This, the Lips' lone record with Mercury Rev's Jonathan "Dingus" Donahue as a full-time member, represents the band's first big artistic leap. Coyne's wavering Neil Young croon is in full bloom at last as his band begins to sound less like a bunch of acid casualties and more like drug-addled geniuses.

Hit To Death in the Future Head (1992)

The Lips benefited from major labels' post-Nirvana pilfering of the underground, signing with Warner Bros. and unveiling this psychedelic pop benchmark.

Transmissions From the Satellite Heart (1993)

Never have the band's bubblegum instincts shone brighter than on this shambling, glistening set, which yielded alternative-rock hit "She Don't Use Jelly."

Clouds Taste Metallic (1995)

At once the last gasp of the Lips' alt-rock era and the first glimpse of their increasingly epic ambitions, Clouds Taste Metallic is also perhaps their strongest album from front to back. They still perform "Lightning Strikes the Postman" regularly, but tracks like "Placebo Headwound" and "Christmas at the Zoo" deserve a reading now and then too.

Zaireeka (1997)

In 1996 the band took a break from touring to stage several "parking lot experiments." They created dozens of sound collage cassettes and recruited motorists to blast them simultaneously from car stereos in an Oklahoma City garage. These sonic ventures led to Zaireeka, four discs intended to be played in sync. The concept was more exciting than the music therein.

The Soft Bulletin (1999)

The ambition of Zaireeka paid off on the Lips' next album, the sprawling symphonic bliss-out The Soft Bulletin. Its splendor has dimmed just a bit over the years, but in hindsight it's still one of the most wonderful works of the Lips' career.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

The visionary sounds of The Soft Bulletin gave way to the cartoon - or rather, anime - antics of a hard-nosed robot-killing gal named Yoshimi. An excellent Cat Stevens rip-off ("Fight Test") and some of the Lips' moodiest tracks highlight this commercial breakthrough.

At War With the Mystics (2006)

At times, the Lips began to sound like a self-parody on this, their weakest collection of tunes since the '80s. "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" takes kitsch too far, and many of the other tracks seem like tossed-off songs glossed over by zealous production.