Experimentation is always welcome in music, artists that take their talents and spread them into obscure territory is quite welcome for my tastes. But, I still can’t make heads or tails over what The Flaming Lips have done over the past few years with their songs that go for hours and encasing these releases in gummy skulls and fetuses.
The Flaming Lips have always been odd, but these releases showed the group trying too hard to be “out there”. The band’s best moments were on The Soft Bulletin, and there’s some very basic pop songs there that rank with their best work.
All this being said, I was anticipating The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, hoping for a slight return to the sounds that made The Flaming Lips so great. Heady Fwends is an entire album done with other artists ranging from Nick Cave to Ke$ha. Some of the songs from this set were previously released on EP’s last year with Yoko Ono, Neon Indian and Lightning Bolt.
The most surprising of all the collaborations opens the record with Ke$ha on “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)”. Loud guitars come crashing in and Ke$ha’s vocals are hit-and-miss throughout the entire song. The bridge slows the song down and keeps the chaos at bay, before the entire thing takes off again. It’s one of the few moments where a song on Heady Fwends is actually a song.
“Ashes In The Air” is spaced out like Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Bon Iver makes an appearance, but it’s not enough to really add anything to the song. The spacey atmosphere pops up again on “I’m Working at NASA on Acid” with Lightning Bolt. It’s a long, eight minute song that sounds like OK Computer Radiohead. The slower mood fits well for both artists, but there’s a cool segment where all hell breaks loose.
Edward Sharpe pops up on “Helping The Retarded to Know God” with some acoustic guitars and really nice melody, but there’s just enough Flaming Lips freakness to make it fit with the rest of the album.
Plenty of songs on here are among the most frantic and crazy tracks that The Flaming Lips have ever recorded. With “Superman Made Me Want to Pee” there’s some big drums and fuzz bass that go on while some vocals reach into a high range.
“That Ain’t My Trip” is ridiculous with it’s distorted guitar and massive strings and bells. Jim James of My Morning Jacket brings his soulful vocals in and sings the oddest lyrics on the album about a partner wanting to shave his balls, but “That ain’t my trip”.
Nick Cave brings his freakness into the mix with “You, Man? Human???”. Cave sounds even more manic than he did on Grinderman, and the distorted guitars are a perfect match. Yoko Ono come in on “Do It!”, and while it might be the most simple song on the album with Ono singing “Do it!” over and over again. It’s still very interesting to listen to with the sloppy bass and thick atmosphere.
The only point where Heady Fwends settles down too much and doesn’t bring enough weirdness to the mix is on the Roberta Flack cover “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” with Eryka Badu. Not only does the song not go far enough for the vocalist or The Flaming Lips, it goes on for ten minutes.
“Girl, You’re So Weird” is one of the best songs here with some great production to open the song and the double tracked vocals are quite eerie. It tries to hit for a really big song, but it’s always at the level of the other songs Heady Fwends. The volume get’s really loud and just when you’d expect it to keep going, it drops off and then veers off into another set of sounds with repeated vocals.
The final song (on the vinyl version), “I Don’t Want You to Die” takes the first few lines from John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the basic piano style. The song is perfect way to close the album with Chris Martin adding in some vocals that don’t really add too much, but it fits in just right.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends is more than a massive collaboration LP, it stands as another really good (at times fantastic) Flaming Lips LP. The weirdness that makes The Flaming Lips stand out is in full capacity here, but it’s never over indulgent. Much like 2009′s Embryonic, Heady Fwends is filled with experimentation and while that comes at the cost of having a song or two fall flat, there’s so many songs here that fit in with The Flaming Lips’ best material. It’s an odd album, and while every song doesn’t flesh out into full song, it works. Despite all the featured artists, Heady Fwends works an album, and it’s one of the best experiences The Flaming Lips have ventured on in a while.
Rating: 7.8 out of 10.