The Soft Bulletin, the ninth full-length by Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips, is an unqualified masterpiece, a record so full of beauty, wonder, and generosity of spirit that the Gideons should start putting it in hotel rooms. The Lips are probably still best known for "She Don't Use Jelly," their goofy mid-90s alternative-rock hit, but at least as far back as 1987, on the nuclear nightmare "One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning," singer Wayne Coyne has been pondering the nature of the cosmos and the problem of evil. A sense of millennial doom hangs over the new record--the melancholy "Waitin' for a Superman" hints that no messiah could possibly bail us out of this mess--yet the lyrics also show a respect for sacrifice and the power of love that seems positively utopian. The liner notes describe "What Is the Light?," a spacey ballad set against a bass-drum beat, as "an untested hypothesis suggesting that the chemical (in our brains) by which we are able to experience the sensation of being in love is the same chemical that caused the 'Big Bang' that was the birth of the accelerating universe." On The Soft Bulletin, the Lips have found an aural equivalent for that vast, mysterious, and benevolent universe, their grand orchestral arrangements dwarfing Coyne's frail, awkward tenor. The album was recorded and mixed during the same two-year sonic exploration that produced Zaireeka, a set of four CDs meant to be played simultaneously. The Soft Bulletin is only one disc, but its wide sonic palette will require the Lips to incorporate prerecorded tapes at these shows--and they'll orchestrate yet another layer of sound by distributing 500 pocket radios with headphones, tuned to an onstage FM transmitter, to members of the audience. They headline the First International Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue, a jam-packed bill that includes Sebadoh, Robyn Hitchcock, and Sonic Boom's E.A.R. Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212. J.R. JONES
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/The Flaming Lips.