Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Flaming Lips

  • A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording . . . by Amateurs [Restless, 1998] Dud
  • The Soft Bulletin [Warner Bros., 1999] B
  • Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots [Warner Bros., 2002] ***
  • Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell [Warner Bros., 2003] Dud
  • At War With the Mystics [Warner Bros., 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Embryonic [Warner Bros., 2009] A-
  • With a Little Help From My Fwends [Warner Bros., 2014] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording . . . by Amateurs [Restless, 1998] Dud

The Soft Bulletin [Warner Bros., 1999]
Tiptoeing along the precipice that divides the charmingly serious from the hopelessly ridiculous, this year's Prestigious Pink Floyd Tribute by a Long-Running Band of Some Repute and Less Distinction enjoys two advantages over OK Computer and Deserter's Songs. Not only does it map out a sonic identity, the chief selling point of all these records, but it's not above pretty. And lead genius Wayne Coyne mixes up the quotidian and the cosmic in the best American psychedelic tradition, with a social dimension more grounded than the usual dystopian mishmash-heroic scientists, gosh. All that granted, however, listeners with no generational stake in how old alt bands impact history are obliged not only to contend with Coyne's wispy voice and chronic confusion, but to stifle their giggles when Steven Drozd bangs his drums all over a song mixing up summer love and mosquito bites. That is, these guys are Not Joking. Ever. Which makes them hopelessly ridiculous. B

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots [Warner Bros., 2002]
the good-versus-evil of dreams ("Fight Test," "Do You Realize??") ***

Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell [Warner Bros., 2003] Dud

At War With the Mystics [Warner Bros., 2006]
"Free Radicals" Choice Cuts

Embryonic [Warner Bros., 2009]
Although I gather there's a concept here, knowing what it is might ruin the gently wigged-out dystopianism the lyrics cozy up to. More important, it might undercut the otherwise irreducible pleasures of their exploding guitars, unworldly synths, and crazy drums. So take this articulated chaos as rock musique concrète, and use it the way we infidels use Kid A. A jumpier, scarier, more ridiculous ride, it doesn't make such suitable dinner music. But it might loosen you up enough to go in and agitate for that raise--though you probably don't have as much in the bank as Wayne Coyne should your demands rub the wrong person the wrong way. That's how dystopia is. A-

With a Little Help From My Fwends [Warner Bros., 2014]
You don't have to hate Sgt. Pepper to think it couldn't do with a little ribbing, travesty, desecration. In fact, you could love it as much as I do and think that. As hilarious sobersides from multiple generations charge indignantly that the Lips and their various beards fail to "interpret" the songs, all three modes of deconstruction are in play on this grand hoot of a fore-to-aft remake. Highlights for me include a theme statement that gains meanings it never had from its attendant distortions, a creaky "When I'm Sixty-Four," Miley Cyrus so sweet on "Lucy in the Sky," and Julianna Barwick adding just what "She's Leaving Home" cries out for--a female voice. Only "Fixing a Hole" truly fizzles. As for "A Day in the Life," yeah--the original rocks. A-

Further Notes:

New Wave [1980s]