Album review: The Flaming Lips' 'The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends'

Anyone who’s ever seen the Flaming Lips in concert knows the band has never lacked for ambition: their performance Dec. 31, 2004, at Madison Square Garden, for example, was a full-on spectacle marked by confetti, furry dancers, acid-soaked video and giant balloons, and that was just the first song. Of a set opening for the headliner, Wilco.

Sometimes the band’s reach exceeds its grasp, though. “The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends” (Warner Bros.), a Record Store Day vinyl piece given wider release this week (as the band attempts to break Jay-Z’s record for performing the most concerts in 24 hours in multiple cities), is certainly an ambitious album that gathers together collaborators as disparate as Yoko Ono, Erykah Badu, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Ke$ha. Yet that same scattershot quality makes for an hour-long collection that never really finds its focus. In fact, it may never have been looking for one.

The songs are full of the squawking electronics and powerhouse beats that have become Lips trademarks, but the album as a whole often drifts without necessarily cohering. That’s curious, because most of the 12 songs work by themselves just fine: James slips his airy voice comfortably into the busy, clangorous “That Ain’t My Trip,” and Neon Indian lays down a spacious, spare electro foundation for reverberating bursts of noirish guitar and squealing noise on “Is David Bowie Dying?” Erykah Badu’s ghostly vocals helps make the atmospheric, 10-minute version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” into one the Lips’ more memorable covers (and controversies), but Ke$ha is largely wasted (in every sense, probably) on “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded),” while Ono’s “Do It!” mostly just consists of her barking the refrain over a steady, loose rhythm.

The Flaming Lips’ albums at least as far back as 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin” seemed meant to be consumed as albums — they were of a piece. In that respect, “Heady Fwends” is the band’s true entrée into the digital realm, with stand-alone songs perfect for mixes or playlists that don’t work all that well together.

— Eric R. Danton

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