By Jack Alcott
Listening Room music critic
Formed in 1983, The Flaming Lips cut their teeth playing Oklahoma City’s underground punk and new wave clubs, gradually evolving into one of the most experimental and original bands on the national scene.
With 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” they burned their way onto the airwaves with memorable trance tunes like “Do You Realize?,” their first single. Since then, the Lips have won several Grammy Awards, including two for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
“Embryonic” the group’s 12th album, follows up on 2006’s critically hailed “At War with the Mystics,” and was recorded in Fredonia, N.Y., and Oklahoma City.
The Lips are well-know on the concert circuit now for artsy and outrageous live performances that often include various pyrotechnics and other special effects — such as frontman Wayne Coyne singing from inside a clear plastic bubble lofted above concertgoers on a sea of upraised hands.
The Okie eccentrics’ latest venture into the musical nethersphere does not disappoint. From the opening track, “Convinced of the Hex,” Coyne’s vocals ride high above an electric storm of ambient bleats, electronic honks and buzzy explosions, all somehow held together by airy melodies and wave upon wave of fuzzed-out guitar, deranged synthesizer and Kliph Scurlock’s crazed, propulsive drumming.
Coyne’s voice alternately soars, croons, pleads and intones over a wash of harmonies that lend the music an otherworldly beauty.
Clearly these guy’s are descendants of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, early ‘70s Amon Düül, The Moody Blues and San Francisco’s much darker Tuxedomoon during that band’s “Half Mute” days, circa 1980. All with a megadose of Eno.
Interesting word combinations are as important to Coyne as droning chord changes, and his writing takes on a kind of trippy poetry with titles like “Gemini Syringes” and “Silver Trembling Hands.”
A little bit of whimsy goes a long way, though, and Coyne does sometimes overdo it — but so what? The passion is there and he’s having fun — and so will fans.
About midway through the CD, the Lips dig into “The Ego’s Last Stand” with some muscular guitar riffs that make you wish the band had injected more rhythm and blues into the mix.
Back in the early ‘80s when they were just gaining an audience, the other great underground band in Oklahoma City was The Fortune Tellers, led by the brothers Basile and Miho Kolliopoulos, two Greek expatriates who somehow managed to play the most snarling, overdriven electric blues and hypnotic R&B swamp-raunch this side of a Mississippi roadhouse (think Fat Possum records on ouzo and meth).
Well, The Fortune Tellers have recently reformed and Coyne & Crew could take a lesson in grit from their Greek-Okie peers.
Maybe on their next galactic outing.