The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin
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So where does a band go after releasing the most defiantly experimental record of its career? If you're the Flaming Lips, you keep rushing headlong into the unknown -- The Soft Bulletin, their follow-up to the four-disc gambit Zaireeka, is in many ways their most daring work yet, a plaintively emotional, lushly symphonic pop masterpiece eons removed from the mind-warping noise of their past efforts. Though more conventional in concept and scope than Zaireeka, The Soft Bulletin clearly reflects its predecessor's expansive sonic palette. Its multidimensional sound is positively celestial, a shape-shifting pastiche of blissful melodies, heavenly harmonies, and orchestral flourishes; but for all its headphone-friendly innovations, the music is still amazingly accessible, never sacrificing popcraft in the name of radical experimentation. (Its aims are so perversely commercial, in fact, that hit R&B remixer Peter Mokran tinkered with the cuts "Race for the Prize" and "Waitin' for a Superman" in the hopes of earning mainstream radio attention.) But what's most remarkable about The Soft Bulletin is its humanity -- these are Wayne Coyne's most personal and deeply felt songs, as well as the warmest and most giving. No longer hiding behind surreal vignettes about Jesus, zoo animals, and outer space, Coyne pours his heart and soul into each one of these tracks, poignantly exploring love, loss, and the fate of all mankind; highlights like "The Spiderbite Song" and "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" are so nakedly emotional and transcendentally spiritual that it's impossible not to be moved by their beauty. There's no telling where the Lips will go from here, but it's almost beside the point -- not just the best album of 1999, The Soft Bulletin might be the best record of the entire decade.