It’s kind of amazing what a good LP pressing can do for one’s perspective on a recording.
I just got the Flaming Lips’ Record Store Day extra special edition (mail-order only colored-vinyl!) box set called Heady Nuggs, and it really is a head trip from start to finish. This set compiles their first five LPs for Warner Brothers Records, most of which have been out of print for at least 10 years on vinyl (frankly, I’d never seen the pre-Soft Bulletin albums on vinyl anywhere, any time). Even though I have all the albums on CD (and some on DVD-Audio), the exciting thing I’ve been discovering is that The Flaming Lips seem to be making different mixes for the vinyl versions of their releases. This is a great thing for the completist obsessive collector especially. Arriving to the party a bit late, relatively (I’m a fan since about 2004), I’ve not obsessed about a band this much since I got into Jeff Buckley in the ’90s, collecting every import single, b-sides, and videos. So for someone like me, it’s really a lot of fun to listen for the differences in the mixes.
Compared to the CD releases, these new LP versions sound like new recordings — really — especially on the first three, which have a presence that simply doesn’t come across the CD versions. “Hit To Death In The Future Head” reveals all it’s post-punk psychedelic glories on the pink vinyl version I have, replacing the cold, hard edges of the CD with welcoming musical details that can now be heard clearly amidst the raw rock “Sturm und Drang.” String sections and bells that I pretty much never noticed before pop out of the mix in gleeful delight. Distortion is big and fat, showcasing sweet electric guitar and amplifier tones against big strummy acoustic guitars. I think I even heard a Tabla and ersatz talking drums in there! Really, this is like listening to the album for the first time. I can say similar things for the white vinyl version of Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and the lovely orange-yellow Clouds Taste Metallic. I have read on forums that The Soft Bulletin on LP uses different takes of some songs, so I need to spend some time comparing and contrasting those details (I’ll update this story when I do).
But what becomes abundantly clear now is that there really is a continuum on The Flaming Lips albums. At first I thought they were just about the glorious triumvirate of The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi vs. the Pink Robots, and At War with the Mystics (one of my modern day audio demo discs of choice, btw). But that is not the case: the Flaming Lips really were making innovative and interesting records pretty much from the start of their tenure with Warners, all seemingly exploring themes that showed up on later records — from science fiction and UFOs to peace and love and eternity.
Yes, there is a skronk-i-ness to some of the earlier records as the band learned to experiment with producer David Friedman and his upstate NY studio. But the sonic gap is really not as wide as I’d thought from listening to the CDs. And, you know, that skronk sounds really great when you crank up your system to 11. Go on. GIve it a try it on tracks like “Moth in the Incubator” or “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles” or one of the title tracks like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2.”
And then of course there are simply some really fun — and often beautiful — songs there, too! From the anthemic “Turn it On” and their break through hit “She Don’t Use Jelly,” to later masterpieces like “Race for the Prize” and the tear-inducing “Do You Realize?” The Flaming Lips have many riches to explore. “Brainville” sounds like some lost Neil Young song by way of Melanie (“Brand New Key” comes to mind at times). And with this set, now you can enjoy all their albums in their original two-channel splendor.
While the colored vinyl versions of this set sold out quickly (only 1,000 copies pressed), there are standard black vinyl versions that were on the shelves on Record Store Day. And you can also order it directly from The Flaming Lips themselves at http://www.flaminglips.com/headynuggs/.