The Flaming Lips tweak your brain dutifully and gleefully. Whether it comes in the form of a car-stereo symphony, a four-CD set designed to be played simultaneously, or a concept album about battling pink robots, the Oklahoma City veterans have always lived to fry and fried to live, which is why listening to all five CDs in this ambitious reissue series might leave you feeling, well, toasted.
Unlike the band's two most recent albums, the emotionally intense The Soft Bulletin (1999) and this year's less-weighty Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, much of the material on Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid is the sound of a band in search of itself. The three-CD set collects the Lips' first four efforts -- The Flaming Lips (1984), Hear It Is (1986), Oh My Gawd!!! . . . The Flaming Lips (1987) and Telepathic Surgery (1988) -- in which the alien-obsessed acid rockers pay homage to everyone from goth giants Bauhaus and Joy Division to Led Zeppelin, the Stooges and, especially, psychedelic warriors Pink Floyd. The garage stomp of "Trains, Brains & Rain" and the horror punk of "Jesus Shootin' Heroin" give a glimpse of the experimentation that would mark the band's later efforts. Much of the three-disc set, though, wobbles between the Lips' shambling mini operas of guitar noise and bonus covers of songs by Sonic Youth, Zeppelin, The Who, and Neil Young. Despite the additional tracks and a mind-warping historical essay from singer Wayne Coyne, this set is for only the hard-core Lipsian.
The two-CD The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg covers the years 1989 to 1991, during which the Lips made a lunar leap in creativity on disc one's religious-themed "In a Priest Driven Ambulance" (1990). Following the departure of drummer Richard English and the addition of future Mercury Rev front man Jonathan Donahue, the Lips found the sound that would lead to their quirky 1993 hit "She Don't Use Jelly."
"Shine On Sweet Jesus," "Unconsciously Screamin'" and the poignant "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain" highlight Coyne's helium-cracked falsetto and trippy lyrics against a squall of swirling, psychedelic arrangements and tape manipulation, while the spooky acoustic songs are at once retro and (post)modern. Egg's second disc, called The Mushroom Tapes, compiles the rough 1989 demos for the album.
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After a soul-wrenching bout of self-doubt in 1989, Coyne writes in the Egg liner notes that "we looked up and saw . . . the Universe had made us . . . but the rest is up to us." It makes you wonder if the Universe had no idea what it hath wrought when it doth spun these boys loose.