Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Old Review: Zaireeka by The Flaming Lips

It outweighs the effort with a glorious experience.

This is an old review I did about nine months ago for the album Zaireeka by The Flaming Lips. I should say ahead of time what makes this different from any other album you've ever heard: it comes in four CD's and they're meant to be played all at once by four different CD players. The only official recordings of two of the songs on this album mixed together with all four discs are "Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair" and "Riding To Work In the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)." 

I'm not joking when I say it's one of the longest reviews I've ever done, at least for the time I had written it. Most of the time the reviews didn't take up much more than a paragraph or two, and now that my reviews are a bit more sophisticated, this one coincides much better with the reviews I've done lately. Still, it's long. It's the only review I've ever done where I spotlight each individual song on the record; I try to avoid doing that because it treats the album as a collection of songs instead a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts, which is really what albums should be.

Anyway, enjoy.

I have to start out by saying that this is a very unique album. It stands out among pretty much every other album ever made for the reason that it comes in four CD's. Now, I'm sure plenty of albums come in four CD's, but rather, this one comes ON four CD's. By that I mean the listener is supposed to listen to each CD at exactly the same time. To do this, you simply get a couple of friends together and have them all press play at the same time on four separate CD players. I didn't have anyone else around, though, so I used four players that were remote controlled, except for the computer, which served as my hub for all the remotes. The tracks themselves help out with synchronizing the CD's by having each CD say at the beginning of each track "Track number X," where X is the track, followed by having each CD sound off with its number. So, the question is, is all this technical hassle worth the product? Yes... Holy. Shit. Yes. 

The four-CD surround sound approach is not just music separated onto four players; it is an experience that I wish all of you have the opportunity to have. It is, of course, a Flaming Lips album, with psychedelic music, sounds and other odd ideas that traditional bands normally wouldn't dabble in. Four CD's played back at the same time is, after all, an odd idea in itself. I can't even begin to choose a favorite track. 

"Okay I'll Admit That I Really Don't Understand" isn't really so much a song as it's really more just random stuff all over. 

"Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)" is about a man imagining himself as the most important secret agent in the world. He imagines the pressure of that sort of importance but he ends up creating something in his mind that causes him to be very scared. It's the longest actual song (in my opinion the fourth track is less of a song because of the way it's presented) and is the second best presented, I think. I think if I had to pick a favorite song, my first thought is would probably be "Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair," which is the sad story of a commercial jet pilot who kills himself mid-flight. This is definitely the best presented, and the combination of sounds and music just cannot be expressed through text. It needs to be heard. 

"A Machine In India" is sort of based on a woman's menstrual cycle, with silly lines like "the Syrian missile guides itself into the vaginas." It's technically the longest song, but the way it is presented makes it less of a song and more a collection of sounds for various parts. One of the discs plays the vocals and acoustic guitar, while the rest play an assortment of different instruments that seem to work against the melody played on the first disc (though I think the orchestration on the third disc does a really good job melding with the first.) 

"The Train Runs Over the Camel But is Derailed By the Gnat" is a speech by a scientist who is attempting to present an idea, but instead ends up talking himself in circles. Each disc plays a different kind of song but they're woven together by the vocal melodies on each disc, and they all come together at the end to play the same organ part. 

"How Will We Know? (Futuristic Crescendos)" is, well, it's a song. That is, it's got a song. It's only about 2:30 minutes long (helpful speech in the beginning included) and the second disc is indeed playing the song. It's a great song, too. The rest of the discs are playing ringing noises at different, very high frequencies that drill into your head. It's based on an urban legend that exposure to different frequencies can cause the listener to experience premonitions. It is, of course, fake, and the band knows this, but they did it anyway just to make sure, I suppose. 

"March of the Rotten Vegetables" is an instrumental song, described as "music for a cartoon about a group of demented vegetables" who search for a new patch of soil, as there is something wrong with their old one. It's interesting to listen to and imagine what would be going on in the cartoon, though the booklet describes the song and what would be going on at the particular point in the song. 

Finally, the final song, "Big Ol' Bug is the New Baby Now" is definitely the most adorable song on the album. It's a spoken word story involving Wayne Coyne's (the frontman of The Flaming Lips) dogs set to a musical backdrop from another disc and outdoor sounds from the other two. After the story is done, the chorus line that is the title of the song is sung on repeat with the musical backdrop. At this point, if you are not smiling, you have no soul. Even if you are smiling, though, it gets torn away with the incredibly loud barking from each disc for the last 15 seconds of the song. 

Overall, if you have four CD players and a little patience, do yourself a favor and get this album right away.

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