Rewind: The Flaming Lips’ Clouds Taste Metallic
[Originally posted on TIDAL Read]
With TIDAL Rewind, we blow the dust off an old album that’s begging to be heard again. Here we look back at The Flaming Lips beloved 1995 album, Clouds Taste Metallic, which was just given the deluxe reissue treatment in celebration of its 20th anniversary.
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What is Clouds Taste Metallic?
Released on September 19, 1995, Clouds Taste Metallic is the seventh album by The Flaming Lips.
After ten years and six albums together, it was their first record to achieve commercial success and their last album to include guitarist Ronald Jones, whose departure marks the end of an era for the Lips, before Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, and Michael Ivins reinvented the group as psychedelic sonic scientists known for grandiose live performances, weird and creative stunts, and frequent collaborations.
The album’s title is said to refers to the flavor of LSD on the tongue.
What does it sound like?
As the final record featuring Jones, whose departure was largely a reaction to drummer Steven Drozd’s heroin addiction, Clouds Taste Metallic is the last of their albums with a straight-forward alternative rock sound, though it already marked a shift for the band.
Despite an lack of ostensive commercial viability, the Flaming Lips were signed to Warner Bros. in 1992 during the post-Nevermind rush by major labels to find the next Nirvana. But save for their surprise MTV hit, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” their first two Warner LPs – Hit to Death in the Future Head (1992) and Transmissions from the Satellite Heart (1993) – didn’t make much of an impression.
Taking “She Don’t Use Jelly” as a hint, Clouds Taste Metallic found the band finding a noticeably more soft and friendly quality to their songs, as is best heard in melancholy opener, “The Abandoned Hospital Ship,” and later cuts like “This Here Giraffe,” “Brainville” and “Bad Days.” The album also reveals the maturation of Coyne’s emotional, existential songwriting, which would come to fully blossom on The Soft Bulletin in 1999.
As Pitchfork wrote in their recent reissue review:
“[Clouds Taste Metallic is] a sturdy wood-paneled shrine to the band’s teenage rec-room touchstones, channeling the shortwave frequencies of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the fuzz-toned boogie of The Slider, the rustic splendor of After the Gold Rush, the thundering thrust of Houses of the Holy, and a Revolver-like balance of kid-friendly frivolity and strobe-lit freakery.”
Why should I care?
The Flaming Lips are a band without comparison. Although the early catalog is full of overlooked moments of brilliance – dating back to “With You” off their 1985 debut – Clouds Taste Metallic is the band’s first truly great album, and marks a major tipping point in their career.
Eschewing Replacements-style rock for a more pioneering indie sound, the record has been cited as a major influence by numerous bands that emerged in the 2000s, including Arcade Fire, whose 2004 debut, Funeral, bears a strong sonic, lyrical and thematic resemblance. Many fans, along with critics like Stereogum, even claim it as the greatest Flaming Lips album of them all.
Where do I hear more?
Like few bands manage to do, the Flaming Lips have continually evolved over their 30 year career, and they remain endlessly creative and confident.
Though less celebrated, the first period of their career is well worth a visit.
Following Clouds, the band released the highly-experimental Zaireeka, which came with 4 CDs that you were supposed to play from different stereos at the same time. The album famously received a tongue-in-cheek 0.0 rating from Pitchfork, due to the reviewer’s frustration trying to actually listen to it. Current Editor-in-Chief Mark Richardson would later celebrate the album in a book for the 33 1/3 series.
The Soft Bulletin (1999) is widely regarded as the Flaming Lips’ defining masterpiece, and it’s a gorgeous album where songwriting, sonic experimentation and conceptualism all come together. The band became ever more poppy and commercially appealing with the wonderful Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002), with lead single, “Do You Realize?,” easily being their their biggest song to date. The album was also adapted into a musical in 2012.
Though still full of gooey sonic strangeness, At War With the Mystics (2006) is another pop-friendly affair, while their double-length epic, Embryonic (2009), and their latest LP, The Terror (2013), assure all that the Flaming Lips can still get dark, dense and weird.
In addition to proper studio albums and an ongoing tour schedule, Coyne and the Lips are constantly busy with various creative endeavors – to a degree that it’s overwhelming to keep up with.
Well-known for their love of the holidays, they recorded a several Christmas standards, an experimental Christmas album, and spent years working on the low-budget art film Christmas on Mars (2008). They’ve recorded full-length cover albums of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and they frequently do covers for charity and tribute records, as well as in their live shows.
Fierce collaborators as of late, they recorded the 2012 album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, with Ke$ha, Bon Iver, Tame Impala, Nick Cave and Yoko Ono and more. The cast of players on the Sgt. Pepper’s album, titled With a Little Help From My Fwends, included Miley Cyrus, My Morning Jacket, J Mascis, Tegan & Sara, Foxygen, Phantogram and Moby.
Most recently the band worked with Miley Cyrus on her recent 23-track experimental album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
For a fascinating look inside one of rock’s most creative minds, we highly suggest you read our very memorable conversation with Wayne Coyne in support of last year’s With A Little Help From My Fwends, where we talk about the genius of The Beatles, the band’s relationship with Cyrus and his hardcore addiction to creating.