Home Geek LifeCulture Vinyl Me, Please October Edition: The Flaming Lips – ‘The Soft Bulletin’

Vinyl Me, Please October Edition: The Flaming Lips – ‘The Soft Bulletin’

by Patrick Phillips
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Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives. With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club, it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month … in their living room.

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The Skinny

Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (plans start at $25/month) and they send you one carefully selected album they feel is an Essential addition to any record collection. Easy, right? Each custom pressing (often on colored vinyl!) also comes with killer special features like original artwork, informative booklets, and even a recipe for a companion cocktail. You’ll have membership privileges in the VMP shop too, which means you can grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including their flawless Classics edition of The Lightmen Plus One’s spiritual jazz jammer Energy Control Center – not to mention a bevy of rare releases pressed exclusively for the folks at Vinyl Me, Please. The store is open, and Team VMP are dropping fresh new selections to their stock every single week. Do not miss out.

Word to the wise, while the store is open to the public, most of its more covet-worthy stock is only available to members, so you’ve gotta sign up to get your mitts on them. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection over to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you don’t like for a past AOM (or other VMP Exclusive pressings) that’s a little more your speed. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.

So what’s in the box for October? Nothing short of an eye-popping, ear-charming 20th anniversary reissue of The Flaming Lips’ 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin.

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The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

In celebration of their super slick reissue of The Soft Bulletin, Team VMP added limited pressings of a couple of too-oft overlooked classics from The Flaming Lips catalogue in Clouds Taste Metallic, and At War With The Mystics. As Clouds Taste Metallic is the album that introduced me to the The Flaming Lips’ unique brand of psych madness, I went ahead and made myself a Flaming Lips box for October.

Also, just a quick reminder here to check your box carefully upon opening, because the folks at Vinyl Me, Please have seriously upped their sticker game in recent months. And they went all out with this glow in the dark number for October.

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For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND

Ok, I’d be willing to guess that there were two distinct factions of reaction to news that Vinyl Me, Please had selected The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin as their October Essentials pick. Faction 1 are the bunch most likely to do an over-the-top dramatic face palm at the knowledge that the beyond brilliant The Soft Bulletin is turning 20 years old in 2019. Faction 2, on the other hand, were more likely to be scratching their heads and wondering why the hell Vinyl Me, Please were giving that album by this band the spotlight.

Just for the record, it’s the humble opinion of this narrator that the folks in Faction 2 are, in fact, out of their fucking minds … ’cause The Soft Bulletin isn’t just one of the best albums The Flaming Lips have ever released, it’s one of the strongest albums released by any band in the past two decades. So, to all the folks in Faction 1 (including the VMP brass who selected it as October’s Essential album), I offer the heartiest of high-fives for recognizing a legit modern masterpiece. As for you Faction 2 folk, I offer nothing but open arms in hopes you’ll finally come into the fold of The Soft Bulletin fandom, ’cause all are welcome here.

Whichever side of things you fall on, know that I’m not gonna waste a lot of time here bestowing praise any more on The Flaming Lips or The Soft Bulletin. Mostly because if you know the band and the album, you really don’t need me to convince you. And if you don’t, there’s really nothing I can say about said band or album that will fully convey what it’s like to listen to either.

That said, I should at least provide a little context for why the album stands out amongst The Flaming Lips’ frenetically fascinating 17 album discography. First and foremost, when The Soft Bulletin landed in the Spring of 1999, it literally could not have sounded less like the band Lips fans had come to know and love over the course of their eight prior releases. After all, that band had spent more than a decade churning out album after album of entrancing, blindingly irreverent, yet often soul-piercingly incisive garage-tinged psych rock that strayed as far as possible from music’s mainstream arena.

Still, with the release of 1993’s Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, the band found themselves with an unexpected Top 40 hit in “She Don’t Use Jelly,” a track they’d eventually play in a truly surreal appearance on TV’s Beverly Hills, 90210. They followed that release with 1996’s egregiously underrated jammer Clouds Taste Metallic, an album that subtly alludes to the titanic stylistic shifts to come. A shift that was, of course, largely enabled by the departure of O.G. Lips guitarist Ronald Jones not long after Clouds‘ release.

Sans Jones’ raging guitar acrobatics, Wayne Coyne and band were free to test the limits of their sound with their Clouds Taste Metallic followup. More than a subtle musical reinvention, The Soft Bulletin proved a full on rebirth. Gone were the crunchy riffs and irreverent revelry. Gone were the wild sonic flights of fancy and beatific bedlam. In their place were lush string arrangements, gonzo drum beats, densely layered melodies, and mercilessly introspective lyrics possessed of such vividly rendered imagery that The Soft Bulletin often feels more like a movie than a meticulously-crafted collection of psychedelic pop songs.

Of those songs, I’ll simply say they succinctly capture the sound of a band in flux. One who’d stared long and hard into the grim faces of death and addiction and other unforeseeable personal calamities. But one who’d also glimpsed a golden glimmer of light on the other side they simply could not ignore. The result is an album that sees The Flaming Lips simultaneously embracing the darkness in light and vice versa, and preaching the unbridled glory of the now in the face of wildly uncertain futures. In the end, The Soft Bulleting may not have sounded like The Flaming Lips we knew, but it somehow felt like the most Flaming Lips album The Flaming Lips had ever released. In many ways it still is. And if you haven’t yet given over to its relentlessly empathic revery, there really is no time like the present.

Cover Matters

Look, Wayne Coyne has a reputation for being a bit of a madman, and I mean that in the best possible way. Given that Coyne is very much an unknowable spirit, it’s all but impossible to try and get into the manic headspace that drives his art. As such, I won’t venture to explain what’s really going on in this cover art. But I can tell you The Soft Bulletin is a deeply personal, cinematic sort of album that invites you into the mind of The Flaming Lips in ways most of their albums don’t. Which makes me think this cover is kind of inviting one into the mind of the subject. And yeah, that cinematic aspect is probably why the album credits on the back are presented in the style of a movie poster.

Before we get to digging through VMP’s October box, let’s take a quick moment to ingest the info on The Soft Bulletin‘s hype sticker.

You’ll also want to note the the all-important foil stamp on the back of that album the forever denotes The Soft Bulletin as a Vinyl Me, Please Essential pick.

Now, if you know anything about The Flaming Lips, it’s that they really, really like doing unusual things for special releases of their albums. In the past few years alone, they’ve released discs along with chocolate skulls, an album filled with beer, and even one filled with their own blood. They didn’t go quite so far with their first VMP release, but Wayne Coyne did come up with a little something special for this new pressing of The Soft Bulletin – i.e. this absolutely brilliant lenticular (it changes at different angles) version of the album’s cover art. Gotta say, it’s pretty damn sweet.

The Soft Bulletin lenticular cover

Once you’ve had your fun with that lenticular beauty, take a couple of minutes to glance over the details on The Soft Bulletin‘s Obi-strip. In case you were wondering, this Flaming Lips stunner is actually the 82nd record of the month from Team VMP.

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There’s a few words on the backside of that strip which explain why Vinyl Me, Please selected The Soft Bulletin as their latest Essentials pick. Not that any explanation should be needed when reissuing a Flaming Lips album.

Vinyl Me, PleaseAnd if you like to have an icy adult beverage while spinning your latest vinyl score, Vinyl Me, Please has got you covered. Just check the inside flap on that Obi and you’ll find a recipe for The Soft Bulletin‘s companion cocktail, the aptly titled “Race For The Prize.” It sounds a little fruity for my taste, but it also sounds super easy to make, so I’m sure it’ll do the trick.

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Dig a little deeper in the box, and you’ll find an original 12 X 12 art print, ’cause there’s one included with every single Essentials selection. As it happens, this little beauty was actually designed by Mr. Wayne Coyne (aka The Flaming Lips’ mysterious frontman) himself.

The Soft Bulletin

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There’s no gatefold for The Soft Bulletin‘s double LP release, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t extra artwork to gaze upon inside the October dust jacket. Just have a gander at these black and white beauties of Wayne and the Gang circa 1999.

The Flaming Lips

And if you’re the sort who needs to know the exact lyrics for every song on your favorite album, the flip side of those inner sleeves are covered with Coyne’s complete lyrics from The Soft Bulletin.

As for what’s inside those sleeves, feel free to go gaga over the golden glow of that wax.

Yes, there’s two of them in there.

While Team VMP are calling that color “Mustard Yellow,” we can assure you that each of those discs will cast a glorious golden glow over any turntable.

How’s it sound? To quote the album itself, the sound The Soft Bulletin makes is, in fact, love.

Give It a Spin

So here’s the thing, there’s been a bit of chatter over the years with Vinyl Me, Please’s labeling of certain albums as Essentials. I might even have indulged in such conversation myself on occasion. I’m guessing there will be quite a few non Flaming Lips devotees who claim The Soft Bulletin doesn’t live up to that title as well. So just in case I wasn’t clear earlier, know that the people who claim The Soft Bulletin isn’t up to its Essentials label are wrong. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Point of fact, The Soft Bulletin is probably the most Essential album VMP Essentials has ever released. If you don’t understand why, I’ll just go ahead and assume you’ve never actually listened to the album. And if that’s the case, please, please, please make sure you experience this unmitigated masterpiece from The Flaming Lips via this dynamic Vinyl Me, Please pressing.

A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the official Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each and every month! And yeah, they’ve got a seriously crunchy treat in store next month with a fresh new pressing of Queens of the Stone Age’s hard-rock rager Songs For The Deaf, see you in November, Kids!

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