The Flaming Lips, “The Soft Bulletin Companion”
The Flaming Lips
The Soft Bulletin Companion
The Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin was a watershed moment for the Oklahoma City rock band. Released in 1999, it was a moment when the group essentially started all over again with something wholly new as they reacted to the death of Wayne Coyne’s father, as well as other deaths of loved ones experienced by longtime guitarist and keyboardist Steven Drozd. Dubbed by a few bold critics at the time as the Pet Sounds of the ’90s, their ninth studio record started to unlock a whole new level of festival audience far beyond what came before for the psychedelic weirdos from the Sooner State.
Frontman Wayne Coyne has often referred to rare Flaming Lips hits during past interviews as gifts from the “gods of music.” Concert staples such as “Do You Realize??” or the title track off 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots are moments when the gods bent down and tapped the band on the shoulder, said it was time, and rewarded the good work they had set up previously with the best tracks on The Soft Bulletin only three years before (“Race for the Prize” and “Waiting for a Superman”).
It’s abundantly clear that The Soft Bulletin Companion is a compilation of curios for diehard fans of a monumental album from early in the band’s nearly 40 years of existence. There are odd experiments, melodic dead ends, plenty of outtakes, prototype mixes, and everything in between on this 13-song collection originally intended by the band’s manager and Warner Bros. as a promo-only CD to pair alongside The Soft Bulletin. It’s seen new life this year during Record Store Day, and longtime fans of the band will take note of hearing rarities like the fuzzed, psychedelic rocker “The Captain,” which are a welcome sight on vinyl after years of being hard to find.
Also, it’s nice to hear a couple stereo versions of tracks from the endlessly curious 1997 experimental release Zaireeka (which, infamously, was ideally played from four separate CDs blasted in unison from different car sound systems). In other corners of the release, a Lips Mix of The Soft Bulletin’s “Buggin’” and an early mix of “The Spiderbite Song” both fall far short of the quality heard on the original Soft Bulletin classics.
The Soft Bulletin Companion’s early versions of “Slow Motion”and “Little Hands” are also not too bad, and remind you of the band’s songwriting chops during the period, with Coyne directing the band on the rough mix of the latter track. The Soft Bulletin still stands as a classic where the best of ’90s experimental rock and pop collided, and its companion piece does sit fairly comfortably in its long shadow. Seeking this one out as a chaser to another long sip on the Soft Bulletin vibe is the best way to experience it.