Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Dark Side of the Moon


Band: The Flaming Lips (with Stardeth and White Dwarfs)
Album: The Dark Side of the Moon
Best song: Let me say that I don't think the album is really all that good, but rather kind of daring. The version of "Money," while not necessarily to my liking, is a really intersting update. That's probably the best song on the record.
Worst song: Hmmm. "Eclipse" isn't 1/10 as good as the original and is pretty boring.

I love the Flaming Lips. The single greatest rock and roll show I've ever seen is the Lips on the first leg of the Soft Bulletin tour in Columbia, Mo. in 2000. It was before the band had started playing arenas. Soft Bulletin had broken, but the band hadn't created the arena-show side of it; instead, Wayne & Co. simply had a projector, a bunch of puppets and a fuckload of moxie. It was awesome.



To say that the Lips have become bloated in some way would be to miss the point. This was a band that created Zaireeka in 1997; a four-disc set meant to be all played at once, in four different stereos. The Flaming Lips are not your parents' psychedelia.

Which, I guess, means it makes sense that the Lips would try and cover the greatest album in the history of music, the great turning point in music's lifeline. More than Sgt. Peppers, more than Tommy, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon proved that music could have an introspective, interesting, conceptual... All while adding a pop charm that has left Dark Side as a symbol of, well, everything. It's as iconic as the band itself. It remains unparalelled.

Do the Flaming Lips do it justice? Well, no. No one could. Perfection is what it is. I guess the grander question is this: Do the Lips add anything to the feelings/discussions/questions that Dark Side brings up? I'm not sure it doesn't.

In the discussion of any cover song/album that has to be the standard. The great cover songs -- Devo or Cat Power's "Satisfaction," Macha and Bedhead's "Believe," Run DMC's "Walk this Way," etc. -- bring something new to the song and augment it in some way. Chan's aching desperation in "Satisfaction" adds emotion to a great song and the phone in "Believe" makes for an aching, emoting review of the song.

And I really can't decide if this Dark Side adds much. Switching from "random hangers-on" to Henry Rollins for the little spoken word philosophical pieces makes for some odd juxtaposition, as punk rock god Hank doesn't seem to get the purpose of his acting. Peaches' best operatic impression on "Great Gig in the Sky" is worthwhile -- and, unfortunately, nearly note-for-note.

Indeed, part of the problem is that the Lips seem to be interested in changing very little on most of the record, while totally reinventing other parts. "Eclipse" sounds like a more lofi version of the original -- and, really, isn't a great deal of the brilliance of Dark Side its new adventures in fidelity? -- while "On the Run" is similarly clunky.

Other times, though, the band switches things completely. "Money" sounds like it was processed through a Nintendo; this is not my particular cup of tea, but it's exactly the point of a redo of an album. It updates the song's "Taxman" feeling with a modern, computerized theme. Not a choice I'd make, but a choice nonetheless. A similar switch is the digitized alarm sound in "Time" and the requisite slowing down of the album's best track. Coyne appears to be whispering the song, emphasizing the thematic notion of reject as one realizes the finiteness of one's life. True, this takes away one of the key reasons that "Time" is so amazing -- David Gilmour's soaring guitars -- but it's an update nonetheless.

I can't figure out what to make of the update of "Breathe." Instead of a flying track, the Lips turn the song into a racuous stomp, with a tribal beat overlaying the song. Again, my intrepretations of the song notwithstanding -- shit, I'll give it to you anyway: this song is about birth and rebirth, not necessarily a party stomp or chaotic record -- I don't know if this fits.

And so it goes, I guess. The Flaming Lips try to pay tribute, but seem to miss the mark.

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Of course, the elephant in this particular room is the nature of rock and roll post-modernism and the intrepretation of a theme. Dark Side of the Moon is brilliant partially because of its cohesive thematic lyrical structure that criticizes modernism, technology, cultural structures and the life cycle of a human... While embracing so many elements of those things. The band that so epically downplayed excess ended up putting on stage shows with lights and theatrics and the like. The band that mocked having a private jet galavanted around the world for tours. The band's opus is often looked at as a study in a man going insane...

Remind you of anyone?

Members of Radiohead bristles at the Floyd comparisons, but that band's success is, to me, a direct result of Floyd's paving of that path. Radiohead records dance around progressive rock while still keeping the public's interest. Radiohead brought electronic bits to music in a groundbreaking way (robot voice!) while examining the role technology plays in our lives ("Videotape," anyone? "Paranoid Android?"). Isolationn and humanity play huge thematic roles in Radiohead records, just as they do in everything Pink Floyd did in the 1970s.

So, in a way, the Lips' tribute is not the best tribute available to the album. Radiohead's success is.

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This all brings to mind the question insinuated in the final sentence of Pitchfork's review of the album:


But the Flaming Lips and their co-conspirators can't settle on a color of the Floyd spectrum and run with it, leaving this Dark Side as a lunar capsule lost somewhere between a love letter and a joke.


Forgetting that I find the "the Lips must choose the Floyd period of their liking" kind of insulting (also, the idea that Dark Side is only about "insanity" completely misses the point of the album), I think it's important to examine Floyd's Dark Side as a symptom of American popular culture today. As I've written in many places here before, there's a certain irony that pervades a great deal of popular culture and I'm not sure where that begins/ends. I think my generation's lack of disaffection colors everything and I can give an example from my own life.

Though I'm nearly 30 years old, most of my friends and I drive shitty cars or have no car. This is because we live in an outstandingly expensive city, because we have post-graduate degrees and because our bourgeouis existance doesn't necessitate caring about cars.

So, I drive a 1995 Toyota Camry LE. It is, of course, a hand-me-down car from my mom. It's a flaming turd of a car with a busted radiator fan, dents and some sort of wheel problem. My friend drives a similar -- albeit older and smaller -- Japanese car. I want to say it's a Mazda, but I really don't know.

Anyway, last year, we were both kicking around the idea of repaiting our cars with spray paint, loud colors, etc. Then, the idea of putting flames on the sides of our respective cars:


Friend: it takes a week, but man, my car would be the shit.
Me: I mostly just want my car to look ridiculous.
Friend: haha
Me: Because [my car] is so boring
Friend: i think at some point i stopped thinking that stuff is ridiculous and instead is awesome.


The final bit is the operative part. At what point does an ironic love for something just become love? Part of the reason I love El Caminos and the idea of tricking out my mid-90s Toyota Camry is because those things are idiotic. They're goofy. Good for a laugh.

Which, on some level, brings me to my love for progessive rock.

The Lips' Dark Side -- and hell, the band's entire existance -- seems to be some sort of giant game of ironic love turning into unabashed love. The Soft Bulletin's tours were somewhere between ironic and bombastic. Like the progressive rock that Pink Floyd largely invented, Wayne Coyne's life seems to echo a Yes album cover, eschewing any idea of real life or what's considered normal.

He's created a giant 2001ish compound in his hometown of Oklahoma City. He's directed and written a low budget movie about Mars. On first glance, they seem like jokes, but the scope of each certainly means these things are not jokes. Coyne appears to be deadly serious.

Coyne's not the only artist like this. I saw Mastodon live this past week and the detail in which that band creates its art, album themes and records borders on the absurd. I wish I could say that I love all of these things; I don't. I wouldn't be caught dead, for example, putting up a Mastodon poster with the crazy Crack the Skye art. It's insane. I wouldn't wear a Mastodon shirt. Because they look ridiculous, but damn if Brent Hinds and Co. don't think their merch looks fucking awesome.

Culture seems to fall this way more and more. Glee is one of the most popular shows on television largely on the ironic love for song-and-dance numbers. Dancing with the Stars can't have a sincere following, can it? That show succeeds with a wink and a smile, right?

God, let's hope so.

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Which is all to say this: In a post-modern world, Dark Side of the Moon endures. It endures in the legacy of the album, in Radiohead's success, in punk rock's idealism (fed as a reaction to Floyd's "bloated" stage shows), in prog rock's current existance (however tangential as, say, Mastodon's Crack the Skye may seem, it remains a Floyd-esque album) and in tributes like this one.