International Music Review from the Last Fortnight: Reviewed
The Flaming Lips/ American Head, Experimental Rock, Warner Records
Not many would imagine the Flaming Lips were formed 37 years ago, as they actually peaked in 1999 with the album The Soft Bulletin. The Oklahoma outfit is known for its experimentation and use of ambient sounds within the alternative rock realm, with dark, incisive lines to boot.
Vocalist Wayne Coyne and the band did tend to overdo the weirdness bit over the past decade, but seem to have hit the right balance on the latest record American Head, filled with songs on youthful memories and aging. One does find influences of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and post-Syd Barrett, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, with a sprinkling of Death Cab For Cutie, but the stamp is unmistakably Flaming Lips.
After a slow but steady start, the actual genius shows on Dinosaurs On The Mountains, where Coyne’s natural voice is blended with distorted harmonies and intense keyboards. At The Movies On Quaaludes seems like an out-take of Floyd’s Meddle. Mother I’ve Taken LSD is a dark pointer to the ill-effects of drugs, and Brother Eye is beautifully-arranged, trippy neo-psychedelia.
The gloom continues on Mother Don’t Be Sad, where a trumpet line is followed by the lines “Mother please don’t be sad, I didn’t mean to die tonight, but those robbers were so fast, their guns and their anger, and I lost the fight” and a robust guitar backdrop.
Country singer Kasey Musgrave’s appearance on ‘God And The Policemen’ lends variety, and My Religion Is You says, “I don’t need no religion, you’re all I need, you’re the thing I believe in, nothing else is true.” Some stunning synth and guitar effects lace the album all through.
Those new to the Flaming Lips could also try the 2002 album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. And there’s that brilliant number Revenge, part of the 2010 album Dark Night Of The Soul by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse. This may not be everybody’s cup of tea and an overdose of mid-tempo songs may get monotonous for some. But if you’re into deep lyrics and spacey sounds, this should be fine.
Robby Krieger/ The Ritual Begins At Sundown, Jazz, Mascot Label Group
Rock fans know Robby Krieger as the accomplished but low-profile guitarist of the Doors. After frontman Jim Morrison’s death in 1971, he got more into jazz and fusion territory, and later collaborated with band members Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, besides appearing on a few tracks by Blue Oyster Cult.
His solo albums were spaced apart, and the latest The Ritual Begins At Sundown comes a decade after his Grammy-nominated Singularity. Unlike his last effort, which tilted towards the blues-rock domain, this one is filled with jazz-inspired improvisations. There’s a large element of the Frank Zappa sound too, as its been co-produced by his bass player Arthur Barrow.
The opening track ‘What Was That?’ has alternating work on the guitar, saxophone, and keyboards. Slide Home is toned down and melodic, and Dr Noir has a vibrant brass section and an infectious lilt. A take on Zappa’s Chunga’s Revenge builds up beautifully with an incredible solo, and a version of the under-rated Doors gem Yes, The River Knows has been tastefully done.
Though Krieger became popular earlier with his stint with the Doors, one senses a similarity with modern jazz guitarists Lee Ritenour and John Scofield, who blossomed later. He may have just kept up with the times, but the result is beautiful.
The Killers/ Imploding The Mirage, Alternative Rock, Island Records
Some 16 years since they released their debut album Hot Fuss, the Las Vegas band The Killers continue to churn out beauties blending pop hooks with arena rock energy and new wave atmospherics. Check out Song No. 4 Caution, where vocalist Brandon Flowers sings “Let me introduce you, to the featherweight queen, she’s got Hollywood eyes, but you can’t shoot what she’s seen”.
Culminating with a spitfire riff by guest guitarist Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame, this is one of the highlights of the band’s sixth studio album Imploding The Mirage. The track makes way for singer k d lang’s guest appearance on Lightning Fields and the variety in songwriting is pretty evident.
Also worth checking out are the quintessential Killers tracks My Soul’s Own Warning and Dying Breed. On Running Toward A Place, the vocals go “And we’re running toward a place where we’ll walk as one, Will the hardness of this life be overcome?”
Lush synths and high-pitched vocals adorn When The Dreams Run Dry, where Flowers sings “When the dreams run dry, I will be where I always was, standing at your side, letting go of the reins”. Once again, the Killers prove why they are one of the most successful post-2000 bands. The only drawback here is that predictability creeps in here and there.
Katy Perry/ Smile, Pop, Capitol Records
Last November, Katy Perry’s selfies were splashed all over the Indian media just before her Mumbai concert. She’s had a following among youngsters and socialites in India, and her earlier marriage to comedian Russell Brand took place in Ranthambore, Rajasthan.
Expectations from her sixth studio album Smile were naturally high. Sadly much of the effort falls flat as Perry produces a formula-driven set. The first half, including the much-hyped Never Really Over and the single Daisies, offers nothing new. The title track has a catchy hook, though it lacks lasting appeal.
A couple of tracks save the second half. Champagne Problems, which talks of ups and downs in a relationship, has the lines, “Baby all we got are champagne problems now”. There’s an effervescence in ‘Harleys In Hawaii’ that makes it likable.
In the end, there’s only one stand-out number – the concluding What Makes A Woman, written for her yet-to-be-born daughter. This tune reflects a welcome maturity and lyrical brilliance, missing on much of the plastic Smile.