1. Clouds Taste Metallic (1995)
This was Warners' best-case scenario for a Flaming Lips album: buzzy pop delicacies with nothing over the five-minute mark, a rack-dominating fluorescent orange cover, a song featured on the Batman Forever soundtrack. There's even a Christmas tune! With this album (which didn't perform so hot in the marketplace, by the way), the band solidified their claim as the best guitar-pop band of the decade, then promptly abdicated for stranger thrones.
Clouds Taste Metallic holds the Flaming Lips' most affecting portraits of a cruel universe and the heroes who die in it. Instead of opening with a salvo, they have the patience to slot "The Abandoned Hospital Ship" leadoff, a quizzical, Twilight Zone-inspired short story carried by Coyne's affecting high tenor first, then Ronald Jones' remarkable bell-like guitar figures. "Guy Who Got A Headache And Accidentally Saves The World" bakes funky organ and those beloved pitch-shifted bass vocals into a tale of a man whose tumor affords him genius. In Jim DeRogatis's Flaming Lips bio Staring At Sound, Wayne says the song reminds him of Aerosmith; he's not wrong.
As wonderful as these vignettes are, the best parts of the record are the power-psych sugar-rush numbers. "Kim's Watermelon Gun" is a Ronald Jones guitar clinic, overdriven riffs trading places with Nashville ping and beatific chime. "Psychiatric Explorations Of The Fetus With Needles" -- in the running for Most Flaming Lips Song Title Ever -- destroys the levels as Coyne yowls one of his stickiest melodies. And "Lightning Strikes The Postman" -- a series of existential inside jokes -- comes off like an apocalyptic marching band, stately in its genial devastation, a steady windup to the band's best, sweetest black humor. The ringing "Christmas At The Zoo" tackles a subject dear to Wayne's heart with joy where cloy could easily have gone, and "When You Smile" is, finally, an honest-to-Jesus triumph of a love song, cosmic metaphors and all.
Unfortunately, this was the end of the ride for Ronald Jones. Allegedly concerned with the bad vibes brought on by the addition of Steven Drozd (he was also nervous about poor karma resulting from "Evil Will Prevail," to the point that -- according to Drozd in Staring At Sound -- he vainly tried to sabotage the recording with off-kilter guitar parts), Jones left the group and now lives (happily, we hope) in anonymity. Drozd battled addiction for years afterward, while still managing to add vital multi-instrumental contributions to his tremendous drumming. With The Soft Bulletin, he helped craft one of the best-received albums of the decade. On Clouds Taste Metallic, he made one of the very best.