14. The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwendz (2012)
The Flaming Lips -- and Wayne Coyne in particular -- have been canny in acquiring friends and admirers. Justin Timberlake joined them in a 2003 Top Of The Pops performance, miming the bass in a dolphin suit. As an occasional courtside attendee at Oklahoma City Thunder games, Coyne has gotten facetime with superstar small forward Kevin Durant. Alas, both JT and KD were omitted from the Heady Fwendzone.
A compilation of discrete recording sessions released for Record Store Day, The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwendz scans like an act of self-tribute. The album is a set of collaborations with younger acts of varying levels of buzz (Neon Indian, Tame Impala), pop royalty (Chris Martin, Ke$ha), and cagey veterans (Erykah Badu, Nick Cave, Yoko Ono). You'd think a unified sound would be difficult to manage, and you'd be right. The Lips try to compensate by pushing the needles to the breaking point. A lot of the guests end up stranded in the mix: Daniel Huffman AKA New Fumes stands no chance against the sludgy reverb-fest that is "Girl, You're So Weird," while on the tragically titled "Helping The Retarded To Know God," Coyne and some synthbuzz conspire to bury Edward Sharpe.
The best songs -- imagine this -- play to the strengths of the collaborators. The monotonous metallic strokes in opener "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)" is an ingenious analogue to the adenoidal charms of Ke$ha (who was so psyched to work with the Lips that she reportedly almost dispatched an assistant to score some acid). The heinously underappreciated Yoko Ono does little more on "Do It!" than repeat the title, but she's always been one for enigmatic epigrams, and the bass-led groove favorably recalls her work circa Approximately Infinite Universe. Though the protracted plod of the spacey "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" threatens to envelop Badu -- not the last time she would fight victimhood at the hands of her hosts -- her surefooted treatment of the lyric and exquisitely idiosyncratic melodic sense win her the focus.
Despite the fact that its most impressive instrument was Coyne's contact list, Heady Fwendz was well-received upon release. It's possible that the public was relieved to hear any kind of extension of the intriguing possibilities of Embryonic. Steven Drozd and Coyne have indicated that the forthcoming LP is built on sonics, not songs. Should be fun.