3. The Soft Bulletin (1999)
In The Soft Bulletin's album's liner notes, Coyne acknowledged a change in the band's songwriting process. Before, the band would just track a bunch, hoping for those famous "happy accidents." But around the time of Zaireeka, they found themselves in command of hundreds of tracks and thousands of potential accidents, a boggling challenge for any band. It became too much to corral, and as Wayne noted, "[t]he song itself would have to be the guide for the sound." Tempos slowed, the acid-garage freakouts ceased, the piano became a focal instrument. Thematically, the Lips were still in their wheelhouse. But Coyne's keening ruminations on love and the universe took on a different coloration when paired with celestial synths and ponderous piano. "What Is The Light" -- filled with piano decay, a heartbeat kick, and Drozd's funky drumming -- is even more of a power ballad than Clouds Taste Metallic's "When You Smile." Drozd was a key beneficiary of the stylistic change: His magnificently recorded kit dominates the album's mix, providing heft to the bubblegummy "Buggin'" and "Waitin' For A Superman," a devastating portrait of the death of Coyne's father. And "The Gash," an apocalyptic march girded with harp, demonic pitchshifted vocals, and eerily horn-like synths, is the band's own "When The Levee Breaks."
"The Gash" is concerned with quitters, and the illogical will required to persevere. As such, it's a fine picture of the band's own determination: the record was received ecstatically by critics, and in the United Kingdom, the band earned their first top-40 album and single ("Race For The Prize," which, like the album, peaked at #39). It looked for a time that this new-model Flaming Lips would be the standard, but of course, that was never how the group operated.