Jun 15, 2021
By Austin Saalman
Initially compiled as an intended promo-only CD to complement The Flaming Lips’ breakthrough ninth album, The Soft Bulletin Companion has persevered across the span of two decades while remaining of interest to fans of the band, finally earning itself a limited double vinyl release for Record Store Day.
It goes without saying that Companion cannot be compared with 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, the group’s fabled achievement in intricately layered sonic bliss which earned the previously understated Oklahoma alt rockers widespread acclaim, some critics going as far as to declare it the “Pet Sounds of the ’90s.” However, Companion most certainly serves its purpose as a supplementary collection of B-sides, rarities, unreleased recordings, and early mixes from The Soft Bulletin era, as well as stereo versions of several songs from the group’s 1997 experimental release Zaireeka (which was designed to be listened to via four separate CDs playing at once on different sound systems).
Of Companion’s 13 tracks, few are likely to affect the casual listener, as this is most definitely one for the fans, many of whom will be pleased to see longtime favorite “The Captain” available on vinyl at long last. Elsewhere, “Buggin’ (Lips mix) ” and “The Spiderbite Song (early mix)” prove intriguing, but fall short of the familiar versions featured on The Soft Bulletin. Overall, the more noteworthy tracks include the aforementioned “The Captain,” which, underneath the fuzz and throbbing percussion, is an astoundingly moving composition. The early mix of “Slow Motion” is also quite impressive, showcasing the group’s knack for stirring string arrangements. Frontman Wayne Coyne directs the band on the rough mix of “Little Hands,” which may be worth exploring for diehard fans, while the Zaireeka tracks will sound great to admirers of that album.
The genuine purpose of Companion, however, is to remind longtime fans just how great The Flaming Lips are. If anything, Companion should become a catalyst for mass revisitations of their 37-year discography, which happens to have produced several of the greatest albums released within the past three decades.
As an intriguing piece of music history, the new Soft Bulletin Companion release is worth owning. For fans, it will be a fun listen, as the group’s signature air of psychedelic madness and melodic mysticism still permeates the album. Beneath it all, however, one will ultimately find an honest portrait of a hardworking, unbelievably talented and imaginative band on the cusp of momentous success, soon to perform in large plastic balls, rolling atop crowds of adoring fans. (www.flaminglips.com)
Author rating: 6/10
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