As most fans know, The Flaming Lips had already gone through a few semi-seamless transitions by the time they were ready to begin making Clouds Taste Metallic. By then, they’d already been DIY Okie punks and goth-y pseudo rockers, and had even managed to sort of put together an arresting estimation of their first genuinely golden sound (see Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, released in 1993) – but but they were still feeling some adventurous stylistic wanderlust and wanted to exercise it. That, presumably, is how Clouds Taste Metallic was conceived.
While the finer points of WHERE EXACTLY the album came from may remain obscured, there’s no question that Clouds Taste Metallic features a far finer focus and sound than Satellite Heart or any of the albums before it did. That focus and clarity is impossible to deny as soon as “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” opens the record; while clearly still homegrown at least in part (there are slightly ragged edges and bleed which scuff the edges of the guitar tracks here), there’s a delightful sense of intrigue or curiosity which quickly raises as the song begins tentatively (Wayne Coyne sounds as though he may have just awakened as the tape began to roll during the sessions) and holds listeners with some very tiny music made by an unplugged guitar and a piano.
This is the sort of very calculated move which can get listeners in through the front door; the sounds are tiny which forces listeners to pay attention and listen closely. They’ll find themselves WANTING to know where this is going and will crowd in to find out and, when the volume spontaneously increases to build momentum, it will feel like a grand awakening which hooks ’em all hard. Listeners won’t be able to peel themselves away as Ronald Jones’ slick-but-very-alt-rock guitar stands like a crumbling monument (bits collapse, crumble and fall away as the song goes) before them and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd’s drums stand like pillars around which Coyne and bassist Michael Ivins dart and spin – right off, “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” stands taller and stronger than anything listeners may have found and loved on Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. The guitars, bass and drums stomp along like a spectacular victory march and listeners will find themselves wanting to stand up and cheer the band on.
Such celebratory, rockist stomping continues as Jones turns up the volume to the point that his guitar begins to clip uncontrollably through “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles” before Coyne begins to contemplate space and why birds always fly South with the help of a lap steel guitar on”Placebo Headphone” and then falling perfectly into “This Here Giraffe” first and then “Brainville” – the kinds of songs which would be called radio-ready by Flaming Lips standards for years (until Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots would come along and change the band’s game completely in 2002). Listening back now, it could be argued that these songs (and Clouds Taste Metallic, by extension) were a perfectly logical extension of what Flaming Lips had been working toward since Telepathic Surgery had ambitiously begun to pull away from the conventional punk tip in 1989, but that feels false. There is most definitely a sort of snowball effect at work here; the Flaming Lips couldn’t have reached this point without the formative steps made through In A Priest Driven Ambulance and Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, and the cumulative nature of this album continues to be very satisfying – even twenty years later.
In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Clouds Taste Metallic, Warner has pulled out most of the stops and assembled a complete exposition of the CTM time period as well as including a few more bonus features for good measure. On this three-disc set – inaddition to a meticulously remastered presentation of the album (no joke – there are moments when one can actually hear some of the machinery which was employed in the recording studio), listeners are also treated to a bonus disc of Due to High Expectations… The Flaming Lips Are Providing Needles for Your Balloons [a.k.a. The EP which was released before Clouds Taste Metallic and intended to tide fans over until CTM was complete –ed] as well as a live set from Seattle in 1996 and a selection of other odds, ends and covers from the time period too. Of course, not every track included is essential really (let’s be honest – the Lips COULD be brilliant, but they could also be over indulgent), but listeners will find it difficult to escape the running of the collection after they’re pulled into it. Eventually, they’ll find themselves loving every single microtone of the experience and will find that they need to actively work at it to not just zone out and lose themselves in this reissue. In that way, it’s hard to call both Clouds Taste Metallic as well as this reissue of it anything but classic; Heady Nuggs is the ideal way to absorb one of the most important periods in The Flaming Lips development.
(Warner Brothers Records)