Listen to this track by Oklahoman new-psych art rock trio The Flaming Lips. It’s “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton”, the second track off of their 1999 magnum opus The Soft Bulletin. That album was not only a landmark album in their career, being their ninth. It also became a landmark album for the times as well, a sumptuous and artfully realized goodbye to the twentieth century.
This song is one of many that laid out a new template for the ‘Lips for which they continue to be associated today. On it, they decided to cut back on the guitars a bit, and focus more on varied textures. Part of this was an embrace of electronics, which was a natural progression for rock bands in the nineties. The walls between rock music and electronic music were very thin indeed then, and certainly musically permeable without the artists being self-conscious about it. Another was a more expansive approach to production (handled here in part by the band themselves) and to arrangements that included orchestral instruments, including harp, strings, and gong, the latter played (whacked?) by lead singer and head writer Wayne Coyne when they toured the record that summer. Seeing him wail on the gong live on stage was a musical highlight for me that year.
But, getting back to the idea that this album and this song seemed to be a marker of the late twentieth century, there are certainly threads to follow that tie it to pop music of several decades earlier. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this song, and about The Soft Bulletin in general is that it captures something that is quintessentially twentieth century; optimism and idealism when it comes to the future. Read more