CD Review: The Flaming Lips, “Dark Side of the Moon”
I spent close to a decade playing songs from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on the radio every single day. I’ve bought the album about five times in four different formats. I’ve scribbled the album art onto countless notebooks and textbook covers. I’ve done the Wizard of Oz thing so much that I started doing it with other movies just for a change of pace. I know The Dark Side of the Moon record inside and out. I could tell you the tracklisting off the top of my head having been woken up suddenly in the middle of the night after having been drinking. I’ve gotten lost in my headphones in the dark side of dorm rooms so many times that I pretty much have the entire 42 minutes and 59 seconds imprinted on my damaged brain. I’ve listened to it so much that I’ve pretty much gotten to the point where I don’t need or want to listen to it anymore, despite my love for it.
I know I’m not alone. In fact, I still think they hand out free copies when you buy your first bong. If you somehow don’t own a copy, you’ve at least listened to it at a party, done the Wizard of Oz thing at least once, heard most of the songs on the radio, or at the very least, know of its existence. T.D.S.O.T.M. is so culturally prevalent that you could teach a college course on it, and they probably do. The theme of a person’s descent into madness and the myriad of possible causes for that journey is as trippy and universal in 2010 as it was in March of 1973, maybe even more so. Very often, the fragile human brain cannot deal with our incessantly consistent thoughts and fears. For some it’s aging, for others, plane travel, or work, or money, and for most, if not all of us, it’s coming to terms with death, that can drive us all a bit insane. There is a reason some albums penetrate the global consciousness more than others.
Love it or hate it, Dark Side is an important album that has touched a nerve inside close to 45 million people worldwide over the past four decades. You cannot underestimate the importance of art that has become so ubiquitous. But, I’m not here to tell you what you should already know. I’m not here to debate the merits of an album that was deemed special before I was even born to hear and critique it. This is not about Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. This is about whether or not the Flaming Lips and fellow Oklahoma city band Stardeath and the White Dwarfs’ interpretation of T.D.S.O.T.M. is worth your money and your time.
The Flaming Lips and Wayne Coyne’s cousin’s Stardeath and White Dwarfs’ take on T.D.S.O.T.M. is not your local bar’s cover band version. This is not a carbon copy of the original. This is not an attempt to better the original. It is also not the iTunes inspired joke that it was meant to be in the beginning. It is, however, a competent tribute made by artists who are obviously actual fans of the work; people like me who feel that it rightly deserves its place in the pantheon of rock. But it’s more than just a note-for-note rehashing. It’s a refreshingly fun reinterpretation that, though understandably lagging behind the original at some moments, does in fact add something to it at others. The Flaming Lips and crew nail the vibe and the theme of the original album, while repackaging it for the modern day to some quite intriguing results. Was it necessary? No, but it’s not an ego project, great punk statement, nor a waste of time. After spending some of my time with it, I’m glad they took it on. Most bands wouldn’t have the balls or the chops to pull it off with as much creativity as they did. They show it the respect it deserves, but they aren’t afraid to get a little weird. I mean, Henry Rollins and Peaches are involved for god’s sake. But what better canvas is there — for weirdness, anyway — than The Dark Side of the Moon?
The Lips and friends take the Dark Side album that you know, ply it with alcohol and drugs, and have their way with it. They punk it up, they funk it up, and they loosen it up. It’s hard to top the British when it comes to creepiness, but they manage to make the eerie parts even scarier. For Lips fans that love Embryonic, they’ll find this at best a nice companion piece, and at worse, a formidable and enjoyable novelty. Fans of the original, once they get over the fact that it isn’t the Pink Floyd version, or even aspiring to be, should find it a welcome new perspective on it. Some, no doubt, will probably hate it. Oh well.
The album starts out essentially the same, with the heartbeat. But if you listen closely, you’ll notice that it’s not quite as healthy or consistent of a heartbeat as in the Floyd version. In fact, it’s the little differences that make this experiment so much fun. Guitar solos are subtracted and added. Out go the horns, in come the fuzz pedals. The clocks and alarms are updated and joined by coughing and heavy breathing in “Time.” The registers are of a more digital variety in “Money.” The flight announcements in “On the Run” make reference to Oklahoma City and a certain missing passenger named Mike Watt, while the sound of a plane crash swooshes under Rollins laughter at the climax. “Breathe” has a greater sense of urgency, with a loud, fuzzy bassline in the forefront destroying the peaceful, flowing serenity of the original version. You need to breathe and breathe now, goddamit, before it’s too late! Then it’s a mad dash for the terminal as “On the Run” becomes more frenetic than its Floyd counterpart.
Dark Side purists will probably be more happy with the still-ethereal “Us and Them” and the even loonier “Brain Damage,” which hold more faithfully to the originals, but might find the new version of “Money” a little hard to swallow. It would be easy to rip off a traditional cover of “Money” and call it quits. Instead, the Lips offer a more distorted digital take on what is probably the most famous song on the album. The instantly recognizable bassline is still present, but it’s dirtied up and slathered with noise. It’s like robot karaoke, as whispered vocals join with digitally distorted voices and computerized hum. It’s creepy, disconcerting, and just what you would expect from this crew, because it’s not what you’d expect, and definitely not what you’re used to. Plus, Rollins talks to himself at the end. It’s classic.
“Time,” arguably one of the best songs of all time, comes on more like “Welcome to the Machine” or the dramatic opening of a requiem, signaling the passage of time more intensely than in the Floyd version. Layers of noise build and build to crescendo, and then suddenly everything regresses to quiet and the weirdly fragile vocals kick in. This reinterpretation really highlights the eerie beauty of the song, giving it a different vibe than the Floyd version and allowing the listener to hear the lyrics more and absorb their weight. You only slightly miss the guitar solo before the fuzz bass comes back for the “Breathe Reprise,” which leads predictably into “The Great Gig in the Sky,” where Peaches shines by letting loose over a funk-tastic groove. She plays the role of Clare Tory, if Clare Tory was a drunken madwoman singing for survival. It’s awesome, and Peaches nails the part. The piano at the core of the song is gone, and in its place more distorted synthesizers and guitars turning Floyd’s soulfully sentimental take on dying into one raw, raucous, and totally rocking going away party.
“Any Colour You Like” finds the same vibe they discovered in “Great Gig in the Sky,” turning the Dark Side instrumental into a modern, psychedelic take on the ’70s porn soundtrack. They take away the Floyd focus on the synthesiser and crank up the dirty funk, juxtaposing it with cherubic splashes of sound. I’ve always loved the original, but I must say, this version is even more fun. I also really like the full team effort on “Eclipse,” with the Lips joining Stardeath for the stunning album coda in all its glory, minus the British accents. It almost sounds more like a Flaming Lips song than a Floyd song. It’s mission accomplished. Then it’s time for the return of the heartbeat, and the return of Rollins to close it all down and turn off the light. After all, there is no dark side of the moon anyway. “As a matter of fact, it’s all dark.”
The Dark Side of the Moon is an album about losing your mind. Thirty-seven years after its original release, it seems that it’s quite a bit easier to do so. What better time to revisit it, then? The Flaming Lips capture this sentiment perfectly. What started as a joke is a fitting tribute to and refreshing take on one of the most popular, accessible, ubiquitous, and universally ingrained albums of all time. Hearing the Flaming Lips’ interpretation of T.D.S.O.T.M. allows one to hear the greatness of the album from a new perspective and increases the enjoyability of both versions, at least for me. You can argue all day whether this was necessary, what exactly they accomplished, or why, but there is no need to argue over the sincerity of their undertaking nor their success in pulling it all off in a matter of days. As far as I’m concerned, the Flaming Lips and friends have breathed new life into the Pink Floyd masterpiece. As much of a fan of the original that I am, I’d much rather listen to this version these days. It’s one hell of a fun ride for $9.99. Well worth the money and the time.
The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and the White Dwarfs’ trip to The Dark Side of the Moon? Believe it. Then dust off your headphones and go for the ride.