ZaireekaWarner Bros. Records, 1997
4cd set for simultaneous play
1. Okay I'll Admit That I Really Don't Understand
2. Riding To Work In 2025 (Your Invisible Now)
3. Thirty-Five Thousand Feet Of Despair
4. A Machine In India
5. The Train Runs Over The Camel But Is Derailed By The Gnat
6. How Will We Know? (Futuristic Crashendos)
7. March Of The Rotten Vegetables
8. The Big Ol' Bug Is The New Baby Now
produced by The Flaming Lips, Dave Fridmann and Scott Booker
The following words were written after a visit to Hellfire's offices in August of 1997. Zaireeka was finished two days previously, and we listened to it (from home-lasered cds) on the three stereos at Hellfire's disposal. Of course, when you buy it, you can play it on four!
"Okay, on go we start it," Wayne pauses for this to sink in and shouts, "One, two, three,
Then it begins.... unearthly yet melodic music is, quite literally, swirling around us. We move to the hallway between the two rooms, Wayne cranks a stereo - in the room we just left - a little higher, and then joins us in the hallway. Then he grins as his voice comes from around a corner and begins to relate a tale about his dogs. And fluffy toy animals, and some giant plastic bugs. A Bonham-with-a-hangover drum pattern synchs in with a crazy dobule bass drum sound from the opposite side of the house, and then it
reallystarts... voices EVERYWHERE singing the choral refrain, "The big ol' bu--ug is the new... ba-by..no--owww..." The music surges from alternate directions and we start to turn ourselves round and move side to side - experimenting with this melange that has become this glorious total sound. Gentle guitar, stray noises, voices, voices, and beautiful strings and horns just swooping past and around. At times it's like there are three clones of the Flaming Lips all playing at once, with slightly different songs that only almost lock in. Then it's all synched and it's a total sound again. The process just makes it all the more exciting and powerful. Stuff races around the room and you feel like you've been hit in the head. This particular song ends with about a million dogs all barking from all directions i.e. it's bloody frightening.
Which kind of sums up the record - alternately glorious, breathtaking, exciting, fragile and ultimately frightening. An intense vision realised in the true rich Flaming Lips tradition but eschewing the guitar pyrotechnics of the past for an altogether more atmospheric (and ultimately more stunning) arsenal that leads, truly, to a step beyond. Wayne explains that he was, ".. bored of people being able to point at a part of a song and say, 'Well, that's a Nirvana influence and there's the Stooges,' and all that.." So he made a record that comes on four cds to be played simultaneously. "Well, now no-one can say that we're doing anything that's been done before.."
Well, not exactly - people have dabbled with simultaneous players, but it never reached this level. It was always just a few extra warblings coming from the other direction. This is four, count them, FOUR cds and a total enclosing sound. You see, these people didn't enter into such an idea lightly, "Some of the songs are designed to go in and out of sync - we changed them on purpose. I wanted a record to challenge people. Something that you have to listen to a couple of times before you can decide if you like or not." Let's make it clear, this record is not normal. In a sense beyond needing four stereos to play it on - for instance, Wayne is talking about warnings in the sleeve instructions for some songs. And there's the titles - 'When train runs over the camel but is derailed by the gnat', 'Ok, I'll Admit That I Don't Really Understand', '30,000 feet of despair' and 'Riding to work in 2025 (Your Invisible Now)'.
Take the latter, a song about paranoia - anchored in the tale of a character who imagines he is a futuristic secret agent who collapses into insanity due to the pressure of being the most important man in the world. But the character suddenly realises that he could imagine his own descent into insanity because of how vivid the vision of his fantasy is. Check the lyrics - "On some driven ship, the morning commuter ride, everything is orange and bright. Your invisible now, and I know it's hard to get used to, 'cause you're the last secret agent reporting back to nothing...." It goes on and it's pretty wild. Imagine, if you will, this tale set to a spooky swirl of sound - with drums that sound like they were miked in a submarine and angular guitars that leap at you from alternate corners of the sound panorama. Once you get it on your own four cd players in one room, the voice just creeps and floats through that sound web and it really does enchant you. Synchronised screams and two, then three interlocking drum patterns coming from all directions. Huge bass sounds fading into a glorious piano lick that is itself surrounded by voices and strings. Lush, deep, enriching and, above all, exhilirating. They just seem to have absorbed all music and put it back in a form so different that you really can't identify any of it any more. You find yourself thinking, "Well that might have been trip-hop but it isn't it's just... different."
So, Wayne seems to have achieved his aim - it's bold and brave - but it won't sell millions. It will however, force people who hear it to sit down and think about what it will mean when they say they're going to make a record from now on. And maybe, in years to come, we'll all be looking back to that release date of the 28th of October 1997.
Zaireeka received four stars in Rolling Stone, Issue 775, December 11, 1997:
You can read some more on Zaireeka, written by Joe Janecek. Also have a read of some ideas (by me, Drew) on what you can do with Zaireeka... and don't forget to join the Flaming Lips on their multiple sound source explorations in the form of the Boombox Experiments!
For the historically inclined, here's a report from when the album was in it's early formation... this is from Xmas 1996.
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