As difficult as it may be to believe, The Flaming Lips have been a going concern in the wooly, wild world of indie/psych rock for over 35 years at this point. That’s 17 official studio albums, over a dozen EPs, live records and compilations and literally hundreds of songs. That’s a lot of material for anybody to try and parse through, which is why it should come as no surprise that the Lips’ upcoming greatest hits album runs a jaw-dropping 53-songs long, spread over three separate CDs.
For Wayne Coyne, the band’s mercurial frontman, there was an admitted bit of hesitation about the idea of creating a greatest hits album at this point in the band’s career, but the more he thought about it, the more he got into the idea.
“I’m always relieved if someone goes to all the effort to say, ‘Here’s a running playlist,’ he said. “In that sort of way, I started to think, ‘Oh, this is gonna be great.’ Instead of it feeling like it’s this big important thing. It’s really just a way of putting a lot of your music together… curating it so that a casual listener, or someone that doesn’t want to spend too much time can just go from song to song and it flows along and they don’t have to think about it too much.”
One of the reasons it took so long for the Flaming Lips to roll out a greatest hits album, and one of the bigger concerns Coyne had to get over, was their own view of themselves as an “albums band.” Over the years, the band has gone to great lengths to create stunning, cohesive visions, designed to be heard at once in sequence, like their 2002 masterpiece Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots or the earlier effort Zaireeka, which was designed to be heard simultaneously on four separate audio systems. How would the songs work outside of their initial context?
“We get so entangled in the whole nuances of what makes one record thematically this way, or this other record is so drastically different and sometimes to the outside listener it’s not so entrenched in its meaning,” he admitted. “I think that stuff is forever attached to the reasons we made it and why you picked this thing instead of that thing and that coloring and that mood or whatever. But in time, I think we’ll learn to adjust to, ‘Race For The Prize’ being followed ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.’ In some world that’s going to work.”
Despite not thinking about creating a greatest hits album before, the band had something of a blueprint, thanks to a running list that had been put together and curated by their manager over the span of decades. “I mean, his philosophy was to say, ‘Look, you got to try to include at least one from every album, and if you did that, you’d already have too many songs already.’ I think he made a good calculated list that he thought well this isn’t gonna please everybody, but it’s gonna please most people.” Coyne added, “We don’t really have hits. We’re kind of picking and choosing what we think is a hit to somebody.”