The progression in sound is sometimes grueling to endure and the band's arrival at a unique and engaging sound (with the pathos-drenched psychedelia of 1988's Telepathic Surgery) is as much a relief as it is a revelation. The path revealed on the discs is littered with a complex, mixed bag of tracks: occasionally awesome album cuts like the stoner classic "One Million Billionth of a Millisecond"; album tracks that sound like sketchy demos; completely mind-blowing live tracks from the era of legendarily loud Lips shows that were painfully hallucinogenic; and the compelling nonalbum selections that flesh out the set.
But for those fans (like me) who were first-hand witnesses to the Lips' evolution on vinyl and on stage, the content of these five CDs is very nearly secondary. We know it already and we're already on the same page. It's the canonization of these early works that is so welcome and overdue. In an era that finds the same old '60s and '70s classic rock repackaged and reassessed (c'mon, do we really need a deluxe edition of Blind Faith?), to see works as "recent" as 1990 imbued with the same cultural import as the boomers' beloved cultural touchstones is to lend a pretty interesting air of credibility to a musical movement that is generally thought to have begun and ended with Nevermind.
At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, the wealth of talent that was recording and touring within the college-rock circuit of 1983-1992 cannot be overstated. A club could host Soundgarden one night, the Flaming Lips the next, and then Fugazi, Sonic Youth, American Music Club, Redd Kross, Bitch Magnet, or whoever the night after ... and for $5 a show!Even operating in this environment, the Flaming Lips were special, the band that other bands always talked about. And now, with an odd sort of critical love fest taking place every time Wayne Coyne comes up with a harebrained scheme - much less releases an album - it's quite appropriate to take a look back and realize that if any band ever deserved a career of continuing successes, it's certainly the Flaming Lips. l