35 Albums in 35 Years: 1993

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it. Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


flaminglips1993: The Flaming Lips’ Transmissions from the Satellite Heart

Never forget that The Flaming Lips were once guest stars on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

I’m not 100% on this, but I’m pretty sure I first heard The Flaming Lips, and “She Don’t Use Jelly” in particular, on an episode of Beavis and Butthead. Strangely enough, that show introduced me to an almost stunning amount of music I otherwise would never have been exposed to. Headbangers Ball and 120 Minutes had their fingers in the proverbial cookie jar of my eardrums as well, but Mike Judge’s first foray into the cultural mainstream netted discovery after discovery for me during the music video segments of the show, one of whom was The Flaming Lips. I thought they seemed like freaks. I was not mistaken.

The last time I caught the band’s live show, each member emerged from a giant, psychedelic womb, a pulsing, colorful birth canal delivering unto us some sort of cosmic entities. Other performances have included canons, confetti and blood, dancing super heroes, aliens, Santa Clauses, and DJ Lance Rocks (from Yo Gabba Gabba), and the ever present plastic bubble. A Flaming Lips show is spectacle personified. And they’re quite fun. But 20 years ago, they just seemed like a bug-eyed band of misfits, gleefully “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,”* and assaulting our ears with rich and odd melodies the way only the best psych rock bands can. They didn’t sound like anything else I was listening to at the time, and I was enthralled.

1993’s Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, featuring the band’s classic (and my personal favorite) lineup of Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins, Steven Drozd, and Ronald Jones kicks it off with a pure piece of psychedelic pop candy, the instantly hummable sing-a-long “Turn It On.” The album then moves, bumps, and veers along through novelty nonsense tunes (“She Don’t Jelly”), static and fuzz layered AM folk (“Chewin the Apple of Your Eye”), strange and melancholy metaphors for unrequited love (“Superhumans”), an unnamed cover from Cool Hand Luke (“Plastic Jesus”), and then finally culminates with a loud, grating guitar tone set to a down-tempo, but pulverizing drum beat and the childlike ringing of a xylophone (“Slow Nerve Action”). From start to finish, the record never repeats itself, never falls into any kind of decipherable pattern, and always maintains an inert sweetness and optimism, even on the more downhearted numbers.

And then there’s the production on the thing. The lo-fi recording techniques just shine throughout. The crack and hiss aesthetic turns the album into something more palpable, something very real and attainable, like art manifesting itself into something you can touch in your own bedroom. Very few records have ever gripped me in that kind of way (though I will be writing about one next week too), and I absolutely adore those that have. There are records you enjoy, records you love, records that inspire you. There are records that make you want to make music. And then there are records that make it seem like creating your own music is an actual possibility. This was one of those records for me. Because of that, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart remains my favorite Lips record despite later entries from the band like 1999’s impossibly flawless The Soft Bulletin and 2009’s excellent and noisy return to form, Embryonic. In a lot of ways, I owe The Flaming Lips for any and all of my musical output and tinkerings for the last 20 years. I won’t soon forget that.

I’ll also never forget that they were once guest stars on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

- Favorite song: “Slow Nerve Action”
– Runner up: “Chewin the Apple of Your Eye”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Nirvana’s In Utero; Slowdive’s Souvlaki; Butthole Surfers’ Independent Worm Saloon; Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers); Type O Negative’s Bloody Kisses; Machines of Loving Grace’s Concentration.

*One of my favorite phrases in the world, and one that I lifted from a Spacemen 3 record of the same name.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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