The start of the Flaming Lips‘ 1993 album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart begins with words of putting your life “into a bubble” and giving people “what they paid for.” The band and Coyne consistently accomplishes both of these feats, often at the same time. So it’s no coincidence that we should be dusting this album off to come back and get our money’s worth.
Before they ever thought of throwing their lead singer to the crowd in a bubble, the band was putting out some of the 90s’ most pop friendly rock tunes, albeit with a slightly acid-altered point of view. At the time, Rolling Stone‘s Greg Kot claimed the album put the band in “the ranks of rock & roll’s most endearing eccentrics.” Seventeen years later, this has been proven as nothing less than fact. Has this eccentricity allowed the band to remain relevant when so many bands fade into obscurity? While it may be a small factor, many a band that released a major release in 1993 has now come and gone, including Nirvana, recently reunited and disbanded Blur, and the (original) Smashing Pumpkins.
The album became a point in the band’s career where they could be pointed to as a definitive marketable commodity. Lead single “She Don’t Use Jelly” became a hit, landing the band gigs on several television shows, while they began touring underneath some of the biggest names in rock including the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Why the sudden change of direction? Well, signing to Warner Bros. certainly played a roll in the band landing spots on such staples as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Beavis and Butt-head.
The amount of static and general noise on this album almost immediately takes over your sense of hearing and thought process as “Turn It On” kicks in. The strumming guitar and Steven Drozd hooking drumbeat transport you to the Lips’ world of satellites and breakfast condiments. By the time you get to “She Don’t Use Jelly”, you begin to think that maybe in Coyne’s world Vaseline is an appropriate bread topping. The dark trudging guitars could convince you that you were listening to any of the other grunge release to come out that year if not for the twangy contributions of ex-Lip Ronald Jones.
Though the album is filled with ridiculous lyrics, none may be more grotesque or captivating that “Be My Head”. It doesn’t get more Flaming Lips than “You can be my head/’cause I’ve ruined this one/blasting holes where it used to be.” Though Drozds’ style is often unfairly compared to the late John Bonham, you really can’t get much closer stylistically than he does on “Slow Nerve Action”, which comes damn close to Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”. The song also serves as a rather sleepy ending to an otherwise sporadic and classic easily accessible album (by Flaming Lips standards).
Even after nearly two decades, one of America’s most enigmatic rock groups has not only continued to receive high critical recognition but have kept an immensely loving fan-base that continues to expand. While some may require seeing the band live to find a greater appreciation for the oddities of Coyne & Co, it is anything but a necessity, and one must look no further than Satellites to fall in love with the psychedelic rock-styling of the best present Oklahoma City could ever have given us.