The Flaming Lips - Christmas on Mars (2008)

Posted by Amelia Swhizzagers On 7:37 AM

The Flaming Lips are one of the few alt-rock bands you might conceivably want to hear a Christmas album by. A suitably festive combination of wide-eyed wonder and goodwill-to-all-men warmth is at the heart of their work anyway, and they've already recorded one of the great alternative Yuletide songs in Christmas at the Zoo, a life-affirming collision of chiming bells, frazzled psych guitar and festive animal liberation.

But anyone hoping for more of the same here is likely to be disappointed. Entirely instrumental, the Christmas On Mars soundtrack allows Drozd to indulge his longstanding love of composer Bernard Herrmann, as well as the soundtracks to David Lynch's movies and the extraterrestrial experimentation of Joe Meek. The results are variously eerie, beautiful, confrontationally experimental in a way the Flaming Lips haven't been for some time - Your Spaceship Comes From Within is an oddly entrancing 90-second burst of electronic noise - and more accessible and beguiling than you might expect from tracks called The Gleaming Armament of Marching Genitalia and Space Bible With Volume Lumps. The latter is a lovely blend of softly glowing electronics and triumphal brass that, despite the absence of Wayne Coyne's distinctive vocals, couldn't be anyone other than the Flaming Lips.

The songs also make much more sense than the film. In fairness, it's hard to imagine anything making much less sense than the film, but Once Beyond Hopelessness and In Excelsior Vaginalistic capture a sense of chilly isolation magnified by the festivities - that nagging Christmas feeling that everyone else is having a better time than you are - far better than the jerry-built sets and stilted dialogue can hope to.

The Flaming Lips have spent the last few years in a creative holding pattern, albeit an entertaining one. While not a bad album, At War With the Mystics essentially offered an etiolated, proggy version of musical ideas that were kicked around to greater effect on its predecessors. Similarly, their concerts remain hugely enjoyable, but there's no escaping the fact that the Flaming Lips live experience remains a slightly more elaborate version of a show they have been touring since the late 90s. The jolting sense of shock that once accompanied the fake blood, the puppets, the animal costumes and the films has been replaced by a sense of cosy familiarity.

And that may be the best thing about the Christmas On Mars soundtrack. It sees the Flaming Lips reacquainting themselves with their ability to startle: like all the best Christmas surprises, it isn't what you expect
1. Once Beyond Hopelessness
2. The Distance Between Mars And The Earth-Part One
3. The Horrors Of Isolation: The Celestial Dissolve, Triumphant Hallucination, Light Being Absorbed
4. In Excelsior Vaginalistic
5. Your Spaceship Comes From Within
6. Suicide And Extraordinary Mistakes
7. The Distance Between Mars And The Earth-Part Two
8. The Secret Of Immortality: This Strange Feeling, This Impossible World
9. The Gleaming Armament Of Marching Genitalia
10. The Distress Signals Of Celestial Objects
11. Space Bible With Volume Lumps
12. Once Beyond Hopelessness

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