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Music / The Soft Bulletin

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"Lookin' into space, it surrounds you / Love is the place that you're drawn to..."

The Soft Bulletin is the ninth studio album by The Flaming Lips. Their commercial and critical breakthrough, it was released in 1999 through Warner (Bros.) Records and is widely considered by many to be a career high in the extensive Lips canon, as well as one of the best albums of the decade— if not all time.

The bulk of The Soft Bulletin was recorded in the same sessions as the band's previous album, the four-disc surround sound experiment Zaireeka. Whilst the two are equally ambitious in scope and form, The Soft Bulletin displays a greater emphasis on songcraft and melody, and is thus the more immediately accessible.

Due to its blend of multi-layered, Wall of Sound-style production and poignant, emotional subject matter, critics often pinpoint The Soft Bulletin to being the Spiritual Successor to The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. The album also acts as a companion piece to Deserter's Songs by Mercury Rev (which Wayne Coyne has acknowledged as a influence): both records were made in the same period, with the same producer on board (Dave Fridmann), and were massive hits at a time when both groups desperately needed them.

The Soft Bulletin is noted for being one of only 12 albums to receive a rare 10 out of 10 fromPitchfork on its initial release. (the same site note  which gave Zaireeka an even rarer zero); it was also ranked third on their list of the top 100 albums of the decade (behind Loveless and OK Computer).

In 2019, the band released a live version recorded at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado; and in 2021 gave it's companion piece, literally called "The Soft Bulletin Companion", a wide release after it was only given to select journalists for the albums original release.


NOTE: On its original release, The Soft Bulletin came out with two different versions for Europe and international audiences. One track was dropped from each version ("The Spiderbite Song" on the former, and "Slow Motion" on the latter), and were tagged with radio-friendly remixes of "Race for the Prize", "Buggin'" (which was never released in its original form til the album was remastered in 5.1 Surround Sound in 2006) and "Waitin' for a Superman" by Peter Mokran. This is the non-altered tracklisting originally intended by the band, which can be found on the 5.1 and vinyl reissues; the order here is reflective of the vinyl release.

LP One

Side One
  1. "Race for the Prize (Sacrifice of the New Scientists)" (4:18)
  2. "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" (3:32)
  3. "The Spark That Bled (The Softest Bullet Ever Shot)" (5:55)
  4. "The Spiderbite Song" (4:02)

Side Two

  1. "Buggin' (The Buzz of Love is Busy Buggin' You)" (3:22)
  2. "What Is the Light? (An Untested Hypothesis Suggesting That the Chemical [In Our Brains] by Which We Are Able to Experience the Sensation of Being in Love Is the Same Chemical That Caused the "Big Bang" That Was the Birth of the Accelerating Universe)" (4:05)
  3. "The Observer" (4:11)

LP Two

Side Three
  1. "Waitin' for a Superman (Is It Gettin' Heavy??)" (4:17)
  2. "Suddenly Everything Has Changed (Death Anxiety Caused by Moments of Boredom)" (3:54)
  3. "The Gash (Battle Hymn for the Wounded Mathematician)" (4:02)

Side Four

  1. "Slow Motion" (3:49)
  2. "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" (5:23)
  3. "Sleeping on the Roof (Excerpt from "Should We Keep the Severed Head Awake??")" (3:04)

CD and DVD releases are across a single disc

They're just humans with tropes and children:

  • Based on a True Story: "The Spiderbite Song" recounts two real life events that happened to members of the band: Steven Drozd's hand almost got amputated when he believed he was bitten by a spider (later discovered to be an abscess brought upon by his heroin addiction), whilst Michael Ivins and his wife had a freak automobile accident which caused them to be trapped in their car for several hours.
  • Big "YES!": "I stood up, and I said YEAH!"
  • Either/Or Title: A large majority of the tracks come with alternative or extended titles.
  • Epic Rocking: "The Spark That Bled" (5:55).
  • Fading into the Next Song: "What is the Light?" and "The Observer" are threaded together by an insistent thumping beat; and "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" and "Sleeping on the Roof" being threaded by the sound of bugs buzzing and Wayne's voice fading out.
  • Grief Song: "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" was inspired by Wayne Coyne's father succumbing to cancer.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In "Race for the Prize," the scientists' eventual fate in finding the cure for the disease will lead to this:
    Theirs is to win
    If it kills them
    They're just humans
    With wives and children
  • Instrumentals: "The Observer" and "Sleeping on the Roof", which both act as codas to "What is the Light?" and "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate", respectively.
  • Lighter and Softer: Zig-Zagged, Although the sound of The Soft Bulletin is certainly more melodic and less noisy than previous Flaming Lips records, the lyrical tone is far less surreal and whimsical, dealing mostly with weighty topics such as depression, terminal illness, and the inevitability of death.
  • Questioning Title?: "What is the Light?" (its subtitle provides the answer) and "Waitin' for a Superman (Is It Gettin' Heavy?)"
  • New Sound Album: Whilst still very spacey and psychedelic, this record drops the guitar noise of old for orchestral pop, with the only song that prominently uses guitars being "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate"
  • Science Hero: "Race for the Prize" being about Scientists racing to create a cure, knowing the risk that it could kill them.
  • Silly Love Songs: "Buggin'" is arguably an non-ironic example; and the last third of "The Spiderbite Song" describing the feeling of falling in love.
  • Title Drop: "The Spark That Bled" (somewhat):
    What was this I thought that struck me?
    What kind of weapons have they got?
    The softest bullet ever shot
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" changes key with each verse, which constantly alters the mood of the song.
  • You Are Not Alone: "Waitin' for a Superman" is a subversion - Superman probably isn't coming, we have to do this on our own.
    Tell everybody waitin' for Superman
    That they should try to hold on the best they can
    He hasn't dropped them, forgot them, or anything
    It's just too heavy for Superman to lift