*** The Flaming Lips, "The Soft Bulletin," Warner Bros. A race between two scientists for a medical breakthrough seems unlikely inspiration for a lush, lovely pop song. But it was just that for Wayne Coyne, leader of this Oklahoma City band, in the case of this album's opening track, "The Big Prize."
Often dubbed a land-locked Brian Wilson for his inventive sound constructions, Coyne is more like a benignly mad chemist, convinced that just the right song could cure the world's ills. And so he tinkers and experiments, with tangible results. Though his goal may be unattainable, he's come a long way from the Lips' post-punk raggedness of a decade ago to this work of great beauty and optimism.
"I stood up and I said, 'Yeah,' and it seemed to cause a chain reaction," he declares in "The Spark That Bled." Images of epiphanies and awakenings continue through such songs as "Suddenly Everything Had Changed," making for a high-on-life journey recalling the Byrds' "The Notorious Byrd Brothers." Along the way, hints of John Lennon and even the Moody Blues are effective and appropriate and never seem derivative. Those elements are simply essential ingredients in Coyne's quest for his musical elixir. The Flaming Lips play the Palace on Aug. 1.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.