Heady Nuggs 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic: 1994-1997
Even though Clouds Taste Metallic is generally regarded as a great album, it's always been somewhat dwarfed by the more aspiring outings in the Flaming Lips' vast, confounding catalog. The album never had an iconic, instantly recognizable hit single on the level of "She Don't Use Jelly" or "Do You Realize??," nor was it as preposterously ambitious as Zaireeka (not to mention the group's later releases that experimented with the very idea of physical media formats), and it certainly didn't receive the overwhelming critical praise that the Lips' 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin did. Clouds was the final Lips album to feature guitarist Ronald Jones, who had joined the band prior to their excellent major-label debut Hit to Death in the Future Head (1992), and it was the final recording to present the Flaming Lips as a guitar-driven band, before they began exploring more orchestral and experimental arrangements and incorporating electronic instruments. Of course, by no means was Clouds a standard rock album; as with any of their albums, they played around with conventional song structure and form. All of the songs on Clouds were three or four minutes long, but they didn't always have obvious hooks. Despite a few catchy numbers such as "This Here Giraffe" and "Christmas at the Zoo," it was hard to imagine any of the album's songs becoming radio staples. Nevertheless, the album was significant for heading toward the Brian Wilson-inspired melodies and arrangements that would be fully explored with their later albums, as well as lyrical themes commonly found in the group's later songs such as prevailing through hopelessness and facing the pressure of having to save the world. Clouds still holds up as an incredible batch of songs, adding up to far more than just a mere transitional album. Two decades after the album's release, the Lips revisited it with a deluxe three-CD (or five-LP) edition titled Heady Nuggs 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic: 1994-1997 (not to be confused with a 2011 vinyl box set called Heady Nuggs: The First 5 Warner Bros. Records 1992-2002). Much like the group's pair of 2002 releases on Restless Records that chronicled their early output, Heady Nuggs is loaded with material from other releases from the same time period, in addition to unreleased recordings. The most exciting inclusion is Providing Needles for Your Balloons, a fantastic 1994 EP intended as a stopgap release between Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Clouds. The EP featured loose, casual recordings of Transmissions album cuts (including a gloriously blown-out version of "Slow Nerve Action," inexplicably recorded live on a Top 40 radio station), a nifty B-side called "Jets, Pt. 2 (My Two Days as an Ambulance Driver)," covers of Suicide's Alan Vega and a then barely known Bill Callahan, as well as a boombox-recorded grandiose piano ballad called "Put the Waterbug in the Policeman's Ear," which foreshadowed the group's later sound. Augmenting Providing Needles on this collection is The King Bug Laughs, a further collection of rarities focusing primarily on covers, which range in origin from Bowie, Bolan, and Lennon to less obvious influences such as Rolf Harris. Rounding out Heady Nuggs is Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles, a previously unreleased live album recorded in Seattle in 1996. Typical of a Lips concert of any era, it's unhinged, messy, and noisy, with the group's mega-trippy songs drowning in explosive guitar effects. The set's title track (a cut from Clouds) is stretched out from its original three-minute length to seven, followed by a few minutes of fanatical applause while the audience anticipated an encore.