Quadraphonia

The Flaming Lips want you to play all four of their new CDs -- at the same time

"We've tried it out on a lot of different CD players around here, just to see what the variables would be," he says. "And they start to develop a mind of their own. Part of that is built into the music and the rhythms, so that what appears to be wrong could be just different."

The discs work just as well when they're played individually. Sometimes, you hear an entire Lips pop song: "Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)" or "Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair." At others, you get washes of noise or ambient music that seems to illustrate just how easy it is to make Aphex Twin or Tortoise records. ("Make sure you note that I said that wasn't part of anybody's intention," Coyne says, laughing. "The idea was, you can be ambient if you want, but you can also go the other way and put it into a song.")

If you're still not totally convinced that there's a method to this madness, well, join the club: Neither am I, neither is Warners, and, in a certain sense, neither is Coyne. While it's hard to deny that Zaireeka in particular and the Lips in general are entertaining as hell, there is that old cliche about the fine line between charlatan and genius -- and Coyne is the first to admit as much.

"I totally agree," he says. "I think the people who know me know that it's not a prank; I'm not trying to trick them. But even then, everything we do is kind of avant-garde, kind of tongue-in-cheek. It's a joke but not a joke at the same time."

Just like, say, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters or Tim Leary's League for Spiritual Discovery. Hmmm ... Parking Lot Experiments, artistic communes, the pursuit of art over commerce, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, acid gurus Kesey and Leary ... is all of this Flaming Lips strangeness just a retro hippie trip at heart? The answer is a resounding "no," and that's one more hugely compelling reason to love this band.

"Our generation -- me and you -- we really do have tCR>o be responsible somewhere along the way to have done something on our own," Coyne says. "This accumulation of the past. ... I'll be the first to say that I've partaken to the point where I've probably done damage to myself, because we're so enraptured of the myths of the past. But I think it's time we said, 'OK, we know the Velvets were cool. We know Syd Barrett was cool. We know the Beatles had good songs. What have you done for me?'

"Somewhere along the way, we're the ones who have to say, 'Here's what we have to offer. It's new, it's different, it's unique to us.' Instead of saying, 'Well, if you like David Bowie, you may like these guys,' or Oasis talking about how much they like the Beatles. Show us your soul, don't show us your record collection! And if I am made a fool of because I tried to do that, well, I'll be a fool. That's OK with me.

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