Wednesday, January 14, 2004


by Wayne Robins

Very odd piece about the Flaming Lips in today's New York Times. The article (not written by a member of the music staff, by the way), notes that the Oklahoma City-based band is finally getting its due after 20 years of bubbling under mass consciousness. So far, so good. The article notes that "Flight Test," a Lips extended play disc with only two new songs and five remixes and covers, has been nominated for a Grammy award in the best alternative album category.

The others in the running are Radiohead, the White Stripes, Sigur Ros, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. "If the Flaming Lips upset their better-known competition and win the award [on Feb. 8], it would be the band's second Grammy," writes David Bernstein, with a Chicago dateline.

Now hold on: Are you telling me that Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band whose (intriguingly) formless songs are sung in an artificial language even stranger than Icelandic, are "better known" than the Flaming Lips? On what planet? In fact, I would suggest that if Radiohead weren't in the category, the Flaming Lips would be Favorites for the alternative Grammy. The yowling Yeah Yeah Yeahs (many people I respect wildly overrate this band, by the way) are more critic pets than industry favorites; the Grammies are industry awards, bestowed by voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which is why Grammy results are historically often at odds with prevailing critical thinking. And the White Stripes may find themselves isolated by attitude backlash.

Grammies tend to beget more Grammies. The Flaming Lips won last year for best rock instrumental for a track (not a single, as Bernstein says) on "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," which means they are already a proven commodity to Grammy voters. "Yoshimi" is the 2002 album that Bernstein acknowledges is the band's "biggest seller and a release that made many critics best-of lists." If that's true––and it is––then the Flaming Lips can't be underdogs, and are in fact at least the third best known band in their category. And their longtime affiliation with major label Warner Brothers Records enhances the Lips' Grammy potential.

There's also suspect sourcing in the reporting. Bernstein quotes Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis over two paragraphs, as saying that "nobody works harder than the Lips," and further, that they are "one of the most influential bands of their generation." Does DeRogatis have any stake in so hyping the band? Of course he does, since, as Bernstein reports, DeRogatis is writing a biography of the group. Why doesn't the Times' writer just quote the band's press agent? It would have the same effect.

(c) 2004, Wayne Robins. All rights reserved.

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