The Soft Bulletin Companion was once a limited edition collection of outtakes, B-sides and official recordings for fans wanting more of the material that only rare vinyl finds and bootlegs could previously offer. This record captures one of the more crucial junctions for the four-decade career of The Flaming Lips. Several personal tragedies such as the passing of loved ones and the less than stellar performance of the 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic led the band to hunker down and reinvent themselves. The result is a bold, experimental and highly personal record for the band, propelling them to greater heights and reinvigorating their sound with a more orchestral and epic scope. The Soft Bulletin then released in 1999, which led to the band’s mainstream breakthrough. All of the hard work paid off for them in the end. Yet with this success comes a lot of experiments, outtakes and odd ideas that had to be worked out. Thankfully for fans, this companion piece shares a side of that history for all to listen.
Also included in this record are the songs from the elusive Zaireeka. Released in 1997, this was a four-CD album which was intended to be heard by playing all four CDs in four separate CD players simultaneously (crazy idea, but at this point the band needed something fresh to invigorate themselves). This would prove too unwieldy for the modern audience, so adding it in this companion piece is a welcome addition to The Flaming Lips canon.
Being a relatively young listener who’s exposure to the Lip’s songs all come from their more recent material, this album presents a lot of new and interesting insights that I thoroughly didn’t expect from the band. Opening track “Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair” has an orchestral sound that feels large and dynamic, with heavy philosophical themes. “Riding To Work In The Year 2025” (Your Invisible To Me) is brilliant, with a good mix of psychedelia and tragedy that feels eerily close to home. Another standout here is the contemplative fuzz rock tune “The Captain”, which is apparently a rarity that fans are clamoring for.
The Soft Companion Bulletin Companion is not only a great companion piece for the record that it shadows, it also tells a tale of an artist trying to reinvent themselves and striking gold. If you’re looking for something bold and daring, check this record out along with its associated album below.