Review: The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka (4LP Record Store Day Edition)
I have a love/hate relationship with Record Store Day releases. On one hand, I love going out and getting some weird, ultra-limited edition album or single that I know most people will never see in person. I love the excitement. I love the hunt. I love the “specialness” of it all.
But on the other hand, I hate all of that too. I hate that an artist would purposely limit the number of fans who will be able to listen to their music. I hate the idea of “exclusive” tracks buried in limited edition, hard-to-find records, and I hate that most Record Store Day exclusives are typically either re-releases of old material or “timed” exclusives that will eventually see a wider release in an easier-to-find edition.
So this Record Store Day I decided to go light. I wasn’t going to run around the city and try to find the hardest-to-find, most sought after items. I was going to go to one record store, see what they had, and be done with it. By the time I got there it was nearly noon, so they didn’t have much. I picked up the Pulp remix 12″ single and didn’t see much else. I thought I was going to get off light this year and actually not spend a lot. Then I saw this.
A 4LP edition of The Flaming Lips’ 1997 experimental opus Zaireeka. A four-record set that requires you to play all four records at the same time. I bought it. Because when I go stupid, I go stupid hard.
Dumb as it may be, I do think that Zaireeka is the perfect Record Store Day release. No one is getting screwed by buying Zaireeka on vinyl (they know what they’re getting into) and no one is getting screwed by not buying it (they’re not missing any music, it’s all in print on CD.) The only thing special or limited about the release is the format it’s on. And while that might be a valid complaint about some releases, some people want their favorite albums on vinyl after all , that’s really not the case here; because in the grand pantheon of album releases, there are few things more stupid and pointless than a vinyl release of Zaireeka.
Zaireeka is a very unique album. In case you’ve never heard of it before, it’s four discs (or LPs) worth of material, but the discs are designed to be played simultaneously. Ideally one would play all four at once, but as the album’s original linear notes stated, you could listen to any of the discs on their own or in any combination of two or three. They were made to be mixed and matched at will. Of course, that’s not the kind of thing that most people can do on their own, and that’s one of the reasons Zaireeka is so great. Want the full effect of four discs all playing at the same time? Then invite some friends over (with their stereos/CD players/turntables) and get to work. You have to earn it. Zaireeka is one of the few albums that can actually transform the way people listen to music, one of the few records in which a communal experience is almost necessary to its full enjoyment.
And that’s probably the main pitfall of this vinyl release. Zaireeka on CD is a difficult challenge, but not impossible. It only takes a bit of work to find a few friends with their own CD players, gather them together, and have some fun experimenting with this one-of-a-kind release. But vinyl is a completely different beast. Even in the vinyl resurgence we’re currently in, most people don’t own record players, and even if they do, transporting them, along with their sound systems, isn’t exactly as easy as picking up a CD boombox and taking it to a friend’s house. That shared experience of Zarieeka is crucial to enjoying it, and since it’s nearly impossible to do that with this release, this is an inferior version of the album. So if you don’t own the album at all, the best version for you to grab is still the CD edition. But if you do own the CD and you just fancy yourself a die-hard Flaming Lips fan, or a collector of ridiculously dumb shit (like me) then this could be a worthwhile addition to your collection. It certainly does look great. The band did an excellent job on the packaging. The box is thick and sturdy, and holds all the records snugly (but not too snug).
It also comes with a great 12″x12″ booklet with linear notes taken from the 33 1/3 book about the album. Instructions on how the play the album are also included in the notes, but they’re taken from the original CD release so they’re not that entirely relevant. A small addendum is included for the vinyl release, and it accurately recommends that direct-drive turntables are the way to go if you actually want to try to get the thing synced up.
As for the records themselves, they certainly look amazing. Each are differently colored, all bright and bold. If you had four turntables spinning them all side-by-side they would look bloody brilliant. They also sound pretty good, however when I was sampling the second record I picked up a fair bit of surface noise. Could just need a cleaning though.
If you want to experience Zaireeka the way it was meant to be experienced, do yourself a favor and buy the CD edition. With the advent of portable speakers, laptops and MP3 players, it’s easier than ever to realize the amazing experience that album can create. Only seek out this ridiculous edition if you got money to burn and don’t mind a useless (but incredibly pretty) box set sitting on your shelf.
That is unless you actually have four turntables and sound systems set up in your house. Then, by all means, buy this sucker immediately. And invite me over for when you need help setting it up. I bet it would sound awesome.