It must be nice to be the best band in the world. After more than a decade of creating brilliant but ignored albums, the Flaming Lips have cemented their right to that title over the past five years with a trio of releases: first, 1997's Zaireeka, an experimental LP that required listeners to play four CDs simultaneously (!), then 1999's impossibly good psychedelic pop masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, followed by last year's almost as good Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Now, with their critical reputation secure, the Lips could release an album of frontman Wayne Coyne farting into a megaphone, and critics like me would find a way to praise its "layered beauty."
But that doesn't mean I'm going to talk up a goddamn "Tubthumping" remix, even if it is remixed by the Lips and their producer/sixth man Dave Fridmann. Yes, they've added some, um, layered beauty to the working-class anthem, with strings and echoes and an off-kilter keyboard solo, but at its heart, the song still rides on its maddeningly catchy chorus, and that chorus is five years old, making this single (off Chumbawamba's new album Readymades and Then Some, as if you cared) seem more than a little inessential. The Lips, former one-hit wonders themselves, probably sympathize with the woefully misunderstood anarcho-punks in Chumbawamba, but that's no excuse for either band to wallow in the past.
Better for Lips fans (though less likely to win obscure singles contests ten years from now), the single for Yoshimi's "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" has one great original ("Assassination of the Sun"), one music-geek wet dream (the pop gem "Do You Realize" remixed by the Postal Service, not as good as the premise), a few other so-so remixes of the title track and a Christmas song ("A Change at Christmas"). Speaking of obscurity, "A Change at Christmas" is the second Christmas song released by the band this year: The compilation Maybe this Christmas, Too has the version of "White Christmas" the Lips arranged for Tom Waits (whose vocals never replaced Coyne's Waits imitation on the track). Farting megaphone remix to follow.