As fun as list-making can be, reducing your favourite band down to twenty songs and a few hundred words is fucking agonising. Perhaps more so when the band in question has been going for thirty-odd years and has a amassed a mostly brilliant discography, comprising of something like fifteen albums, eighteen EPs and countless other one-off songs and silly experiments. God help whoever writes one these things about The Fall.

Still, their huge body of work symbolises a key aspect of why I, and countless others, effusively adore The Flaming Lips: they're not afraid to experiment, to fuck up, to make themselves look daft. Because they are daft, they're goofy and sweet and utterly sincere, and I cherish that so much. There's just no semblance of artifice with The Flaming Lips, no indication that their work is contrived or cynical or anything but 100% genuine. Their candour makes them so easy to latch on to, it shudders through any caustic wall of defence and speaks directly to the soul. It makes the highs in their music so euphoric, the lows so devastating, the emotions so resonant and the joy so fucking ecstatic. The heart is the greatest amplifier, after all.

While their sound constantly evolves as they grow older and members come and go (there are no two Flaming Lips albums that are entirely alike), that sincerity has always shone through: be it in the early psychedelic punk days in the '80s; the alt-rock period between the late '80s and mid '90s (and more or less coincided with them signing to Warner Bros., who were so impressed by the band nearly burning down a venue that they snapped them up immediately); the time they dropped the guitars following the departure of the wonderful guitarist Ronald Jones (who played on the albums Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic) in 1996, instead developing a fresh identity built on effervescent Disney-sounding orchestrations and dense psychedelic melodies; the chapter in which they became bona-fide pop-rock superstars in the wake of 'Do You Realize??' and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in the early 00s; and their current incarnation as psych-rock stalwarts/crazy people who release songs in human skulls.

That relentless sincerity isn't enough on its own, of course, it imbues their excellent songwriting and the penchant for experimentation that has kept them relevant and invigorated for so long with something more - that inexplicable fuzziness you get in your gut, that visceral feeling that you don't want to intellectualise because doing so would ruin it. That's what draws me back to the band, why I always turn to them when I'm feeling down. Because if one of the purposes of art is to find form for missing feelings, then The Flaming Lips' passion and honesty alone can vicariously feel on behalf of the entire planet.

I think that's partly informed by the fact that they've always worked with this childish abandon, a wide-eyed, open-hearted glee that they can do absolutely anything they want: be it an album that's supposed to be played on four CD players simultaneously, a science-fiction film about a guy trying to organise Christmas on Mars (imaginatively titled Christmas on Mars - 2008), a twenty-four hour song and so on. Their modus-operandi is "Hey, let's do that because it's cool," and it allows them to do things and create sounds that go beyond any normal reasoning. Moreover, in music industry that's increasingly po-faced, it's always refreshing to have a band of that stature that isn't afraid of being totally absurd by putting out a song called 'Two Blobs Fucking' because they felt like it. That's not to reduce them to a novelty; it's just that in covering the full spectrum of emotions as they have so well for three decades, they've simply never, ever forgotten about joy.

Indeed, that's perhaps best represented by their old live show, with all the balloons and the giant hamster ball and the Wizard of Oz dancers and such. In that respect, The Flaming Lips are basically The Muppets of the music industry: a bunch of wonderful, wacky, flappy weirdos that are completely necessary in shaking up the monotony of life. Because fuck it, we're all going to die one day, so let's live a little while we inexorably slide into the abyss. That's what The Flaming Lips are about. They're obsessed with death and confront dark, existential questions all the time, but only to the extent that they remind us that we absolutely must enjoy life and other people and dumb things like giraffes or whatever 'She Don't Use Jelly' is about. The universe is absurd, totally fucking mad, and we absolutely need to embrace that and have a good time. The Flaming Lips embody that, in their own triumphant, chaotic way, and I love them for it.

If you're reading this because you haven't given The Flaming Lips much of a chance before and feel daunted by their huge discography hopefully this essential playlist serves as a decent introduction to their entire career, from their first album to the latest, last year's utterly beguiling The Terror. And with any luck, you'll fall in love with them too. Anyway, enough of my shit, here's the band.

Tracklisting

  • 1. 'Trains, Brains and Rain' - [From 1986's Hear it Is]
  • 2. 'Everything's Explodin'' - [From 1987's Oh My Gawd!!!]
  • 3. 'Chrome Plated Suicide' - [From 1989's Telepathic Surgery]
  • 4. 'Unconsciously Screamin''- [From 1990's In a Priest Driven Ambulance]
  • 5. 'Talkin' 'Bout The Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)' - [From 1992's Hit to Death in the Future Head]
  • 6. 'She Don't Use Jelly' - [From 1993's Transmissions from the Satellite Heart]
  • 7. 'Moth in the Incubator' - [From 1993's Transmissions from the Satellite Heart]
  • 8. 'Evil Will Prevail' -- [From 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic]
  • 9. 'Bad Days' (Aurally Excited Version) - [From 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic]
  • 10. 'Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)' - [From 1997's Zaireeka]
  • 11. 'Race for the Prize' - [From 1999's The Soft Bulletin]
  • 12. 'The Gash' - [From 1999's The Soft Bulletin]
  • 13. 'Are You a Hypnotist' - [From 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots]
  • 14. 'Do You Realize??' - [From 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots]
  • 15. 'The W.A.N.D.' - [From 2006's At War with the Mystics]
  • 16. 'See the Leaves' - [From 2009's Embryonic]
  • 17. 'Silver Trembling Hands' - [From 2009's Embryonic]
  • 18. 'Is David Bowie Dying?' (Feat. Neon Indian) - [From 2012's The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends]
  • 19. 'Try to Explain' - [From 2013's The Terror]
  • 20. 'Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)' - [From 2013's Peace Sword EP]