album reviews: The Flaming Lips do three hits of Eighties ACID. Spacek invent quirky R&B&B. Being blessed doesn’t help Ben Harper

Ben Harper
Diamonds on the Inside

Ben Harper causes rock critics to peddle hard in their corporate hamster wheels. His half-assed generosity is as hard to rip as Adam Sandler’s, perhaps even more so. Sorely lacking the genius, mystique and belly dancing worshippers of Hendrix, there’s also no Lenny Kravitz delusional grandeur permeating from his doughy eyes (or way-stylish hipster threads) either. This is a good-hearted, God-fearing musician who just happens to have an Afro, be black, and make the hippie cliques and hot suburban moms swoon. Unfortunately, his music has the depth of a kiddie swimming pool occupied by a kid with eight jellyrolls.
Diamonds on the Inside, his latest attempt to “bring the funk,” is standard Harper fare – so all you fans (and non-fans) know what to expect – reread the album’s title. Ever the optimist, Diamonds drips with his signature gospel of vague, sunlit happiness, shout outs to the Lord, and Mason Dixon queens. On “Blessed to Be a Witness,” he sings, “I am blessed,” five times before he finishes the sentence, and then people starting thumping on drums – Paul Simon tribal roots style. Far out bro. This disc should come with a plastic “collectable” stick of Nag Champa and some cloves.

For more info, visit

– Hunter Stephenson

Vintage Hi-tech

Gentlemen get out your silk pajamas and Sherlock Holmes pipes. If, for some reason, you own this kind of crap, then you should definitely own a vinyl edition of Vintage Hi-Tech from Spacek.
The disc is not crappy though. For some reason, I can listen to this and not feel too bad about myself (with the exception of the track “Amazing,” which is really annoying and far from amazing). The beats served up by this feisty London trio have a dash of Jay Dee flavor (particularly on “Time”) with a whole lot of bleeps and bloops. Steve Spacek, the singer, lays enough honey on each track for any Miami girl (in her right mind) to get out of her rolled over UM sweat-shorts and into the beehive. Each song rolls into the next, and with the LP being about 45 minutes long, that’s enough time to unroll something and roll into bed with someone – preferably after rolling something else.
Yep, that was pretty ridiculous, but so is trying to take R&B seriously. Realistically, Spacek is R&B&B – Rhythm and Bleeps and Bass. The latter thumps through the whole album, but the vocals draw enough away from the trip-hop sound to set a make-out mood that’s not disagreeable. Still, with each track possessing a good “head- nodding” beat from the start, it’s kind of hard to start spraying Coolwater on your sheets and lighting candles.
As the album title suggests there’s a certain contradiction in the sound of each song, mixing the mellow ’70s-style vocals of Steve Spacek with ambient modern blipping in the background. Spacek’s working their thing well – I’m just not exactly sure what their thing is.

For more info, visit Spacek is currently swooning the ladies at Miami’s Winter Music Conference.

– Sven Barth

The Flaming Lips
Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking ACID (1983-1988)

Yeah Shalalala, L&A reviewed this because the title connotes the use of acid. Your (students’) favorite band of dubiousness, The Flaming Lips, gave birth to a massive amount of material in the ’80s. This 3-disc set may not live up to the “zany” subtleties of Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin, but for me, a college kid born in ’82, it offers a stellar encyclopedia on the diversity, quirks, drugs and noise I imagine college kids were absorbing during that decade – via headphones and lysergic sweet tarts.
The first disc, consisting of an early EP and their first LP, Hear It Is (with bonus tracks), shows a band on the fringes, roaming the Replacements’ terrain, but with Ferris wheel eyes in place of white knuckled fists. Track titles like “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin,” betoke the band’s current (and popular) subtle irony, but the profound chanting, particularly striking on “She is Death,” is less self-aware and more intent on emotional shimmer. Excluding “Batman Theme” (it was the ’80s), this disc introduces listeners to a juvenile band understandably overlooked, but whirling around in a closet of eccentric potential.
The second and third discs usher in a busload of influences, notably the Butthole Surfers – lots of pummeling weirdo American rock, novice/youthful charisma, and rule breaking. Unlike the first disc, the sound of today’s Flaming Lips is apparent (“Chrome Plated Suicide”) alongside more dated efforts in experimentation and sound clashing (“Hell’s Angel’s Cracker Factory”).
Collections like this usually give off the aura of lucrative musical leftovers, but ACID contains three filling portions of Lips madness wrapped in mesmeric retro-colored packaging. These are kooky flashbacks you won’t mind experiencing again and again. Of course, if you’re looking to wander like a young Leary inside the blotter-papered halls of Lips’ history, 1997’s Zaireeka will give you a grin fit for the Mad Hatter.

For more info, visit

– Hunter Stephenson

March 21, 2003


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