Field reports on reactions to the Flaming Lips' 1997 experimental album Zaireeka are all over the Internet. "We conquered the boombox aisle in the electronics section at Sears; the manager gave us the heave-ho during the encircling drum solo in 'March of the Rotten Vegetables,'" reports one message board missive. Or: "Once our co-workers punched out, we commandeered their iMacs and Zaireeka rattled the office cork board."
The key word in these narratives, of course, is we. For Zaireeka — celebrating its 10th anniversary with record shop listening parties and a DVD — is one of pop music's most communal artifacts. Comprising four discs designed to be played simultaneously on four sound systems, its goal was to achieve a sort of quadraphonic resonance. Artistic eccentricities aside, the release was a statement on how much music is a rooted, social experience, because, naturally, achieving a concurrent sound meant involving other people to hit those play buttons. And thus the concept of the sit-down Zaireeka listening party was born.
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Immerse yourself in Zaireeka and you're whisked back to a time before pop's great egress, when technology's inaccessibility forced listeners to primarily digest music in their homes. The exile began in 1979, with the introduction of the Sony Walkman, and continues today with a wide range of digital music players. The emphasis has shifted from the music itself to what new-fangled tool you can clutch to harness it. Meanwhile, wayworn, nomadic listeners blog of oversaturation and pop's diminishing impact. Ten years ago, Wayne Coyne sang presciently of this in Zaireeka's "How Will We Know (Futuristic Crashendos)": "How will we know if this rush of noise we're hearing," he intoned, "is the world's biggest hammer coming down on our heads/Crushing our lives."
Or maybe saving them? Studies show that since the Fifties, reports of major depression have increased tenfold. Perhaps the constant hum of a pop tune in our ear rescues us from the silence of a troubled mind. If that's the case, bring on that "March of the Rotten Vegetables" drum solo.