April Fools! The Flaming Lips’ “Dark Side” Companion Album Is a Funny or Die Prank – Plus Fred Armisen Joins the Band (Not Really)!

At 9:02 PM on Saturday, March 29, 2014 Warner Brothers sent out a press release announcing a new digital-only Flaming Lips album called Flaming Side of the Moon. “Designed as an as an immersive companion piece to the original 1973 album,” it explains “listeners are encouraged to listen to the new LIPS album while listening to DARK SIDE at the same time. FLAMING SIDE OF THE MOON was also carefully crafted to sync up perfectly with the 1939 film, THE WIZARD OF OZ.”

Quite an odd day and time to an announce an album, ain’t it? Were they trying to pull a Beyonce on us? It was also peculiar that the press release was dated March 31st but spreading across the web two days before that. And that the album it announced had a ridiculous name, Flaming Side of the Moon…and a cover that looked nothing like any of the Lips’ art. The press release just got more ridiculous from there: “For ideal listening conditions, fans are encouraged to seek out the original Alan Parsons’ engineered quadraphonic LP mix of DARK SIDE.”

Some sites were initially suspicious of these and other oddities: there was no mention of the release on flaminglips.com, it was not available on digital outlets as mentioned both at the top and bottom of the press release, it teased an (impractically low quantity of) “100 vinyl copies” for “friends and family,” and so on.  With April 1st just days away the possibility that this press release was an April Fools joke in the making was obvious – this was after all the same band that released a chocolate anatomical heart and compilation album on Valentine’s Day and annually goes all out for Halloween and Christmas. But on Sunday night the Lips uploaded a 43 minute recording titled Flaming Side of the Moon to soundcloud, the experts at Stereogum shared it, and everyone fell in line (that is, fell for this stream as the upcoming digital release detailed in Saturday’s statement). And by “everyone” we mean USA Today, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Billboard, NBC News, Gizmodo etc. Howard Stern applauded the project as a “brilliant idea” (before cracking that his band would release a third disc to play in sync with Flaming Side of the Moon and Pink Floyd’s original), and no less an authority than Consquence of Sound concluded “it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke after all.

Except it was – in fact, still is – an April Fools prank and, unbeknownst to them, Consequence of Sound et al’s declarations to the contrary became the funniest part of the joke. The bogus press release and “album stream” were the setup. The punch line is The Flaming Lips Sell Out, the first of four new Funny or Die videos starring the
band released April 1st. True, the Lips did actually record and release an album’s worth of new material that loosely fit with Dark Side – but the joke isn’t the press release or the stream that suggested the project was legit, it’s the notion of this album – a parody of how detractors characterize the band, the trolls that hate them for covering classics and creating conceptual listening experiences “pretentious” “gimmicks” - and the fact that news outlets reported it to be what its red-flag-raising press release should have indicated it never was intended to be. It’s understandable fans took the bait: they didn’t see the faux press release, or have the context of experience a professional has from reading PR daily of how it compared to other band statements. Nor do they have journalistic principles to weigh; just the possible delight of a new 43 minute track to listen to, or the fun of trying to sync it to Floyd. But why didn’t the media catch on? Because their tendencies to be a click-baiting joke of a profession copying press releases and other websites’ work (sans their own, critical thought) got the best of their better judgement. As a result they became the joke by showing themselves to be the gag line the hoax set them up to show themselves to be. Or as the first Funny or Die video puts it:

At this point Wayne could shit in a cup and Pitchfork would give it an 8.7!

Sirius DJ, television personality and all around funny guy Jake Fogelnest conceived the con, and comically delighted in teasing fans and media alike that fell for it. “The version of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ you’re using to sync with ‘Flaming Side Of The Moon’ has been sped up to bypass YouTube’s auto generated copy protection blocking,” he commented on a fan made “Flaming Side-Dark Side” sync uploaded to YouTube. “You need to use the CD/iTunes/Spotify or if available to you, the original Alan Parsons quadrophonic vinyl LP mix.” In hindsight it seems he also sub tweeted a couple warnings the day before the hoax was revealed:

On the morning of April 1st Jake sarcastically tipped off Consequence of Sound on twitter, “Thank you for a stellar ending to our montage!” Later he sought forgiveness from Stereogum and other music blogs for making a fool of them, tweeting “I made internet content that ridicules the blogosphere. I apologize.” Even with this, Stereogum apparently still didn’t grasp the ruse or that they were the butt of Jake’s joke. Instead they lazily posted the four Funny or Die videos with a few lines of an inaccurate description, further claiming the bogus premise of the original press release, and smugly concluding “I suppose that’s one way for a band to avoid accusations of self-parody: Make some actual self-parody!

It’s funny because it’s not true, or self-parody. But it’s even more so because the very blogs that inadvertently carried out the dupe continued to do so even after the opening minute The Flaming Lips Sell Out smeared egg up and down and all over their faces. By not acknowledging Flaming Side of the Moon was a set-up that they fell for, Stereogum makes themselves all the more the April Fool.

It also makes this hoax a present that keeps on giving; a joke that keeps on kidding. Aside from The New York TimesThe Guardian and perhaps a few others, none of the websites that reported Flaming Side of the Moon as the digital album the press release promise have updated their original posts to clarify it’s actually an elaborate recording for Funny or Die’s bamboozle. Not only that, sites that missed the April Fools memo are still publishing news articles announcing this album’s release! No doubt this will linger longer still by word of mouth. Consequence of Sound even published an “album review,” or something they’re calling that anyway (watch a bot boot YouTube video of it below). Does the reviewer know it’s a joke? Maybe, but there’s no indication of that… (Unless that’s deliberate – an April Fools review of an April Fools joke? But where’s the punchline? Is there supposed to be a punchline? No? Maybe this really is an “album review”? Maybe not? What is this? Are you some kind of hypnotist?) Antiquiet also posted something that resembles a review, but clearly under a pretense that’s completely oblivious to the fact that the press release and the album were created and shared as set-up to an April Fools prank. If the joke is to parody the criticism of the band, than these critics are just continuing the joke. That’s why Spin’s coverage – though more credible – isn’t funny: they own up to their mistake and explain their reasons for posting. Spin gets the joke, and that’s why they’re not a joke. Same goes for this student penned article from Boston College’s school paper (a better read than any of the professional coverage of the prank).

The Flaming Side of the Moon media dupe is just one part of Funny or Die’s elaborate parody of the Lips’ critics. The first video goes on to mock the charge that the Lips have turned themselves from a band into a brand by revealing other projects the Lips will pursue in 2014: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – The Movie staring Michael Bay, their own brand of e-cigs, Flaming Lips chap stick and a special venture that has them guaranteed even bigger profits. What could it be? This all takes place around a boardroom table at a mock meeting, and concludes with the record exec character played by Jon Daly nodding towards…who else… Gene Simmons…

Funny or Die extended the “sells out” concept beyond the video with a fake “catalogue of Flaming Lips ™ merchandise!products: a “Pink Robot Back Massager,” “Your Own Giant Petco Hamster Ball,” a “Giant Lips Dog Bed,” a gnome called “Garden Wayne,” and “Flaming Lips Fire-Starting Coals.” There’s also a pretend cereal, “Flames and Lips” (further bringing to mind The Who Sells Out comparisons the video title suggests).

“…what better way to relax than with a Pink Robot back massager. Plug it in, turn it on, and flip the robot arms over your back for a deep and intense, professional-quality massage.”

Michael Bay’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Trailer is the second of the four videos. What an awesome flick this would be! Sub-titled “Fall of the Chosen” and starring the band alongside Lyndsy Fonesca as Yoshimi, here’s the site’s description: “The Flaming Lips sell out. On the upside, they made you this totally kickass action movie with “Transformers” director Michael Bay, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”

GIFs via maxhell

Key movie moment – when Michael Ivins’ character yells “General Wayne you are way out of line!” Wait a second… Are they grabbing dialogue from web commentators that know nothing about the Lips’ motives yet condemn the band members as if they do?

Fred Armisen Joins The Flaming Lips is the third video. Due to the Lips’ “comcast deal” Wayne has to go on hiatus. Fred fills the void and has the band diversify their style to include Krautrock, rockabilly, bossa nova, 2 Tone ska, and other great, overlooked styles of music, like “Coldplay.” Fred is fab – “He’s a great singer, just what The Flaming Lips need” – but will he win Wayne’s approval?

Joking aside, the connection between Fred and the Lips goes back years – he played the character Noachis in the band’s sci-fi film Christmas on Mars – and in a Hollywood Reporter interview this past February he attributed his decision to become Seth Meyers’ Late Night bandleader to Wayne: “I like to think, ‘What would Wayne Coyne do?’ I love how he lives his life and I think he would have done this.” 

Finally video four is the one-take recording session for Flaming Side of the MoonYep, all 43 minutes in one take. By the way, joke or not, this new track from the Lips is still an awesome listen. That’s the best part of the hoax: out of it fans get free audio and video streams of the Lips jamming in the studio. So no, it wasn’t made to sync to Oz and it only loosely matches to Dark Side (it doesn’t exactly line-up because the soundcloud file was sourced from the video). It’s particularly interesting to listen to it without Dark Side if you are familiar with Floyd’s original – as though it’s the musical equivalent of “negative space.” (And there’s of course plenty of precedence for this in the Lips sensibility, not just with projects like Zaireeka that allow parts of the mix to be heard isolated from the larger whole, but even in Coyne’s formative listening experiences as a child. “When I hear a proper mix [of Sgt Pepper’s], it sounds wrong,” he told Uncut in 2010 referring to how he was shaped by listening many times to The Beatles classic on just the left speaker of the stereo mix.My versions sound better! They have this eerie, empty quality.”)

Wayne Coyne visited record stores in California for meet-and-greets with fans on March 31, April 1 and April 3, the third of his recent “record store tours” (following a Midwest leg last December and a Northeast leg in February). “Wayne spent 10 minutes on average, sometimes a lot more, talking with each and every person,” according to Brian, a fan in attendance.  Wayne was asked on April 3rd at San Francisco’s Aquarius Records about Flaming Side of the Moon by Zimbra Undertone, another fan. “The Funny of Die people suggested that we do it as part of this weird joke but they also said, ‘we don’t really know if that will work or if we’d want to do that…‘” Wayne explained. “We got done doing that – we played it just one time, it’s a one-take thing that just went the length of the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ record – we got done, they jumped up clapping like it was a performance, which it wasn’t. It was really just us making stuff up while the record was on.”

That same day Wayne elaborated on instagram how the joke accidentally became listenable: “Flaming Side of The Moon started off as a very clever and obvious and possibly stupid joke by the genius writers at Funny Or Die. We talked about possible ways it could go. We did one take of the companion peice of music. They let us do whatever we wanted but they also suggested ( which may have been funny as well ) that we could just be bored or over analytical and just talk over it..We all played without actually be able to really hear each other… we ended up doing an abstract formless thang that,yes,plays well along side Pink Floyd’s marvelous thang but , I believe , and this is just by accident, it also stands as a strange, emotional, free-form expressionistic peice of music on its own..

The result is so interesting that the band is considering turning their fake album into a real release. “We’ve been discussing in the past couple of days,” Wayne revealed to Zimbra, “and I don’t think we’ve made a decision just yet but it seems like it should come out on vinyl. It looked like it was a vinyl. You know we did this thing on Saturday which was just – we didn’t know – none of us knew which way it would go.” 

The bottom line is just because Flaming Side of the Moon was created to parody the blogosphere doesn’t mean it is a parody itself, or that fans can’t enjoy it just the same. Try for yourself if you haven’t already. Some clever YouTubers have even synced it to Floyd and Oz for your convenience:

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Funny or Die has also published a fake “I’m All In” magazine cover story confessional by Wayne, a parody of Alec Baldwin’s New York essay “Good-bye, Public Life”. “For years, my band, The Flaming Lips, has set out to make interesting, original, and ever-evolving music that is compelling and challenging to both ourselves and our fans,” Wayne states. “After talking it over with my new friend, doubles partner, and spiritual advisor, Alec Baldwin, I, Wayne Coyne, do hereby announce that I am retiring from indie life. I am ready to fully embrace the mainstream. I’m ready to go all in…I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life not being hounded by the paparazzi, and I can’t stand it anymore…I’m tired of playing live shows at only-somewhat-large venues for thousands of devoted music fans. I want to play in stunning 1080p, between Doritos commercials, for MILLIONS of half-interested football fans. I want to play the Super Bowl. I want Slash to be catapulted up from beneath the stage, and to rip a gnarly guitar solo alongside Joe Perry on a surprise “Walk This Way”/“November Rain” medley. And I want to drive up to the stadium in an all-new 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan, only $539/month for 36 months with $1,500 due at signing for well-qualified lessees.Read the full “essay” here.

In sum:
…greatest stoner album of all time + greatest stoner myth of all time + greatest psych-noise-pop-alt-rock band of all time + Funny or Die = greatest April Fools of all time?

Whatever dude. I got the munchies for some crunchies…