In a Priest Driven Ambulance (With Silver Sunshine Stares) Turns 20

“We had become frustrated with our old ways of making records, where we would spend maybe ten days, if we were lucky, to make an entire album… So when we began to record “In a Priest Driven ambulance” we were determined to spend enough time writing, arranging, playing, recording, mixing and re-mixing to see if we were actually able to make records with a unique vision that were, sonically at least, pleasant to listen to.”

-Wayne Coyne, “The Accidental Career”, 1998

In A Priest Driven Ambulance [Vinyl]

In a Priest Driven Ambulance (With Silver Sunshine Stares), The Flaming Lips’ fourth LP (all on the indie label, Restless Records) and last before signing to Warner Brothers, was released on September 18, 1990 and is the début of the Lips’ incarnation that soon after signed to said major label:

  • Wayne Coyne (who outdid himself penning a stream of powerful lyrics abstractly questioning and commenting on Jesus, “schizophrenic dualism”, religion, the human condition and life itself; he was listed on the album as “Stinky”),
  • Michael Ivins (who played some of his most memorable basslines – no wonder this is his favorite Lips’ album),
  • Nathan Roberts (this being the first of two albums with the drummer inevitably and unfortunately overlooked once he was succeeded by the stellar Steven Drozd)
  • Jonathan Donahue (aka Dingus, he had temporarily put Mercury Rev – his other band – on hold to play with The Flaming Lips and was pivotal in the Lips’ artistic and musical growth – as Wayne put it in 2002, “Slowly we discovered just how talented and musical Jonathan truly was… greatly improving [the band]…”).
  • Likewise, it is the first Flaming Lips’ album produced by Dave Fridmann (the “fifth” member of this quartet, so to speak) – a crucial creative relationship that continues to this day.  From technical knowhow and experimentation (any sound they envisioned he would restlessly work to achieve, any crazy idea on how to record they suggested he’d accommodate) to logistics (he arranged a deal where they could record – for the first of many times – in Fredonia, NY for only five dollars an hour, freeing them to take as much time as they needed), Fridmann was so vital to In a Priest Driven Ambulance on every level that without him it literally could not exist.

In a Priest Driven Ambulance is where The Flaming Lips came into their own and the first of the six classic albums they released in the ’90s.  On the surface it is a set of “Jesus songs”, all with the listed track-legnth of 3:26, in two halves – a “smile side” and a “brain side”… but at its core is the band’s self-questioning and struggle to believe in themselves.  Wayne summed it up it 2002:

“Could we actually make a record that expressed true emotions?? Or were we doomed to being just a freak show that was better to be experienced than something you actually enjoyed listening to…”

If you do not already own this album – or its expanded 2002 version The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg – The Priest Driven Ambulance Album, Demos and Outtakes – buy it now! 

Why should you?  Here’s the top 10 reasons:

“Shine On Sweet Jesus: Jesus Song No. 5”
“Watchin’ the planets shine, reflecting yourself in the sky/ Scraping these smiles of mine, impossible one at a time”

“Unconsciously Screamin'”
“We’re not what we used to be/ We’re not really boys”

“Rainin’ Babies”
“All I know is I don’t know it/ It’s rainin’ babies from the sky down on me”

“Take Meta Mars”
“You say it’s me, I think it’s you/ Who can blame us for thinkin’ the way we do”

“Five Stop Mother Superior Rain”
Now the rain, it’s all so random/ What does free will have to do with it at all?

“Stand in Line”
“Ten men stand in line waitin’ for some personality put out on the corner/ Today ain’t garbage day, ain’t no garbage taken today”

“God Walks Among Us Now: Jesus Song No. 6”
“How does it feel to be fallin’ apart/ Sinking from the bottom down”

“There You Are: Jesus Song No. 7”
“There you stand with your bleedin’ hands/ And you don’t understand why you work so goddamn hard to be anything at all”

“Mountain Side”
“We’re all drivin’ our own heads now and all your bathroom floors are clean/ And I hold your electric toaster while standin’ in your bathtub of love”

What a Wonderful World”
“…and I think to myself, what a wonderful world!”

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