Trolling around on the internet looking for choice nuggets of info on the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka, a four CD set which prompts listeners to play all four discs simultaneously with meticulous attention paid to track numbers and accompanying instructions, I came across a really awful review from respectable online music publication. Now, Zaireeka comes with a fat warning label on the front that is unique to its creation in that it is not a parental advisory sticker or, in the case of Guitar Wolf's Jet Generation, a label suggesting that your speakers might blow when played at normal volume levels (Jet Generation is, or at least was at the time of its release, the loudest album ever recorded), but a simple statement that attempts to convey the lengths one must go to merely try to listen to the thing properly-- that is to say, the way the Flaming Lips intend for their audience to hear it. I, for one, like to think of the act of listening to music as an effortless pleasure that requires little more than pressing 'play.' The thought of puzzling out four walls of sound via four audio components, for me, is tired from the get go. I guess I could spread out on my bedroom floor with four boom boxes all loaded with all four Zaireeka discs at finger's and toe's length, but I own only one boom box and I don't think I'm coordinated enough to seriously consider contorting my free time just to check out a silly little alt-rainbow-rock record made in 1997. Anyone can see how an album like Zaireeka may be doomed to less-than-stellar reviews from folks who frankly can't be bothered to give a damn about properly experiencing it, folks who don't have friends (and the necessary extra boom boxes) who unconditionally love music.
And so Zaireeka had always been a blasé "whatever" for me until recently when one of my most esteemed co-workers asked me over for a Zaireeka listening party. He invited me with the assurance that it was going to be great, after all he had already hosted many Zaireeka parties in the past and claimed that the best thing about it was that it is a singular sound experience as it never, ever sounds the same twice. I must admit that had any other person alerted me to participate in such an event I probably would've declined the invitation. This particular person, however, I hold in high regard for many reasons: too many to disclose here. His taste in music, as far as I understand, knows no prejudice and it is as as broad in scope as it is epic in depth. A master musician/DJ/actor/cosmic innovator, his repertoire has given many at Amoeba cause to regard him as a talent that is more than a little bit legendary and less than absolutely mysterious. Meeting friends at his place to do the Zaireeka thing proper was an offer I simply could not refuse. Not everyone has a musical guru to escort them through the lesser travelled waters of musical innovation, but here are a few tips for enjoying Zaireeka:
1. Get your people and equipment together. Four CDs means four CD players and four people to man and synch them. The set up at the party I attended consisted of one boom box, one stereo component, one computer CD drive with speakers attached and one portable CD player coupled with a small amp -- one in each corner of the room.
2. Get your den together. The listening party we enjoyed resembled a one of those pleasure paintings of an off duty harem and rightly so. Plenty of snacks, big jugs of wine and varied sorts of creature comforts any music nerd might wish for. Plus, pillows and cushions strewn about the room to afford maximum relaxation in the middle of the speaker set up so that those who would, could drift away in a vortex of Zaireeka sound.
3. Be patient. Zaireeka must be synched track by track thus requiring those who man the CDs to re-collaborate their efforts after each song-- hence the statement "Zaireeka never sounds the same twice."
4. Give your inner critic the night off. There is no need to steel oneself against any preconceived ideas of Zaireeka being an awful wreck of pretentious crap, as the album itself is essentially an experimental work worth any music-lovers' inquisitive bite.
Zaireeka is immensely enjoyable and a great banner to rally friends under for the specific purpose of gathering to enjoy music together -- a pastime that should be enjoyed more frequently. Anyone who writes off the Flaming Lips for this wondrous, technically involved endeavor, and their fans for eating it up, should embrace the comfort of their niche interests in music and refrain from pooing on others for foraging further afield. After all, record store clerks aren't always gazing down from on high in aloof indifference these days, and I suspect that music reviewers can no longer afford to.