NELL and the FLAMING LIPS – ” Where The Viaduct Looms “

Posted: November 12, 2022 in MUSIC

Even if it’s somewhat surprising for the Flaming Lips to record an album of Nick Cave covers with a previously unknown 14-year-old singer/songwriter, it’s not entirely without precedent. After all, the Lips have reinterpreted albums by the Beatles and Pink Floyd with flair, and their work with Kesha and Miley Cyrus shows their willingness to take young female artists seriously. In particular, their work with Cyrus revealed how striking the combination of a young woman’s voice with their layered psych-pop could be, and it’s a blend they take to new levels on “Where the Viaduct Looms”.

After meeting young Canadian superfan Nell Smith at a 2018 show in Calgary, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne ultimately arranged for Smith and the band to collaborate on a selection of Nick Cave songs, figuring that her lack of knowledge about Cave’s music would lend a fresh perspective to their renditions. Smith’s soft-spoken soprano could hardly be more different than Cave’s craggy, powerfully enunciated baritone, and her guileless vocals are the bridge between his dark and deeply felt lyrics and the band’s ornate sounds. “Where the Viaduct Looms” shares some of Oczy Mlody’s desolate sweetness, particularly on “The Ship Song”‘ blissful electronic haze. The Lips seize every opportunity to re-create Cave’s songs with adventurous production, transforming the hymn-like “Into My Arms” into a lush track worthy of a futuristic Phil Spector. And, as Coyne had hoped, Smith’s vocals help push “Viaduct’s” songs further into new territory.

We shot this video at the Criterion in Oklahoma City.

At times, the distance between her youthful tone and the world-weary lyrics almost sounds like she’s singing in a foreign language. Smith and the Lips use that gap brilliantly on the album’s most poignant moments. Their version of “Girl in Amber” — which Cave himself praised — distances itself from the lifetime of mourning he poured into the Skeleton Tree track, resulting in a lighter yet spookier reading that’s just as powerful in its own way. Since Cave and the Flaming Lips both know a thing or two about trying to encompass the enormity of mortality and loss in their own very different styles, it’s not surprising that the simple, haunting versions of “Weeping Song” and “We Know Who You Are” are also among “Viaduct’s” standouts. Occasionally, the album feels overwrought:

The sound effects sprinkled through “The Kindness of Strangers” and the grandiose instrumentation on “O Children” undermine the songs’ impact, and Smith is out of her depth on “Red Right Hand,” which comes off as mischievous instead of diabolical. Nevertheless, “Where the Viaduct Looms” is a daring and mostly rewarding undertaking, especially for Smith. Performing the songs of one of alternative music’s most acclaimed acts with another backing her, she uncovers meanings and feelings that weren’t fully present in the original material — and that bodes well for what she might be capable of with her own songs.

released November 26th, 2021

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