To accompany the release of "The Fearless Freaks," Bradley Beesley's new documentary about the Flaming Lips, the band put together a compilation of seven live recordings made between 1986 and 1996, along with a brief spoken introduction by head Flamer Wayne Coyne. In that introduction, Coyne tells us that the CD is "meant as a bootleg giveaway ... All who can are urged to copy it and put it on the Internet and do whatever you can do with it. Please, please do not pay hard-earned money for it." To take advantage of his generosity go to this site, where the entire CD, along with artwork, has been made available for free download. It tracks, in a very lo-fi kind of way, the band's path from thrashing cacophony to cracked but naively sweet melodicism. The most intriguing download is "Sleeping on the Roof," a 14-minute excerpt from one of Coyne's "parking lot experiment" projects: Coyne would record 40 different cassette tapes, all meant to be played in chorus, get 40 cars together in a parking lot and have a cassette tape symphony.
As for the documentary itself, "Fearless Freaks" is a must for serious Flaming Lips fans, but uneven viewing for agnostics like myself. Beasley, a longtime friend of the band, has been filming their lives since 1991 and cut the film together from more than 400 hours of footage, so it provides an extraordinary degree of intimacy with its subjects -- like a scene in which drummer Steven Drozd shoots up while discussing his struggles with addiction -- but it's also rambling and overlong, often with the boring, random feel of a home video. Its biggest failing, though, is in how little it illuminates the Lips' musical development, or helps to explain how this band went from, in Coyne's own words, "amateur but loud" to creating the majestic, heady and genuinely inspirational sound of their masterpiece, "The Soft Bulletin."