Transmissions from the Satellite Heart is the sixth album by one of the most innovative and influential of all the 1990s alternative/experimental rock bands, The Flaming Lips. It was released June 22, 1993 on Warner Brothers records.
The album marked several firsts for the band. It was the first of (sadly) only two full-length albums to feature Ronald Jones, arguably the best guitarist in the band's history. Jones and current member Steven Drodz replaced Jonathan Donahue after 1992's Hit to Death in the Future Head, when Donahue and producer Dave Fridmann both left their roles in the Flaming Lips to focus on Mercury Rev, a band which had originally formed in 1989 but had yet to really take off. Satellite Heart is the first and only album since 1989's Telepathic Surgery in which Fridmann did not have any involvement.
Perhaps the most relevant first brought about by Satellite Heart was in serving as The Flips' first foray into the spotlight of American Music, but only ever so briefly. Similar to the short but explosive breakouts of other messy 90s alt rock bands like Pavement and Archers of Loaf, The Flaming Lips would ride the success of one unlikely single, "She Don't Use Jelly" and then go about their business of creating challenging and radio-unfriendly music in the wake of their success. This was typically polarizing, as they alienated many of their new fans and drew in others, cementing themselves as a cult favorite. They would continue to be highly critically acclaimed in that nebulous gray area at the top of the musical underground or the bottom of the musical mainstream through the mid 90s. But unlike Pavement or Archers who faded into relative obscurity despite releasing solid albums and who both disbanded at the end of the 90s, the highest praise, accolades, and commercial success of the Flips would eventually come at the end of the 90s and turn of the century with The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. But Satellite Heart is the first time that the band truly caught a lot of people's attention.
The album was released contemporaneously with the compilation EP Due to High Expectations... The Flaming Lips Are Providing Needles for Your Balloons, which served to further promote the album and the band. "Jelly" would be featured in several TV shows in 1993 and hit a modest ranking on the American music charts. The success of the single would give the band more extensive touring opportunities, and they would go on to open for bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Candlebox in the months following the album's release. To date, the RIAA has not given certification to the album's sales, but Spin Magazine reports that the record has sold over 300,000 copies worldwide as of 2002.
Musically, the album seems to lack something compared to those other brilliant early Flips albums like Future Head, Ambulance, and Clouds Taste Metallic. It lacks...ambition? Roundedness? Oomph? Maybe Dave Fridmann is the missing piece here, I'm not sure. But despite the many similarities that Satellite Heart shares with these other albums such as total length, arrangement, structure, noisiness, style, and intensity, I just can't regard Satellite Heart with the same admiration. By comparison it's just not as memorable, not as deep in substance, and not as satisfying to consider as a whole album.
But it's not a bad album though by any means, it certainly has its moments. From "When yer Twenty Two" with its modulating drone guitars and heavy, dramatic drumming in the foreground of perfectly subtle piano and bass lines, to "Pilot Can at the Queer of God" with its swaying, rolling, almost airborne energy intruded upon by the harsh shrieks of more brilliant guitar work. "Moth in the Incubator" and "Chewin' the Apple of Your Eye" give very different looks for the band, the Goldcoast Singers cover "Plastic Jesus" is a short but sweet moment in all its lyrical cheekiness, and "Turn it On" is a solid opening track.
Despite my personal impressions, Satellite Heart marks a relevant turning point in the band's history. It was an album in which they tried to adjust to a new lineup, (it would become a reoccurring theme in the band's history) and in its aftermath it was an album in which they tried to adjust to relative fame. It seemed to highlight the importance of Fridmann's place in the band's musical creative process, and it showed the band becoming increasingly comfortable with striking a balance/combination between lo-fi and hi-fi recording (a balance which would be perfected with their next album Clouds). It doesn't really stand out in the discography, but it does a lot of things right, and it shows the band's potential for independence and very clearly shows the band's ability to reinvent themselves.
Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, 1993, 43:04
01. Turn it On
02. Pilot Can at the Queer of God
03. Oh My Pregnant Head (Labia in the Sunlight)
04. She Don't Use Jelly
05. Chewin' the Apple of Your Eye
07. Be My Head
08. Moth in the Incubator
09. Plastic Jesus
10. When Yer Twenty Two
11. Slow Nerve Action