This May, psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips released four songs on a USB drive buried inside a life-sized gummy skull. And we got one. They created 500 such skulls but only sold a portion of them at $150 each before summer came and they had to stop. (Let’s just say that it’s hard to ship sugary candy in the hot sun.) Now that the weather has cooled off again, the Lips are resuming their gummy skull project. They’ve even branched out to include other objects, such as a gummy fetus, which got a lot of attention on the Internet but probably won’t actually go into mass production, according to the band.
But that’s not all the group’s doing. Last month, the Flaming Lips released a six-hour song accompanied by a spinning strobe light toy called the “Strobo Trip.” And now they’ve announced plans to record a 24-hour song, which they will save on a hard drive placed inside a real human skull. How creepy.
The Lips have always had a flair for the experimental; remember Zaireeka, their 1997 album that required four CDs to be played simultaneously in four separate CD players? Or their 1998 “Boombox Experiments” concerts that included a 101 boombox orchestra? But fetuses and light-up toys are some pretty bizarre stunts, even for them. What’s going on?
The answer, it turns out, is that they’re renegotiating their record contract. “We’d been on Warner Bros. music label for 20 years and last year we knew we were going to renegotiate,” explains Flaming Lips’ lead singer Wayne Coyne. Unlike most band-label negotiations, this one seemed surprisingly positive; Wayne says the Lips are happy at Warner Bros., but the idea of recording and selling traditional albums just didn’t appeal to them anymore. “It takes too long,” he said. Warner Bros. didn’t have any ideas so, as Coyne puts it, “They told us, ‘why don’t you guys just do some weird sh— and see if it works.’”
The Lips quickly decided that they wanted to release songs on USB drives embedded in funny objects because, well, why not? Coyne saw a plastic skull at Urban Outfitters one day and—after several experiments, one of which involved bubble gum-scented perfume—decided it would be cool if the object was an edible skull. They found a specialty candy maker and got to work. The resulting product weighs 7 pounds (not the most practical way to listen to music) and contains 7,440 calories. Coyne says that he could eat a whole one but he hasn’t tried because he thinks it would make him constipated.
But what about the really long songs? The industry is already lamenting the demise of the album (which is what spurred the Lips’ experimentation in the first place) and the return of the short, hooky single. So who would actually listen to a 6-hour song? “Our audience likes to take drugs and listen to music,” Coyne explained. Oh, right. No wonder why some of their skulls are marijuana flavored.
Are gummy skulls really the future of music packaging? I got my hands on one and decided to examine it for myself.
How to Listen to a Gummy Skull EP:
The USB drive is shoved way down in the middle of the skull, which means you have to eat some of it in order to hear the music. Unlike Coyne, I know I can’t eat an entire gummy skull, so decided to share it with my co-workers. I placed the gummy skull on a table in TIME’s newsroom and sent out an email, inviting people to eat it. Here is what happened to it:
11:35 a.m. Someone slices off its nose with a plastic knife.
11:40 a.m. Another person tries to cut its chin but the knife gets stuck
11:43 a.m. I go for the back of the head.
11:47 a.m. This plastic knife is useless. We’ve taken to using our hands. Our health reporter finds this completely unsanitary.
12:15 p.m. Try to convince my editor to eat the skull for lunch. He declines.
1:05 p.m. While working on another story, I look over and notice that someone ripped its head open.
2:15 p.m. One of our senior editors tries to sneak the skull back to his office. We make him put it back
3:45 p.m. The skull is starting to sag.
4:43 p.m. One of our photo editors, Leah, can’t take it anymore. She rips open the skull to find—a bright red gummy brain inside.
4:50 p.m. This is like a very disgusting version of a Russian nesting doll.
4:53 p.m. Leah pokes her finger into the brain and pulls out a tiny Ziploc bag with a USB drive inside. I’ve never worked so hard to listen to music in my life,” she says.
5:02 p.m. There are four songs on the USB drive. Leah listens first and then hands the USB drive to me. I ask her what she thinks. “The first one is sort of ‘dun-dun-dun-dun-dun’” she says, “And the second is ‘wah-wah-wah-wah,’” she says, mimicking a wah pedal.
5:20 p.m. Wow, she was right. These gummy skull songs are long and repetitive. They’re probably only interesting to people high on drugs.
If you want to listen to the gummy skull’s songs but you don’t want to spent $150, don’t worry. Like everything else, they’re available on the Internet.
(MORE: The All-TIME 100 Songs)