It's the holiday season, which means Christmas music. Lots and lots or Christmas music, most of which was written before the people listening to it were even alive. While "Jingle Bells" and "We Three Kings" are great, and resilient, we're devoting this year to finding the best Christmas song written since 1989. We continue today with #18, and a little holiday eco-terrorism with the Flaming Lips.
#18: The Flaming Lips, "Christmas at the Zoo" (1995)
Looking back, 1995 was a weird time for the Flaming Lips. They were two years removed from the unlikely chart success (and 90210 shout-out) of "She Don't Use Jelly," but still two years from Zaireeka and their metamorphosis into a full-on psych-pop act. Their album from that year, Clouds Taste Metallic, now comes off like a transitional record, a bittersweet document of the band's last days as their old selves.
Part of that bittersweetness rests in "Christmas at the Zoo," a sentimental holiday tune about the limits of good intention. The song's narrator attempts a daring midnight rescue of the zoo's animals, only to find that "All of the animals agreed they're not/ Happy at the zoos/ But they preferred to save themselves/ They seemed to think they could." It's a rejection of the usual weaponized charity agenda that creeps into a lot of holiday media, but it's not a strident one. In fact, you get the sense that both sides come away feeling a little better, even though nothing actually changes. Who would've expected such world-weary philosophizing at the center of a 3-minute Christmas song?
The Lips have gone on to do weirder holiday projects (the Bradbury-flavored b-movie Christmas on Mars) and safer holiday projects (the limp "A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn't So)"), but they've never hit the sweet spot in the center better than they did with "Christmas at the Zoo."