Not since Elvis Costello crossed preppy with punk in the early '80s has it been so hip to be down with someone so square.
A range of artists from music's hipster elite have made contributions to the soundtrack to the upcoming "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." The Flaming Lips lead the pack with the first single, "SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy," which will appear alongside tunes from Wilco, the Shins, Ween, Prince Paul and one half of the Dust Brothers.
Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne was even a bit surprised to discover the company he keeps on the album, set for release November 9.
"I actually suggested that maybe I could try to get Justin Timberlake to do a duet with us, as an off-the-cuff idea," Coyne said. "But [Nickelodeon series creator Stephen Hillenburg] said, 'I don't want any of those sort of commercial weirdos on there. I don't like those commercial people. I like you guys, and Wilco and Ween.' "
Using Hillenburg's criteria, the biggest "commercial weirdo" on the soundtrack must be Avril Lavigne, though her version of the "SpongeBob SquarePants" theme song ("Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? ... SpongeBob SquarePants!") is fathoms away from anything on her two hugely successful albums. Non-commercial-weirdos Wilco perform "I'm Just a Kid," backed by singer Jeff Tweedy's 8-year-old son Spencer's band, the Blisters. Mike Simpson, one half of production duo the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys), lends "The Goofy Goober Song" and Motörhead re-recorded their 1992 song "You Better Run" as "You'd Better Swim."
"It's what we call 'reasonably weird adult music,' " Coyne explained of the flavor of the soundtrack. "I don't think a lot of people consider Wilco weird -- well, maybe a few of their records are weird. There's kind of that post-Radioheadishness that goes on now that people accept as being weird, or sophisticated or something, and Wilco definitely falls into that."
Unlike some of the other soundtrack participants, Coyne wasn't that familiar with the world of SpongeBob SquarePants. A few episodes later, he realized the show isn't entirely kid's stuff.
"Hillenburg wanted people who liked SpongeBob, who felt some kinship with the characters, and the absurdness and surreal-ness of it, and I truly think the show is clever and funny and sick."
Once tapped to pen the soundtrack's single, Coyne watched the film but swore most of the details to secrecy -- except for the one that inspired the inspirational and extensively titled "SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy."
"There's a scene in the movie where they confront this psychic wall of energy, and I thought, 'Whoa, that sounds like a great metaphor for the idea of being trapped inside your own life and wanting to break free from the restrictions of your own identity to become something new and different," Coyne said. "I thought that sounded like a very Flaming Lips-ish metaphor."
While working on the Flaming Lips' new album, At War With the Mystics, at longtime producer Dave Fridmann's studio in upstate New York, Coyne is also devising a concept for the "SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy" video. Naturally, all the descriptors Coyne had used thus far in the conversation -- weird, absurd, surreal -- will apply to the song's visual companion.
"I'm trying to come up with a concept that lets us be the Flaming Lips in SpongeBob's world," Coyne explained. "So I'm trying to think of scenarios where we can be pirates, really dirty and grimy. There might be a part where we'll be in space bubbles, like the kind I walk around in in concert. And what I think is the most inspired idea is ... whenever there's a shot [in the series] that shows SpongeBob's leg or arm, it'll zoom in and you see a few big hairs or a few pimples. I want to build a set where there's a giant elbow or arm or wrist, and when you look in close, there are pimples. Even closer and you'll see that the Flaming Lips are these singing, playing pimples on SpongeBob's arm. I think we can do that."
"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" opens in theaters November 19.
Track list for "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" soundtrack, according to Warner Bros. Records (not final order):