The Flaming Lips Get Mystical

The 1980’s roared in with synthesizers blaring and hair expanding at an explosive rate. Yet, for every Ratt climbing out of the sewers, every Mr. Roboto born in a lab, bands like Talking Heads and The Cure were pushing musical boundaries. The beginning of the decade saw the formation of Burlington’s Phinest, as well as another idiosyncratic – and ultimately brilliant – musical group. Oklahoma City seems an unlikely beginning for a psych-punk powerhouse, yet in 1983 Wayne Coyne stole a cache of instruments from a church, teamed with his brother Mark and Michael Ivins and formed The Flaming Lips. Twenty years, ten albums, a few lineup changes (most notably addition of drummer Steve Drozd) and one appearance on 90210 later, The Lips are back to their old game of preaching peace and pondering death with their latest release, At War With The Mystics (due April 4th). Push play and the album begins with the optimistic chanting of “Yeah yeah yeah!” Coyne’s slightly off yet sublimely perfect vocals then guide the listener through a question and answer session, for example he asks, “If you could take all the love without giving any back, would you do it?” These paradoxes of power, fate, knowledge and death are themes throughout many of the songs, tying the album together with more than a few unifying motifs. While the lyrics pertain to typical Lips fare, the instrumentation is a sharp left turn from the effect heavy Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the orchestral grandeur of The Soft Bulletin. Instead, Mystics recalls earlier Flaming Lips albums – this LP has far more in common with Transmissions from the Satellite Heart than their previous two releases. That is not to say, however, that this isn’t a step forward for Wayne and company. Lyrically simple (though, as always, delicately beautiful), often musically complex and full of subtle hooks, At War With the Mystics has already been heralded as “The Return of the Guitar!” by fans. Indeed, “Mr. Ambulance Driver” and “The Sound of Failure” do contain a number of disco-esque guitar riffs, but Drozd’s heavy beats keep the album flowing. “The Wizard Turns On” even out-rocks the pounding drums of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 2” by a magical margin. Like vintage brandy, The Flaming Lips are maturing with age and smoothly warming the minds and ears of their listeners. Their ever enlightening messages shine through on Mystics, their most spirited and interesting collection of songs since “Race for the Prize” first graced our ears and opened Bulletin back in ’99. The Flaming Lips are at the forefront of original and experimental acts in rock today – hell, we knew that after Clouds Taste Metallic was released way back when – and At War With The Mystics is a cherry on top of an already deliciously fulfilling career…I can’t wait for the next course!