The Flaming Lips - At War With the Mystics
Consistently one of the most interesting bands around, this latest album by The Flaming Lips has had a long incubation. Recording took place in New York between June 2004 and January 2006, a long period of time to work on an album. However, this probably wasn't caused by tardiness - work on their feature film, "Christmas On Mars", also took place during this period, and numerous live commitments as well. Now it is finally here, it is clear to see that they have moved on from the world of Yoshimi. In fact, in quite a few ways, they have moved back.
Many chart "The Soft Bulletin" as the album where The Flaming Lips finally got things together, but for me, their 1995 "Clouds Taste Metallic" is where they showed their true colours. It is a fascinating album, full of wit, charm, and some stunning songs. "At War with the Mystics" sounds to me more the sort of album I would expected them to produce after "Clouds...", rather than 4 disc experiment "Zaireeka". The smoothness to the music that started to develop on "The Soft Bulletin" and ran throughout "Yoshimi" is absent in all but a handful of tracks. Instead, this is a spiky, electric album, where the guitars are a lot harsher. Wayne Coyne as well has clearly developed his singing style, with a lot more soul and energy in his voice. But time and again as I listen to "Mystics", I am reminded of their 1995 album, in good ways, and in bad ways.
Opener "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" could fool the listener into thinking that this album is going to be pop and accessible. Not much else on the album sounds like it, a bright, perky track with some challenging and interesting lyrics. Musically, it reminds me of "Christmas at the Zoo", full of fun and melody. "Free Radicals" on the other hand sounds more like Prince, breathy vocals and electric snaps, even INXS style female gasps and murmurs. It is a song that takes a few listens to get used to - first time round, I thought little of it, but, as is the case with the rest of the album, I have grown to like it more with each successive listen.
"The Sound of Failure" is long and repetitive, with a lovely extended outro but too much song before it. "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" again would not have sounded out of place on an earlier album, full of distortion (perhaps too much) and a harsh, electronic edge. "Vein of Stars" though is wonderful - Coyne's voice sounds great, full of light little touches. The leads into "The Wizard Turns On...", an instrumental track that is pretty eccentric, full of seventies sounding guitar and flutes.
"It Overtakes Me" is a very old-fashioned Lips style song, full of handclaps and plucked guitars, shuffling drums and a sound effect straight from the Chemical Brothers. "Mr Ambulance Driver" is thoughtful and tender, whereas "Haven't Got a Clue" shows a violent side to Mr Coyne - "everytime you state your case the more I want to punch your face", he sings to his annoyance. "The W.A.N.D" is also quite an aggressive song, sounding like "Halloween On The Barbary Coast" from "Hit To Death in the Future head".
Of the final two tracks, "Pompeii.." is the most powerful, an epic swell of noise, whereas "Goin' On" is lovely, the light, passionate sort of song The Lips excel at.
This album is nowhere near as immediate as "Yoshimi", but that is not to say it lacks anything. It represents more of a challenge - it is more of a mix of styles, and not the sort of progression I was expecting from the band. Repeated play will reap rewards here, if you have the chance to put in the effort.