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|The Flaming Lips
At War with the Mystics (Warner Bros.)
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The world is a great many things. Sometimes it’s
big, sometimes it’s small. It’s very round, a
collection of dirt and oxygen and water and gasses
melded into a giant spinning ball that really isn’t so
giant compared to the other giant spinning objects
floating in its neighborhood.
And lately, it’s depressing. There’s famine, poverty,
war, distrust … plenty of things to damper the mood
of a party. And in the four years since the last
Flaming Lips record, it’s been pretty depressing, at
least stateside. There’s a war going on that doesn’t
seem to ever end, there’s racism, gang violence,
disease and plastic ideals that lower American
strives for but will never reach.
Did these things exist before 2002? Of course. But the Lips never before tackled them in their own majestic
Now, 20 years into one of the more interesting careers in rock and four years after their greatest success
(commercial and otherwise), the Flaming Lips have stepped out of themselves and into this big, scary world to
give us their vision of it. Gone are the fantastical storylines that occupied the space of their last two albums
(Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin), replaced by a set of songs that tackle their own subjects
and sets of notes, yet still feel like one continuous piece.
So, here we are, in April 2006 with a fresh copy of At War with the Mystics in our hot little hands, and this time
around, they’ve given us their opinion of the world as it stands right now. It’s not all roses, but they have their own
take on it all — the good and the bad and every spit and giggle in between.
The mood starts off light enough within the opening bars of “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” There’s a happy,
rollicking beat, but quickly there’s something more beneath the nursery-school delivery.
“If you could blow up the world with the flick of a switch / Would you do it?”
The contrast between the light and the dark is classic Lips, but the delivery is new. This feels like the Flaming
Lips, and even sounds like them, but it’s fresh and unlike their past work. The contrast of heavy lyrics and
childish beats creates a dizzying effect, and that carries over into the next song. “Free Radicals” has a new-age
techno feel, stomping, stopping and starting, as it calls out its subject: “You think you’re radical / But you’re not
so radical / In fact you’re just fanatical!!! / Fanatical!!!”
In the opening tracks, the band shows a directness and sense of urgency that feels new to their music. But the
rest of the record immediately backs off the direct approach, opting back for grand orchestrations of guitar,
drums and electronics. While the opening salvo reels in the listener, it’s the guts of the record that really delivers
the emotional impact.
The sweeping “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” provides one of the most satisfying moments on the album, using
the metaphor of a bird flying through the air as summer ends to signal constant change and hope. In “Mr.
Ambulance Driver,” the narrator is so shocked as to be almost emotionally detached from the loved one that’s
slipping away from this world as the ambulance arrives at the scene.
Socially, it’s hard not to see “The W.A.N.D.” as a damning of war culture and the Bush administration in general.
Refrains of “They got their weapons to solve all their questions / They don’t know what they’re for” and “We got
the power now MOTHERFUCKERS / That’s where it belongs” show the frustration with the leaders of the
moment and the call for the people to rise up against oppression. That underdog spirit isn’t new to the Lips, but
the direct social call is.
Underpinning all of this, though, is hope. Every tune is lifted by Wayne Coyne’s voice and the band’s unique
melodies and sense of sound, and the album itself won’t allow itself to be burned out and wasted by the evils of
It’s hope that keeps all the dirt, water, oxygen and gas moving and melding, and it’s hope that keeps the Flaming
Lips, and At War with the Mystics, so refreshing.
Did hope exist before 2006? Of course. But the Lips never before tackled it in their own majestic manner.