The Flaming Lips
At War With the Mystics
uccess is a helluva drug.
With a string of cross-country tours, an endless barrage of reissues, a swim with Spongebob Squarepants, and a song scoring a Hewlett-Packard advertising campaign, The Flaming Lips have finally left the Peach Pit and joined the fuzzy netherworld of two-hit wonders. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots might have been haphazard at best, but with the help of the ebullient single “Do You Realize??”, Wayne Coyne’s wide-eyed charm, and enough Dave Fridman elbow-grease to turn a couple guitars into a wall-of-sound confetti, it also became The Lips’ most commercially successful album. Longtime fans may have complained that the band hadn’t really progressed beyond The Soft Bulletin’s grandeur, but Yoshimi’s glee brought new admirers—and success for the band on their own terms.
At War With the Mystics may find an even larger audience—but it will do so despite losing the glee and the grandeur that propelled those two albums to success. This is a band that, rightfully, just sounds tired.
If the Lips weren’t going to approach the durability of The Soft Bulletin, the insta-spectacle of Zaireeka, or even the gauzy affect of both Clouds Taste Metallic and Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, they at least had fun with Yoshimi. At War With the Mystics starts out in the same blissed-out monkey house of chanted “yeah’s,” burping overdubs, and timeless-pop handclaps. But somewhere along the line, fun was tossed out the window and the perfect-pop three minute “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” became five minutes long. The hit-or-miss songs of Yoshimi have been atomized into hit-or-miss moments on Mystics. And while the beginning of “Free Radicals” might have a sublime collision of helium-screamed “Say What?” with a reverse cymbal crash, it also degenerates into Coyne’s damaged falsetto unleashing a thinly veiled attack: “You’re not so radical / In fact, you’re fanatical / Fanatical!”
If the song title “Free Radical” wasn’t clear enough, War With the Mystics is littered with a number of protest songs. The transition to the political doesn’t bode well for Coyne’s “aw shucks” transcendental lyrics—as “cosmic” as they are didactic, they transform his gag-worthy words from endearing to eye-rolling. If you’re willing to believe that “Do You Realize??” was a cool salve for a country trying to recover from national tragedy back in 2002, then the leap to protest songs might fit the bill. But the earlier irreverence of the band, like the dog barks that cap off the inherently shared experience of Zaireeka, carries more bite than the group’s current use of politics as entertainment.
To expect The Flaming Lips to achieve the high-points they found throughout the 90’s might be asking a lot of any band, but Yoshimi at least gave them an opportunity to bask in their infective weirdness on a larger scale. But exempting “The W.A.N.D.,” the half minute before Pink Floyd-lite sinks in for “The Wizard Turns On…,” and a small handful of moments throughout Mystics, the group sounds less weird—in fact, they just sound dull.
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2006-04-04