Veritas est Rock

Paul Karner

In 1999, The Flaming Lips skyrocketed from a homely bunch of indie-rock absurdists to a Grammy-winning international rock phenomenon. Their unmistakable blend of pop sensibility and spacious orchestrations coupled with an unabashed affinity for the beautifully eccentric took form with the Warner Bros. release of “The Soft Bulletin.” The quirky brand of emotionality gives their subsequent recordings a kind of warmth that is hard to come across in a lot of music callously labeled “art-rock.”
With 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” the Lips turned up the oddities with more abrasive electronics and disconcerting applause tracks separating the tracks. Much like “The Soft Bulletin,” however, “Yoshimi” matched the quirkiness with its sensuous orchestrations and lush textures creating the off-kilter sound that won them so many devoted fans.
On their most recent release “At War with the Mystics,” The Flaming Lips clearly are looking to expand their unique aesthetic into less familiar territory. The unobtrusive synth orchestras and expansive grooves are present, but not quite as pervasive as in previous recordings. There is a noticeable link between the songwriting on the new album and that on the previous two full-lengths.
The third and fourth tracks “The Sound of Failure” and “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” follow in the vein of other atmospheric groove-based songs like “All We Have Is Now” from “Yoshimi.” These tracks are more of what you’d expect from the new album, and serve as guaranteed ear candy for any fan.
However, a number of tracks on “The Mystics”-including the single “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”-are more along the line of the Lips’ tongue-in-cheek pop style … la “Buggin” from “The Soft Bulletin.”
Front man Wayne Coyne claimed that the album found its spark of inspiration while the band was recording their cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for a tribute album. The use of more abrasive distorted or rock instruments without their soft ambience to rest on leave listeners with just the quirky that appears.
The lyrics in these more upbeat songs are less than charming to say the least. The chorus “The Radicals” clumsily sings, “You think your Radical? / Well you’re not that radical / In fact you’re fanatical.” Still, “Haven’t Got a Clue” boasts the gem “And every time you state your case, the more I want to punch your face.”
There are some moments that are undoubtedly hard to stomach at first listen, but after the humble closer “Goin’ On” the album feels strangely complete. There has always been a fascinating marriage of the goofy and elegant, the abrasive and the delicate that has earned the Lips their widespread appeal reverent fan base.
“At War With The Mystics” simply takes this to the next level with juxtaposition of entire songs rather than instruments. The effect is remarkable enough to make one know-it-all rock columnist to bite his tongue. Touch, Mr. Coyne, touch.