Music News

Flaming Lips

Wayne Coyne promised a return to the guitar-grinding Flaming Lips of yore with At War With the Mystics, and he does — kinda — deliver. Just like the Oklahoma freak rockers' ADD stage show, there's more of everything here, guitars being just another sliver of the whole gonzo pie: more studio trickery, more fuzzy atmosphere, more melodrama, more humor, more pathos, more politics. All of which, inevitably, leads to more inconsistency. And maybe more to love.

Nobody would make the mistake of calling 2003's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots a "focused" record. But in restraining himself thematically to matters of personal integrity — even while singing about evil space robots — Coyne gave that album a somewhat linear sense of storytelling. Mystics is more ambitious and more pointed in its purpose. Most of its 12 tracks are directed not at the listener but at the listener's perceived enemies: warmongers, politicians, nonbelievers, Gwen Stefani fans. They're the mystics referred to in the title, and standout tracks like "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," an either-you-love-it-or-you-hate-it musical funhouse of looney toons funk; its equally tweeky successor "Free Radicals"; and "The W.A.N.D.," Mystic's most string-busting, fist-pumping, volume-chewing rocker, taunt them directly. In between is breezy, sleepy '70s FM schmaltz-pop like "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" and "Vein of Stars," soothing, paranoid, and distant. These are the songs purists will point to when decrying the supposed watering down and growing up of the Lips' adolescent urges. And they're right — musically, "Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung" and tender album closer "Goin' On" lean closer to the pastoral psychedelia of early Pink Floyd than the Butthole Surfers' psychotic crunch. But consider this: Coyne just turned 45. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Drozd quit heroin and got married. This is not the Flaming Lips of 20 years ago. For some, that's a sad loss, but for others, it's a change to cherish.

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Jonathan Zwickel