Lollipop Magazine is being rebuild at LollipopMagazine.com. Lollipop.com is no longer updated, but the archive content will remain until 2018 (more or less).
Check out our new site!
The Flaming Lips | At War with the Mystics | review | rock | Lollipop
The Flaming Lips
At War with the Mystics (Warner Bros.)
by Tim Den
What is there left to say about The Flaming Lips? Universally praised and beloved, they somehow continue to make oddball, quirky music that caresses humanity's collective soul while never staying stylistically stagnant. Is it any wonder they are spoken of in the same breath as Radiohead? At War with the Mystics is the band continuing down the road started by Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but it's obvious that they've far outdone themselves this time. Whereas Yoshimi scratched the surface in terms of conceptual execution and melodic imagination, At War with the Mystics is the full-grown manifestation of The Flaming Lips' ultimate (and unique only to them) achievement: To seamlessly marry the past with the future.
Everything - from the album title to the artwork - plays into the alternate universe that the Lips have created for themselves, in which the space-time continuum ceases to be linear, and all of existence instead cohabits the same moment. Okay, maybe not all of existence, but certainly '70s classic rock and Star Trek futurism. "Free Radicals" best exemplifies this. It's a stomper of a rock riff played through what sounds like a low budget sci-fi film spaceship's speakers, while intergalactic zips and zaps pan left and right at all times. (Why is it The Flaming Lips can fill the aural spectrum with endless sounds and layers, but Sunny Day Real Estate couldn't write a five-minute song without being called "prog"? Oh, the hypocrisy.) Coupled with a Foreigner-worthy (and utterly, hilariously so-bad-it's-good) falsetto and pitchshifted "retarded Barry White" interjections, and you've got a clusterfuck of a song. But the amazing thing is that it works. This is nothing like you've ever heard before, not even on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. This is the next level. Longtime producer collaborator Dave Fridmann, I'm sure, deserves a shitload of credit, since a lot of At War with the Mystics' bewildering cohesion is due to his meticulous balancing of organic bombast (room-y drums, vintage synths) with, well, futuristic bombast (making vintage synths sound like flying saucers, elongating echoes and delay into resembling the vastness of the universe). The lines blur when the organic is used to invoke the digital and vice versa. In another producer's hands, the experiment could very well have destroyed mankind. But At War with the Mystics is a testament to not only Fridmann's expertise, but his undeniable chemistry with The Flaming Lips. Both parties very obviously understand and bring out the best in each other.
But most amazing is how At War with the Mystics, beyond bending time and space effortlessly, is still as touchingly beautiful as anything The Flaming Lips have ever done. Even as funny noises and psychedelic imagery dominate the proceedings, the band can make the absurd affecting. Opener "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" could've been a trainwreck remake of Extreme's "Hole Hearted" with abrupt cuts and strange chanting, but it isn't. It fills you up with joy and love. It never even remotely feels uncomfortable or wrong. It hits you and gets you. The fact that the band and Fridmann created the thing by cross-pollinating the fuck out of history is just an added bonus. Impressive bonus, yes, but nothing if the end result doesn't move you. And move you At War with the Mystics will, whether through the "funny" songs or the more serious entries ("The Sound of Failure," "Mr. Ambulance Driver," and "Goin' On").
Perhaps the secret to The Flaming Lips' success is just that: Even as their music borrows, morphs, and rebirths, the band's heart and soul remain the same. Their earnestness and loving nature - some would even call it hippy-ish, especially given the hallucinatory song titles (which, like the music, is a combination of the old and the new: Wizards and the cosmos, planets and ancient cities, etc.) - flow beneath and act as support beams for everything. They never fail to reach out and connect with the humanity in all of us and make us recognize the joy of being alive. Profound? You betcha, which is why barely any band can embody it so naturally. But The Flaming Lips aren't just any band, and At War with the Mystics is perhaps the most daring and successful the boys have ever been. Listen and be awed.