not a member? click here to sign up
At War With The Mystics
For those who thought that treading water was no way to dismantle an atomic bomb, and that when added together X and Y amounted to nothing much at all, over the horizon some long-awaited ballast is about to arrive. Wayne Coyne prefers a white suit to a white hat, but make no mistake; At War With The Mystics is one hell of a heroic and defiant album.
Colin Carberry, 15 Mar 2006
If you’re going to face down the great bogeymen of our times – the death-worshipping fear-peddlers, the power-crazed ideologues, the committed mass-murderers – then, as Wayne Coyne has obviously deduced, you may as well shake it like Prince in the process.
Our enemies can call on knobbled media outlets, satellite guided missile systems, serpentine networks of spies and double agents, and suicidal impulses in the young. But, as The Flaming Lips’ frontman knows only too well, such dark weaponry counts for naught in the face of a pitch-perfect Kiss-era falsetto.
“You think you’re a radical,” he coos on ‘Free Radicals’, backed by a souped-up P-Funk bassline and the kind of jittery, gum-chewing, futurism last spotted lurking around the vicinity of Odelay. “But you’re not so radical. In fact you’re fanatical.”
The whole thing is so sublimely ridiculous that it’s only on the second or third listen that you realise what exactly Coyne and his cohorts have only gone and done. Namely: provided us all with a ‘Revolution’ for the Noughties. And who’d have predicted that?
There’s many a riot goin’ on at the moment. Scanning the weekly big releases in HMV or Virgin, however, and you’d never guess. Rock music has retreated so dismally over recent years in the face of a hostile and dangerous world that we now find ourselves with the ridiculous Green Day lauded as dissident icons.
Prepare, though, for more worthy reinforcements. For those who thought that treading water was no way to dismantle an atomic bomb, and that when added together X and Y amounted to nothing much at all, over the horizon some long-awaited ballast is about to arrive.
Coyne prefers a white suit to a white hat, but make no mistake; At War With The Mystics is one hell of a heroic and defiant album.
Of course, we shouldn’t expect the Lips to play their hand without any smoke/mirrors fun (and you can chose if you want to believe the singer’s claim that ‘It Overtakes Me’ was written for Gwen Steffani and originally entitled ‘I Like To Masturbate And Think Of Outer Space’). But for a band who have made a career out of burying subtext deeper than a murder victim, beneath the cosmic, krautrock juggernauts and wide-eyed space-boy ballads, there is some untypical straight-talking going down.
“You used your money and your friends to try to trick me,” Coyne sings murderously on ‘Haven’t Got A Clue’. “As far as I can tell you’ve created your own hell.” Who, one wonders, could he be referring to there?
Those expecting the great Flaming Lips crossover success may be disappointed. In many ways their new album offers far fewer spins and thrills than Yoshimi (and there is no one song here anywhere near as Olympian in scale as ‘Do You Realize’). But much as REM followed their great breakthrough Out Of Time with a record of a much more sombre and melancholic hue, so it is that Mystics sees the Lips, by and large, dispensing with the aw-shucks whimsy – and yes, they’re trying to break your heart.
Two tracks in particular – ‘The Sound of Failure’ and ‘My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion’ – are scuffed tearjerkers lit by the same kind of tired and gorgeous sadness that imbue the great Brian-less ballads of Holland-era Beach Boys.
Even the record’s deuce of riff-beasts – ‘The W.A.N.D’ and ‘Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung’– seem fuelled by a deep (and politically-rooted) melancholy.
Make no mistake – this is not the sound of a fresh young buck going into combat, it’s a beaten-up veteran. And a veteran that holds little prospect of victory.
“The nights are hard and it seems impossible,” runs the closing track, Goin’ On’. “But what else can we do?”
We should be thankful that they’ve decided to make the gesture anyway.
When The Flaming Lips take this marvellous, provocative album round the globe in the summer, a line from ‘The W.A.N.D’ claiming that “They have their weapons to solve all your questions” could stop some folk in their tracks.
But fear not, because the guys in the gorilla suits and large inflatable balls are preparing a counter-offensive. The Flaming Lips may well have picked a fight they can’t win, but one thing can be guaranteed – they’ll sure as hell take a few mystics with them.