CD review: The Flaming Lips’ "At War with the Mystics"
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A few years back I asked a former colleague why there wasn’t a modern-day band like Pink Floyd.
You know the kind, I told him ” Multi-layered, heavy on production, lots of synthesizer and guitar combos, spacey lapses of groove and harmony with lyrics that taunt and haunt like a really good poem does, with dual meanings inside each carefully chosen word.
Former Tahoe Daily Tribune staffer Greg Crofton introduced me to the soundscapes of Oklahoma-based Flaming Lips, a pop-psychedelic band that comes as close to Pink Floyd as, well, Pink Floyd post Roger Waters.
Only the Lips are far from Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd is as British as the queen of England: sullen, heavy like London fog and existential to a fault.
The Flaming Lips, on the other hand, spin thought-provoking lyrics and riffs that are as serious as they are, well, just plain goofy and optimistic. Flaming Lips songs are the opposite of Pink Floyd introspection and “quiet desperation” in that you don’t have the urge to go on Prozac after you listen to them.
Having been drawn into the Lips very own lyrical saucer full of secrets and thinking they can’t get any loopier with free association comes “At War with the Mystics” released last week. This 12-track voyage into pop culture, politics, cosmic reality and existentialism with hope (if there is such a thing) has a theme that asks listeners to think about things like personal responsibility, doing the right thing and having the gravitas to break away from mindless group-thought.
“At War with the Mystics” does this and more without preaching or shaming. The first track, “The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song” engages you from the start, asking “what would you do” if you had unlimited powers at your grasp. You realize as the song suggests that power in the hands of those who want nothing but power for power’s sake is dangerous more often than not.
Case in point is the second track, “Free Radicals,” which, without naming names, takes aim at leadership acting fanatically under the guise of patriotism.
“The Sound of Failure” is one of those gems that puts a young woman at a crossroads between the path of self-discovery and following her empty-minded, wash of chatty girlfriends. The line in the song “so go tell Britney and go tell Gwen” is a reminder that those who dictate popular culture are often shallow pinups who wear their insides outside and have nothing to show for it other than their pinheaded drivel and sex appeal.
Two tracks that stand out are “It’s Dark, Is It Always this Dark?” which despite its title, suggests that there’s more to reality than what’s on the surface; “Vein of Stars” which conveys the idea of universal connection and “The Stars Are So Big and I Am So Small…Do I Stand a Chance?” is a tender hymn whose title may suggest panic, but instead sweetly, innocently implies there’s some kind of universal order when our worlds become chaotic.
From start to finish “At War with the Mystics” shines like a crazy diamond in the rough without asking listeners to give into apathy because of what’s absurd around us. Instead, “At War With the Mystics” celebrates the ultimate choices of self-preservation humans have over madness ” those of morality and compassion ” and reminds us each are within our grasp.