The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics

October 19, 2006

Alright, so sue me. I’m many months late on this one. I almost always am, when I think about it. I’m constantly talking about stuff that was realeased a long time ago, but I really suppose that this is okay. I already did Yoshimi, so I figure that I kind of owe it to this one to review it.

I felt like I really had to get this for whatever reason. Ever since The Soft Bulletin came out so many years ago, the attitude and shape of The Flaming Lips’ music changed dramatically, and for the better, into a more sensitive and gorgeous sound of touching meaningful music, while the eclectic ideas and lyrics were still preserved. Fricking great move, to be honest with you. The addition of orchestral bits onto many of the songs is beautiful. This album isn’t as much a testament or a big beautiful body of music as Bulletin and Yoshimi were, but it is still a grand addition to the Lips’ library of music by supplying the listener with a lot of great music.

I think the mood is a lot more relaxed and less structured around hooks and more around wistful long winded mood pieces than it’s sister albums. And it’s not too difficult to compare it to it’s siblings. Yoshimi always seemed to me to be a daytime sort of album, and in comparrison this album is much more oriented with the night. You can see some simmilarities to older Lips’ material with songs such as Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, one of the standout tracks. Simmilarities to Bulletin are about as much as Yoshimi honestly, because that album set the stage for all of the bands subsequent material. Most of the songs are more mellow chill-out songs, which is exactly the opposite of what I was expecting. Having “At War” in the title sort of implies a more upbeat type thing to me at least, and I was expecting it to be a very fast moving album.

I’m pretty happy with it though, and everyone else I know who has it seems to like it too. Most people I have talked to about it have either said that they thought they didn’t quite give it enough of a chance, or that it was growing on them. My Latin teacher is a big Lips fan, and he says he liked At War With The Mystics more than The Soft Bulletin.

Really, this is as eclectic a Flaming Lips album as any, so there is no point in me trying to sum it up, because everyone knows that when it comes to this band, it’s brilliant parts are really what make the whole so gorgeous. I guess what you need to remember is by this time, the band has established a signature sound and knack for making songs that sound interesting and different even to the most avid of fans that have come to expect the unexpected.

The first song of interest is, once again, Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, which is very simmilar to the sound of Transmissions in many ways. You get the feeling that Wayne Coynes voice is gradually getting worse, but really, this is the first time it shows. On Yoshimi he sounded great, so what can you do? It doesn’t sound bad, just a tad different. But Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is a very clever little tune, and lyrically it talks about what the listener (or maybe the singer) would do if he had opportunities to do things of great power. It’s probably political, but because this is a band who knows how to approach serious issues in a sensitive and lighthearted way, no sound or feelings are gotten in the way of due to politics. They would just never let that happen.

I guess the albums hookier moments are some of it’s strongest. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is not the only obvious standout. It Overtakes Me is a segmented piece, the first of which would surely get some good radio play. I would have appreciated it more if this song was split up into two, and actually also the same with The Sound Of Failure. But really, it doesn’t matter that much. I’m no stickler for organization, and anyone who knows me can vouch for that. Mr. Ambulance Driver has a great tune too, and is probably the most likely to get radio play due to the mildly strange nature of Yeah Yeah Yeah Song and It Overtakes Me. I guess the only problem with that would be the lingering ambulance sound in the background that would probably spawn a lawsuit. The song is a joy to listen to, a very touching and contemplative piece that is perfect for a late night mood shift with equally inspired and serious lyrics. I can safely say that this is truly one of The Flaming Lip’s finest and most touching moments.
A lot of this album is more psychedelic and trippy, and most of the songs are longer more atmospheric pieces, the best of which is Vein of Stars, an absolutely gorgeous song that evokes images just as beautiful as the name suggests. My Cosmic Rebellion develops in a more gentle way, but very much in the same medium sized beautiful way that Vein of Stars does. Some other highlights include the shorter more groovable tracks, such as The Wizard Turns On… and Haven’t Got A Clue. Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung and Goin’ On close the album pretty well. Pompeii really should get some serious credit though, for being able to crank out a cosmic spacey atmosphere with no real hook other than the pretty chords. As far as weak tracks go, you could make an arguement for Free Radicals (hell, I think it’s just funny) and maybe The W.A.N.D. But really, I believe that every song can get the listener tapping their foot or smiling in some way.

I think the real problem here is that the songs aren’t all completely hooky or as glorious as previous Lips material. Either way, this is a good, even great album and another fine addition to the Flaming Lip’s saga of post Zaireeka albums that seem to be the soundtrack to an exciting and ethereal life, and not to mention a great addition to the bands impressive full catalogue.

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