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Power Brokers

 

The Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics

Warner Bros., 2006

Rating: 4.3

 

Posted: March 31, 2006

By Laurence Station

"We got the power now, motherfuckers, that's where it belongs." This arresting line, from “The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)”, tidily encapsulates the irritated tone permeating At War With the Mystics, The Flaming Lips’ 12th full-length release. The Lips have never been regarded as the most topical of bands, yet Mystics atypically finds them sounding off on the current state of worldly events (from fanatical suicide bombers to the policy choices of the Bush administration). Not that the Oklahoma trio will be confused for Billy Bragg and his cohorts in a political rabble-rousers lineup, but the very fact that the Lips have decided to vent against the perceived unsettled state of global affairs marks Mystics as a unique addition to the band’s catalog.

In typical Lips fashion, however, Mystics possesses a charm and whimsy very much in line with past efforts. While this approach tends to dampen the force of the band’s protest, it nonetheless accomplishes the larger goal of making for an enjoyable and engaging listening experience. Kicking off with the bouncy psych-pop of “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song... (With All Your Power)”, lead singer and lyricist Wayne Coyne challenges the decisions of those in power while also questioning what the complainers would do if given the same authority. This dichotomy of an innocuous, playful melody wedded to serious lyrics is explored repeatedly throughout the album.

“My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” features pastoral chirping-bird samples while slamming people hung up on negativity (“Don’t you believe them / They’ll destroy you with their lies”); “Mr. Ambulance Driver” examines the anxious moments between injury and assistance (“Waiting for the ambulance to come / Hoping it doesn’t come too late”) to an oddly comforting, subdued beat that inexplicably overpowers a nerve-rattling siren sample threaded through the background. And the album's highlight -- the aforementioned “The W.A.N.D.” -- pulls off this dual-aspect approach with nimble proficiency, taking a fuzzed-out bassline and crackling electric guitar work that appears to be headed off into some densely woven prog-rock hemisphere, and instead using it as a backdrop for assaulting destructive political agendas (“They got the weapons to solve all your questions”).

Naturally, Mystics wouldn’t be a true Lips album sans tripped-out, spacey instrumental detours (“The Wizard Turns On...”) and completely unfettered speculation regarding the ultimate purpose of being (“Vein of Stars”). But the earthbound, anxious and somewhat pissed-off attitude is what stands out and makes the strongest impression.

Ever the optimist, Coyne refuses to go out on a sour note, however, as the resigned but oddly blissful “Goin' On” expresses: Whatever assorted crap we earthlings are currently dealing with looks like small potatoes in regards to the Big Picture. The times may indeed be a-changin’, but for the Lips it’s just another fascinating wrinkle in the cosmic fabric of space and time. We have the power, indeed.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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