One of the few musical acts whose members continue to push the boundaries of their music twenty years into their band's tenure, the Flaming Lips have only started to realize the level of their rock stardom. The Lips' popularity has grown since 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and their '02 tour opening for Beck and acting as his supporting band introduced them to a whole new audience that would've completely missed the depth of 1999's The Soft Bulletin (every hipster's favorite Lips album) and their previous releases. With so many more ears eagerly awaiting a taste of At War With the Mystics, Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd know they probably could fart on record and still get hundreds to line up to hear it. Instead, they put out another solid album that represents their unadulterated ingenuity and continued pursuit of sonic experimentation.
Sure, the production on At War With the Mystics isn't anything overly complex, but its attention to catchy funk rhythms ("The W.A.N.D.") and tweaked sounds ("Free Radicals") keeps each song fresh and interesting. The album's biggest fault is in its song order. It opens with two energetic and catchy songs ("The Year Yeah Yeah Song" and "Free Radicals") before going into nearly twenty minutes of mellow psychedelics on the next three songs. But like most Flaming Lips albums, At War With the Mystics takes a little time to truly appreciate and is probably best suited for headphones listens.
Sonically, the album picks up exactly where the Lips left off with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: heavy on the pop psychedelics, occasionally odd without being inaccessible. Lyrically, it's the same game, too. Coyne pulls out all the stops with almost forcefully ironic lyrics ("Yeah Yeah Yeah Song") juxtaposed against stories of life and death ("Mr. Ambulance Driver").
With their more recent popularity, many have shoved the Flaming Lips aside as musicians willing to do anything for success. But the band continues to prove that it's more worthy than most at the top of the ladder. The Flaming Lips' music has been licensed everywhere from commercials to shows such as Charmed or Smallville, and that excessive commercialism has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. But this band isn't new to the world of cashing in; remember the Lips' appearance in '94 on Beverly Hills 90210?
And when separated from all that baggage, this is a solid collection of musicians striving to make great music, and At War With the Mystics is a worthwhile token of their talents.
The Flaming Lips Web site (streaming audio)"Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" video