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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

Flaming Lips fight a wimpy battle with

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Flaming Lips have a lot riding on "At War with the Mystics," their first new album in four years. 2001's "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and 1999's "The Soft Bulletin" received hefty, well-deserved praise, and the ensuing Unlimited Sunshine Tour with Beck and The White Stripes launched them into the alternative rock stratosphere.

So, does the new record disappoint? Yes. The album has some songs that are very strong, but for nearly every good song, there's a boring one. And worse, much of the album treads on worn lyrical territory, but gives a poorer treatment.

The album starts strong with "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)." Lead singer Wayne Coyne asks what people would do if they had all the power, love, land or money in the world. The song is a charming mix of acoustic guitar, synth and handclaps. It's a cute song for people who like to contemplate corruption on the dance floor.

"Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)" is one of the weaker tracks on the album. For the average listener, this is the song where the album's title, "At War With The Mystics," starts to make sense.

"Free Radicals" is about a dream involving terrorists and Devendra Banhart. The lyrics are simple and kind of funny, but ultimately get old quickly. The guitar, drums and synth are nothing to rave about either. The only thing that boosts this song into "mediocre" territory is Coyne's stellar falsetto delivery.

The Lips obviously put more thought into the title of "The Sound of Failure/It's Dark ... Is It Always This Dark??" than they did into the song itself. A mix of bland lyrics, a guitar part that sounds like something better suited for Michelle Branch's next collaboration with Santana, and some spacey vocal and synth sounds, the song doesn't really take us anywhere new (or interesting).

"My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" (The Inner Life As A Blazing Shield Of Defiance And Optimism As Celestial Spear Of Action) is more or less "Yoshimi-the Remix."

Musically, there are songs nearly identical to this on Yoshimi, and the lyrics incorporate a lot of elements from "Do You Realize??" with some new, trite metaphors mixed in.

And finally, placed neatly after two mediocre songs, is a gem. "Vein of Stars" doesn't really beat a new musical path, but the instrumentation is tight and beautiful.

Easily one of this year's best chill-out songs, "Vein of Stars" contemplates man's place in relation to the stars, heaven and hell.

"The Wizard Turns On ... The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins" is a song I really can't complain about. It's an instrumental jam with lush synthesizers, and a driving beat. It sounds very much like the band's earlier work, but at the same time, doesn't feel tired.

According to Coyne, "It Overtakes Me / The Stars Are So Big ... I Am So Small ... Do I Stand A Chance?" is about masturbating while thinking about space (and ultimately freaking out about the insane vastness out there).

The first half of the song is a driving, bass heavy mass of instrumental layers. Eventually, the melody sweetly drifts off into oblivion in the second half of the song.

"Mr. Ambulance Driver" is just cheesy, but "Haven't Got A Clue" is much better. The lyrics are fairly stark ("Every time you state your case / The more I want to punch your face"), and for all the beauty in Coyne's other lyrics, he certainly does brutal honesty well.

The relatively simple, synth-dominated instrumentation complements Coyne's words.

Written about an old homeless man, "The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)" incorporates '80s rock influences successfully. While there are some very cool lines in the song, the lyrics wear out fast, as does the song's ability to stay fresh and interesting.

"Pompeii Am Gotterdammerungg" really just raises questions: Why do the Lips think they're Pink Floyd? And when will they stop trying to be like Pink Floyd? It doesn't suit their style or scope.

Its successor, "Goin' On," recalls "In the Morning of the Magicians" off of "Yoshimi," and strikes a very sweet and hopeful end to a mediocre album.

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