Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

10 April, 2006

At War With The Mystics

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. For the first time, I don't think the Lips really stretched themselves musically. Mystics seems like the logical follow-up to 2002's Yoshimi - and for the Lips to do something that's, well, logical, is something of a disappointment.

Also, the songs on Mystics don't seem to form a cohesive whole the way that their two previous albums did. I thought Yoshimi followed a thematic arc that gave the album a conceptual unity, while The Soft Bulletin seemed exquisitely arranged to the ebbs and flows of an MDMA trip. Mystics, on the other hand seems to bounce around both musically and narratively, leaving a more disjointed impression.

That said, what I'm saying is that Mystics is the "White Album" to The Soft Bulletin's Sgt. Pepper, maybe not as brilliant and groundbreaking, but still a fucking great listen.

A lot of folks have mentioned that the Lips latest foray was a reaction to the Bush Administration (with Steven Drozd going as far as saying that Wayne Coyne wanted to try out some "half-baked protest lyrics"), and listening to songs like "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," with it's cynicism about the use of power for good, and "Haven't a Clue" (You haven't got a clue/And you don't know what to do/You used your money and your friends/To try and trick me... but you won't trick me) certainly gives credence to this perspective. I don't have any recollection of Coyne's lyrics being this overtly political, and they sometimes come off as a bit ham-handed and a little silly. But they're couched in such memorably fun tunes that they make for a great listen, be it the white-boy funk of "Free Radicals" or the Sabbath-esque crunch of "The W.A.N.D."

The real soul of the album, however, comes when the Fearless Freaks get busy doing what they do best, which is sketching out psychedelic introspections about our common humanity. "The Sound of Failure," "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," and "Vein of Stars" are a mid-album cycle acknowledging sadness and regret which I think marks the emotional centerpiece of the album.

This album also marks the Lips most trippy outing in some time (which says a lot, as every Flaming Lips album begs to be listened to with headphones at high volume while sucking down copious bonghits). Mystics has two tracks that are heavily influence by Pink Floyd ("The Wizard Turns On..." and "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung"), while the remaining tracks are marked by the production tricks that have been a hallmark of the Lips work with Dave Fridmann. The kaleidescope of sounds continually reveals itself upon repeated listens.

Finally, I just wanted to note the albums goofiest, but in my mind most endearing track, "It Overtakes Me," where Coyne repeatedly sings the tune's title over a bouncy Michael Ivins bass line before spacing out into a psychedelic reverie as the narrator marvels about his insignificance in the vast universe. The song is brilliantly conceived and produced, is silly and fun, but manages to convey an emotional depth that's wholly unexpected. And really, that last statement could be used to just sum up the Lip's entire musical career.


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