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By David Greenwald

April 9, 2006 9:00 p.m.

The Flaming Lips “At War with the Mystics”
Warner Brothers Records

Back before the career-making opus that was “The Soft
Bulletin,” The Flaming Lips were kind of a gimmick band. As
if the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, the Lips’ pre-1999
material was more concerned with silliness than crafting songs. The
band’s primary interest was in sonic forays like the
four-disc “Zaireeka,” an album based on the premise of
the listener playing all of the CDs on four different stereos
simultaneously. The Lips’ latest work, then, is somewhat of a
return to form. Eschewing the moderately successful attempts at
traditional songwriting that characterized 2002’s
“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” “At War with
the Mystics” is loud, experimental and, above all, as much
fun as the Flaming Lips have ever been.

Not that hyperactive singer Wayne Coyne needed the extra jolt,
but the Lips cranked up the volume on this album: “The
W.A.N.D.,” “Free Radicals” and “It
Overtakes Me” (on which Coyne says “You could turn it
up even a little bit more”) are all riff monsters, attention
focused squarely on electric guitars and overdriven amps. On the
smoother side, “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” is all
sweet “Soft Bulletin” synthetic strings and oscillating
effects before a distorted guitar takes the lead. The reliance on
superfluous sound effects harms “Free Radicals” and
“Haven’t Got a Clue” on repeated listens, but for
the most part, the songs are complex, diverse and consistently

One of the major strengths of “The Soft Bulletin”
was the merging of Coyne’s nonsensicalness with the moral
platitudes that went on to overwhelm “Yoshimi.” Here,
Coyne isn’t above generalizing and name-calling (“You
think you’re so radical / you’re fanatical!”) but
it’s only semiserious, and many of the songs are personal
rather than judgmental. “Mr. Ambulance Driver,” written
for Coyne’s deceased mother, is a simple, gentle expression
of sorrow and resignation delivered with the Lips’
characteristic bounce. “Though I live, somehow I’ve
found / Mr. Ambulance Driver, I’m not a real survivor /
I’m wishing that I was the one that wasn’t going to be
here anymore,” Coyne sings, and though the words register,
the buoyancy of the music makes it hopeful all the same.

While The Flaming Lips will probably never equal the unique
synergy of “The Soft Bulletin,” just hearing them make
the attempt again is pretty inspiring. It’s a tribute to the
band that, after two decades in the trenches, they have as much
drive as ever, and ““ unlike most groups their age ““ the
music to match. E-mail Greenwald at [email protected]

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David Greenwald
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