The Flaming Lips (Re-Review)
At War With the Mystics - WARNER
FILTER Grade: 92% / Re-Review: 87%
By Staff on June 9, 2011
We're not perfect and, let's face it, sometimes hindsight is truly 20/20. It's with that spirit that we approach the FILTER Re-Review, a second chance for us to evaluate our opiniony opinions on records from past FILTER magazines. How does the record hold up now that we've had years to contemplate and listen? What would we give the record if it was coming out in the next issue? FILTER's editorial staff sat down to scratch their heads on a few releases and present to you: The Re-Review.
What are some records you think we did wrong? Leave 'em in the comments and we might just give them a second look.
Then, We Said:
Take a trip with me, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. It starts like this: You’re Brian Wilson, but re-living a happy childhood that never happened somewhere in Oklahoma, and you’ve got gray hair. Your britches are far too big for your cute lil’ chub-legs (think, say, age 8), but your quickly expanding mind is gushing in Technicolor waves from every natural hole in your tiny skull (and trying so damned hard to pop open that third eye), so where other awkwardly built kids with gray manes would undoubtedly stumble over their man-sized pantcuffs, you just kind of float. Did I mention that you’re wearing a gorgeous white suit made for a gentleman of impressive stature, and that you keep insisting that everyone call you Wayne?
So one day, you’re walking out in the OK wheat fields, scribbling words that hint at universal wisdom on the back of a Raffi record in colored pencil (you know, kids’ stuff like, “They’ve got all the weapons to solve all their questions/They don’t know what they’re for”) and, as so often happens in this type of situation, you fall down a rabbit hole that’s actually a trans-dimensional highway built only to accommodate children. Your Raffi record shatters and, along with the rest of the colored pencils in your jacket pocket, becomes fused with the suit. You now look like a pint-sized psychedelic Shredder (Ninja Turtles, dude). You sing killer harmonies and possess the collective wisdom of the proletariat. You’re ready to rock.
Hurtling through the rift in space and time, you start to hear a funny sound. It’s another kid’s voice, answering the string of rhetorical questions that you now realize have been pouring from your mouth since you fell in. “If you could blow up the whole world/With the flip of a switch/Would you do it?” you sing in a deeper-than-normal, folksy register. “Yeah yeah yeah yeah,” answers the other boy. “If you knew all the answers/And could give ’em to the masses/Would you do it?” – “No no no no.” Suddenly, a pudgy little arm pokes through the vortex, grabs you by your eyepatch and yanks you into a fantastical room. There are incredible sounds ricocheting through the gravity-light atmosphere: electronic buzzing, big fuzzy guitars, summery acoustic strumming and your new friend’s voice coming from every angle.
While the boy’s extra sets of arms (he has three pairs) are busy tugging on all manner of pulleys and levers, he brushes off your coat and introduces himself as Steven D. The balding, bespectacled kid staring at the giant console full of knobs is Michael, he says, and Fridmann’s the one running around with a propeller on his head. This room is called the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” There are 11 more like it, he explains, each unrecognizable from the last but for a few constants: “It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be weird and wild, my voice will always be there (if only multi-tracked as a series of tones that lend context to the son—err, room), and each room will further alter your perception of what we, as a band of four brothers, can do.”
You now understand that you’ve been chosen to help in a grand philosophical battle—these kids are At War With the Mystics, and both sides are debating the other’s significance, authority and (even) existence. Steven D. asks if you’re ready, and you respond in a wavering croon: “You cannot know yourself/And what you’d really do/With all of your power!” and skip off. The next room, “Free Radicals,” is weird indeed: clips of brazen rock guitars stop and start at odd intervals while booming bass and drums compete with “oohs,” “ahhs” and glitchy sounds. You bust a move on the pink vinyl floor and the spirit of Prince enters your throat: “You think you’re a radical,” you sing in a clipped falsetto, “But you’re not so radical/In fact you’re fanatical!” Things take a heavy turn in “Sound of Failure/It’s Dark… Is It Always This Dark?” as you meet a girl pondering death and listening to what you could only describe as melancholy Brazilian psychdisco. After four minutes, the room’s walls fall away, mechanical bugs begin chirping, and a pensive Mellotron flute can be heard. It’s getting really proggy in here. You like it, but alas, it’s time to move on.
Each consecutive room is stranger than the last. “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” and “Vein of Stars” both appear to be outdoors, though you feel no draft. Birds tweet, stars twinkle and chopped record static rains down on piles of organs while the Mystics take a beating (“It’s just you and me/And maybe it’s just as well/If there ain’t no Heaven/Maybe there ain’t no Hell). Entering “The Wizard Turns On…” you suddenly find yourself holding a panflute, facing a large gate with a placard that reads “Of Dawn” (Pink Floyd, dude). Elsewhere, there are signs that read “Nearby, the King they Call Crimson” (the boldest-painted of which you find in the totally awesome room “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung;” while there you decide to grow a really bitchin’ ’70s mustache) and cracked disco balls that tell a different story entirely (one that inspires you to weep whilst move-busting). The next couple of rooms leave your endurance waning.
You muster your strength to push open one more door, and you find it: “The W.A.N.D.” This is what you were called here for, the Mytics’ biggest fear. You remember the words you wrote on the back of the Raffi record, and through the alabaster bombast, you speak your everyman wisdom to a gathering crowd of children with gray hair. You hand them rods of existential might, and start up a chant: “We got the power now/Mutherfuckers, it’s where it belongs!” The cries build to a fevered pitch, the room is vibrating, the Mystics are shaking, and just when it all gets dangerously close to revolution…you wake up.
You’re back in Oklahoma, an undersized freak with oversized clothes. Nothing’s changed except that you have a mustache. It seems all is lost. And then it hits you. “I’ll start a band,” you think aloud, “and I’ll call it the Flaming Lips.” CHRIS MARTINS
Now, We're Like:
Original Rating: 92%
Original Review Said: "There are 11 more like it...each unrecognizable from the last but for a few constants: 'It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be weird and wild, my voice will always be there (if only multi-tracked as a series of tones that lend context to the son—err, room), and each...will further alter your perception of what we, as a band of four brothers, can do.'"
Are We Still Listening?: Yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah.
Reputation: Let's get one thing out of the way: The Lips rule. They're an ever-adapting, perma-ecstatic psych-mindfuck of a band that plays by no rules except their own, warped and weird as all hell. In 1993, on Transmission from the Satellite Heart, they were melodic and messy—yes, the punks were taking acid. By 1999's The Soft Bulletin, they had reached a new peak of experimentation and instrumentalism that flew with vibrant colors high above everyone's head. It wasn't until 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots that they had truly arrived at, for all intents and purposes, their commercial breakthrough with radio cuts like the unforgettable "Do You Realize??"
2006's At War With the Mystics is Wayne, Steven, Michael and Kliph's follow-up to that surge of popularity. Oh, they're at war, all right. It pains us to say it, but if the Lips ever took a misstep once they hit their stride, Mystics is undoubtedly it. That being said, again, the Lips rule. With talents like Steven Drozd's and imaginations like Wayne Coyne's, you have to try pretty damn hard to make a bad record, and Mystics certainly ain't one. But looking back, and realizing that with 2009's Embryonic the Lips could still hit a mark that nearly matched Bulletin, we've got to check ourselves with Mystics. It's part political commentary, part party, and you can't build something solid on uneven ground. It's silly, it's sublime—but for the Lips "worst," it's still pretty sensational.
Re-Review Rating: 87%