Ten years ago the Flaming Lips were experiencing some interesting times, from a hit-and-run car crash, their drummer’s amputation due to a spider bite, and a bout of sore tongue that gave Wayne Coyne a speech impediment akin to the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is thought to be “mentally challenged” because of big shoes and post-dentist effects. Conye was also orchestrating car tape players. So there ya go.
God knows that a lot has happened since Conye’s bright idea for a band first popped up in 1983. A lot has happened for everyone since that time. But when it comes to a band enduring over 20 years of this-guy-in-and-this-guy’s-out (or even, where the hell did he go?), and everything else that comes from making music for a living, it’s beautiful to hear that twelve albums later, the Lips are still an rock ‘n’ roll anomaly, a bright snowflake that can’t be replicated.
In their way, every rabbit is pulled out of the sleeve on At War With The Mystics, from coughs and laughs thrown into the mix to abstract, to Atari-connected-to-a-blender samples. “Haven’t Got A Clue” is perfect for playing while watching the Fox Network on mute. Shades of Pink Floyd appear in and out throughout the album, including the underlying bass line of the epic “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung.”
Lips still flare the rockin’ guitar riffs, as in “The W.A.N.D.” but, overall, the tempo is bright and sunny like a bowl full of cherry Jell-O, even when they’re asking poignant questions “If you could watch everybody work while you just lay on your back / Would you do it? (Paris Hilton, you can answer “yes” to this), wondering if there really is a heaven, or giving it to the right-wing radicals that are still spouting their nonsense.
As Madonna, the queen of reinvention, is struggling to turn another page and refocus the spotlight on her persona, the Lips are still blowing away the musical mold. Not that she’s considered a failure by any means, but she would be perfect to play the part in a video for “The Sound of Failure,” set in the diner scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” pointing to the Conye while telling the waiter, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Insert any other pop star 20 years her junior, and it would still work out fine.