It’s quite natural not to instantly enjoy the fruits of what a band may have to offer. Many bands fall into this category, mainly due to a more alternative approach - The Smashing Pumpkins’ brave step into electronica initially failed to entice fans and foes alike with ‘Adore’, Tool’s ever controversial brand of prog metal is not quite accessible enough for the mainstream eye and Weezer created a greatly awaited sophomore album by the name of ‘Pinkerton’, crafting a subversion from their previous effort which dramatically split the fan base; while alternative music and different directions can sometimes produce poor sales, today’s gradual appreciation manages to thrive them into a cult following.
The Flaming Lips are a prime example of alternative music - subtle in tone yet epic in scale, never have a band, arguably, crafted such intricate musicianship since the Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream era, with layers of textured sounds built to create a soaring and complete aural experience. While notoriously raw in the early years which offered a formidable blend of psychedelic pop rock in its most primitive form, the band never seemed destined for success - it obtained a certain charm in terms of its content and music, the main reason being that it was so ridiculous, but its wayward fashion proved too much for the mainstream to take. Yet, in the true sense of the word ‘alternative’, the Lips still kept progressing, and by the time The Soft Bulletin exploded onto the music scene, the band’s more majestic direction developed a strong new fan base while being critically acclaimed in the process, with the successor Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots following suit.
But if you throw a ball in the air, it firstly progresses upwards until it hits a peak point, thus being used as a metaphor for a band’s prime. Yet, the higher it is, the harder it will fall. This unveils the hype behind At War With The Mystics - to create yet another album of the year is certainly no easy feat, however the band always seemed to make it look so effortless; the chemistry between the musicians are normally complex and bold, making every listen a new experience due to the amount of depth and dynamics involved within, all fabulously complimented with a fantastic concept spread throughout, enticing listeners to venture through every emotion possible - Yoshimi features a subtle story based on the events of war, the effects of propagandists and how it will eventually effect our future; the story is so beautifully told, inviting listeners to become attached to the characters, all layered with an unyielding atmosphere.
This idea has been scrapped for their latest instalment, though. The way the story would weave so elegantly helped the music’s emotion become more profound, however this is simply not the case anymore. Gone are the days of the lyrical mastery from Wayne Coyne - this has now been replaced with simple, recycled tripe only found in the manufactured pop world. The most depressing aspect, though, is how upfront the messages are - ‘Haven’t Got A Clue’, probably the most sinfully boring song on the album, is an amalgamation of ‘crazy’ effects and repetitive instrumental work. However, if the lyrics were actually any good, it could have really brought a new level of concept to the song - yet, with lyrics like ‘Every time you state your case, the more I want to punch your face’, you cannot help that the concept of war has been drawn out a tad too far - the way it is now imposed has become a cliché, with now so many bands producing one dimensional, uninspiring ‘revolutions’ that will barely change the world, especially with music at that standard. Coyne’s arrogance is also shown throughout, giving an impression that this album seems to be in spite of what other bands have produced in this era, concocting the feeling that his views are the most valid. It’s now rather difficult to take the prospect seriously with such derivative cack.
Now, while this maybe a rather cynical view of the new brand of Lips’ music, the comparison between its predecessors is inevitable and therefore a disappointment. But another factor lost is their authentic and ambitious trademark sound - this album is dangerously overproduced. There are some good ideas involved, but the execution is pretty damn poor due to some, quite frankly, abysmal sound effects used to fill up sound barrier. ‘Free Radicals’ and ’It Overtakes Me’ are the main culprits of this, using some ridiculous synthesisers to add a new ‘comical’ vibe to the mix, but is mainly used for filler and is a little too busy in areas - sometimes there is so much going on it’s difficult to distinguish between the focal point of the music, sounding like an absolute mess. And then, the album becomes a little too bloated for its own good, over extending the songs in attempt to create that familiar, grand feel, yet it ends up feeling greatly disjointed - ‘The Sound Of Failure’ seems to be the album’s answer to The Soft Bulletin’s ‘The Spark That Bled’, but only quite happily shrivels up like a prune in contrast, all thanks to a very tiresome three minute coda which fails to emit any relevance to the actual song itself. While the song is actually quite pleasant, it also lacks the full textured scale that they normally derive in.
So is there really any hope at all? Well, the ballad orientated ‘Vein Of Stars’ helps create that orchestral trademark that the band were so highly praised for in the first place - the Pink Floyd esque guitar swoops in the background with a wah laden effect helps deliver a softly focused little number that just may well be the underdog of the whole album. The album closer also reminds us of why we love them so - ‘Goin’ On’ seems to be a continuation of Yoshimi’s ‘All We Have Is Now’, and while it is overly accessible just like effects of a generic pop song, it’s underlying sense of charm makes it a winner due to its simplicity.
But the amount of faults tragically overweigh the highlights - this is a rehashed, bloated and overproduced album that relies heavily on synths and effects, on top with some mediocre lyrics and musicianship. Wayne Coyne tries to deliver an evolution upon the mainstream views of war, yet he just falls flat on his face, regurgitating the same hereditary babble still existing in today’s music. And also, next time, please remember to use your instruments properly.
Tracks to download -
. Vein Of Stars
. Goin' On
. The Wizard Turns On...
. Accessible, pop orientated music
. Some songs capture the essence of their previous sound
. The sound quality is clear and crisp…
. Yet it is horribly overproduced
. The songs are manufactured and unnecessarily long
. Lyrically, it is a huge step back from the mastery involved within the predecessors
. Why is this so far removed from their back catalogue? Must. Not. Explode.