Powered By Square1.io
The Flaming Lips
[Warner Bros. Records]
What does it mean to be part of the Flaming Lips In 2017? Of the few bands that have survived intact from the 90’s alt rock scene, The Lips have perhaps undergone the most pronounced changes in image. From their dirge-y breakout single ‘She don’t use jelly’, to the experimentation of their masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, Wayne Coyne’s crew just can’t sit still. Even in the relatively short time span between 2013’s underrated The Terror and this release, the band’s identity has shifted considerably.
The Terror was a schizoid, hyperactive nightmare that reflected two deeply personal setbacks the band was facing at the time of its recording—Wayne Coyne’s break up with his long-term partner and the resurfacing of Steven Drozd’s drug habits. The band, however, over compensated for the album’s darkness with a kaleidoscopic and high energy live tour that took itself about as seriously as America does its choice for leader of the free world. Beyond that, in this packed intervening period between LP’s, The Flaming Lips dabbled in becoming a legacy act with a re-release of 1995’s Cloud Taste Metallic, co-produced much of Miley Cyrus’ latest record, and even curated a thoroughly pointless Sgt Pepper’s cover album that was welcomed by as many people as there are surviving members of the Beatles.
With that strangely eclectic — Wayne Coyne at his most Wayne Coyne — set of circumstances in the run up to the release of Oczy Mlody, it is impossible to tell who would end up influencing it, let alone what it would end up sounding like. True to the front man’s form, it turns out none of them would. Instead, a chance meeting with rapper A$AP Rocky would influence Coyne’s direction, as he found something he could work with in the trippy hip hop his new friend champions. In an interview with The Guardian, he describes the album with a statement that’s less decipherable then the records title: “Syd Barrett meets A$AP Rocky trapped in a fairy tale from the future.” To translate that from Coyne speak, I guess that means, just another Flaming Lips album, because that is just what he has given us. Still, there are worse fates.
Oczy Mlody is clearly written from a sunnier perspective than it’s predecessor, but only because it’s not really about anything at all. Lyrically it’s full of gibberish nothings, words that were likely improvised by Coyne, mid mic-session, because of how they sounded, not what they meant. Sound rather than meaning is pretty much the modus operandi here. Coyne, who turned 57 last week, seems to going for that psychedelic LSD lyrical thing that Coyne, who is 57 years old, probably shouldn’t be doing anymore. Then again, what he sings about are the cliched hypnogogic imagery that someone who’s never been close to a trip would assume you see when hallucinating based on Grateful Dead recordings: “Yeah, there should be unicorns/ The ones with the purple eyes/ It should be loud as fuck” Coyne sings, as he certainly does not transcend.
That aside, there are still some great songs present. The decision to go for a moog-y, neo-psychedelic approach can put the band in an almost alien space that both has them in corner and forces them to rethink their sonic possibilities. The title track and opener is one of the best pure instrumentals the band has released yet. It’s a strong mind-bending experiment that feels like the first nugget of an idea for the album, and cements The Lips as a studio band, not a guitar band (Cloud Taste Metallic really does feel like 20 years ago). ‘How??’ is the best thing here, and the strongest attempt at marrying the album’s pop sensibilities with its more outfield contrarianism. Its slow-burning moody fuzz is aided by its more conventional structure and searing chorus.
Wayne Coyne’s new twitter BFF Miley Cyrus also makes a brief appearance on another one of the stronger efforts, ‘We a Family’. The optimistic closer is a surreal and vibrant plea for togetherness which features a bravo dual vocal performance from Coyne and the pop star.
The problem lies with pretty much everything that comes between those highlights. The Flaming Lips have certainly deconstructed the traditional pop formula and ripped up their aesthetic, but they stretched their sound so much that it ends up being a bit shapeless. They have forgone with traditional drums and guitar lines, but often the warping electronics and the offbeat wobbly bass beats can struggle to find a rhythm and direction. There are plenty good sections to these songs, but they feel disparately placed among the track list. For instance, the staggeringly indulgent 7 minute 35-second-long, ‘Listening to Frogs with demon eyes’ only real problem is that it’s about 7 minutes and 30 seconds too long.
Sure, this may be the Flaming Lips as you’ve never heard them before, but that’s only because they’re starting to sound like so many other bands. Many of the tracks, like ‘Galaxy I Sink’ and ‘Do Glowy’, call to mind the same kind of atmospheric, non-terrestrial claustrophobia that Radiohead perfected 17 years ago when they ditched their guitars. However, these are such pale and uninspired imitations that they might as well appear on an album called KID B. There is no doubt that The Flaming Lips are a band who refused to get comfortable in one sound, you just wish the one chosen for Oczy Mlody wouldn’t seem so uncomfortable for them to preside in.