8. At War With The Mystics (2006)
One can be forgiven if Lips titles tend to run together. It's easy to get your wizards mixed up with your cosmoses, your egos with your frogs. This is the sunset of the Flaming Lips' huggy-pop era, and it opens with a flash. "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" is political pop-rock of the first order, a start-stop boogie with impeccable structure that replaces condemnation with questioning. Somehow, the Flaming Lips find the fun in fundamentalism, as in the glam-rocker "Free Radicals," wherein Wayne interrogates a suicide bomber with fab falsetto. "The W.A.N.D." is a legit jam, a Sly Stone-style political number with rousing vocal cadence, turntable imitations, and a curlicue guitar lick. (Two of its official videos evinced an unfortunate, long-standing habit of the band: the visual objectification of women. Another holdover from the founders of psych-rock, I guess.)
These successes still have to sit next to a few static compositions, the sound of a band ready to find the Next Thing. Their arrangement chops are as tight as ever, very nearly putting over "Goin' On" and the popstar-baiting "The Sound Of Failure" with L.A.-style soft rock. "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" offers yet another pretty airy melody over synthbeds; it takes the appearance of bleeding organ and rubbery guitar to even approach takeoff. Written for a theoretical Gwen Stefani, "It Overtakes Me" begins as red-hot mutant disco written around Ivins's heroic bassline. It stalls on 420-friendly couplets like "it overtakes me/ it wakes and bakes me," then finally runs out of gas with an extended ambient passage and a "Blackbird" coda.
As usual for the Flaming Lips, though, this is not quite like anything else in their catalog. Few bands have made so many genres serve such a distinctive sound. "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung," buried on side two, is a reverent take on prime Popol Vuh: churchy organ, steady rhythmic gallop, flute melody and all. And yet, there's something distinctively Lippy in the lacerating aluminum guitar bursts, and the way Dave Fridmann has them zoom through the mix. And there's still no singer quite like Coyne, who tracks the most devotional vocals of his career with a solemnity that is childlike in the best possible sense.