Recordings: The Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics

    Though it may sound like it was ripped right from the motherboard of a spacefaring Artoo unit, the Flaming Lips aren’t singing about robots this time. In fact, despite the farty synth squonks and sometimes spare, mechanical rhythms, At War With the Mystics is unswervingly human.

    As the weirdest (popular) band in current rotation, the Lips don’t need to act human. They don’t need to sing songs about Bush or suicide bombers, or death and loneliness. But they do, with absolute humanity, finding a rosy understanding of the world both enviable and addictive.

    When singer Wayne Coyne talks about Bush, he wonders if he or anyone else would do the same thing in such a position. In the machinelike “Free Radicals,” Coyne imagines that neo-hippie Devendra Banhart is dissuading a suicide bomber from that path. Other songs are bittersweet poetry: about Gwen Stefani imagining her place in the universe, a girl made sad by the emptiness of her pop music (yes, that means you) and Coyne’s heart-wrenching last days with his dying mother. Somehow, wondering about the Gwens and Dubyas in all of us fits the Lips’ humanistic worldview perfectly, and makes for a beautiful listen.

    The music by itself is hard to take for those used to the last few Lips albums, with off-key falsettos and loud, fuzzed- out guitars battling stereophonic synthesizers and Bonzo-in-a-box drumming. There are still the soft synth lines of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on the slower songs, but here they evolve into stadium-worthy hard rock. The lone instrumental (“The Wizard Turns On His Giant Silver Flashlight And Put On His Werewolf Moccasins”) is another slice of weird spaceship-landing perfection; like an aural Rorschach test, it’s the soundtrack to your own personal movie.

    The point? This is a rock record, and if Black Sabbath isn’t in your collection, you might want to sit this round out.

    The Flaming Lips will perform on May 24 at SDSU Open Air Theatre.

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