The Flaming Lips - At War with the Mystics (Cover Artwork)

The Flaming Lips

At War with the Mystics (2006)

Warner Bros.

In the video for "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" -- the leadoff track and first single on At War with the Mystics -- singer Wayne Coyne oversees a sort of "sport" in which random victims are forcibly covered in doughnuts and subsequently chased and captured by obese men and police officers. Toward the end of the video, Coyne is betrayed by his cohorts and becomes a victim of his own game. This five-minute spot is analogous to the Flaming Lips' entire career.

Since the 1992 release of Hit to Death in the Future Head, the Lips' major label debut on Warner Brothers, the band has insisted on rebelling against alternative rock, effectively victimizing the very norms of the genre. However, with each new record it has become exceedingly clear that their own rebellion hasn't been enough, and now the band seemingly stands opposed to even its own original sound. The Flaming Lips have turned on themselves.

At War with the Mystics is the Lips' 12th full-length album, their seventh on Warner Brothers, and by far their weirdest. The electronic glitches and freakish sound effects that first appeared on their last album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, are now the focal point of many of their songs. This time, though, Coyne and company aren't afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves.

The instrumental track "The Wizard Turns On…" and the penultimate jam "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung" both draw heavily from Pink Floyd, as do many other key moments on the record. "Free Radicals" elicits even stranger comparisons, as Coyne's soprano tone is reminiscent of Prince and even hip-hop darling Pharrell Williams.

The growth in the Lips' sound, however, hasn't exactly mirrored the growth (or lack thereof) in Coyne's lyrics. The novel but amateurish early `90s semi-hit "She Don't Use Jelly" is incomparable to anything on At War with the Mystics musically, but lyrically it isn't that different. The song "Haven't Got a Clue," for instance, is centered on the less-than-stellar lyrics "Every time you state your case / The more I want to punch your face." Even when the subject matter sounds deep, like on "Free Radicals," a chorus like "You think you're radical, but you're not so radical / In fact, you're fanatical" can ruin it.

However, the lyrics are the only problem with this album, and even they aren't all bad. The occasional lyrical misstep may subtract from its flow, but At War with the Mystics is undoubtedly among the Flaming Lips' best. If the band's progression continues, it shouldn't be too long before it finally releases that record that truly blows us all away. Until then, we'll have to settle for pretty good.