The first new album by The Flaming Lips since their 2014 reworking of The Beatles seminal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band called With a Little Help from My Fwends. Like that album, their new one also boasts some special guest stars. “Oczy Mlody,” the first track of the album sets a laid back mood. It is an instrumental that turns into a deep groove that gets your head bobbing.
“How??” Starts off with chirping bird sounds as Wayne Coyne sings in an almost whisper. The song induces an almost dream-like state, but under the surface, the lyrics hint at something much darker, “back when we were young, we killed everyone, if they fucked with us.” A lethargic beat builds as Coyne hints at the futility of foreknowledge in the chorus, “I tried to tell you, but I don’t know how.” What he tried to say, or what he was warning aren’t clear, but whatever it was, the outcome wasn’t good.
On “There Should be Unicorns” the Flaming Lips abandon formal song structure altogether, favoring a stream of conscious lyrical style with no refrains. In fact, the song runs out with a surreal spoken word piece by Reggie Watts about the end of the world.
At this point, the album seems to wander aimlessly from song to song. The album devolves into a series of sketches for songs that never feel fully finished. As if the Lips just started a recording session and released it unedited. There are good ideas, but it feels like they have never been curated into songs. The strings on “The Galaxy I Sink” introduces a symphonic passage, but quickly returns to a drone as if someone flipped the TV channel just as it was getting good.
The album almost refuses to build to anything substantial, it keeps the same lethargic pace, noodling along until “The Castle” emerges from the synth noise and stream of conscious lyrics, a beautiful jewel, perfectly formed. The opening line, “Her eyes were butterflies, her smile was a rainbow” sung over a breakbeat and ethereal backing vocals is the perfect summation of dream imagery that makes the Flaming Lips incredible. It is so jarring that you immediately snap to attention. This is a perfect Flaming Lips song.
They end the album with another piece of surreal perfection. “We a Famly” incorporates distorted vocals and a thudding bass line with a catchy hook. A structural delight with Wayne taking the first verse, Miley Cyrus the second and them harmonizing on the finale.
At 57 minutes the album feels bloated. And with the exception of a few really good songs, it also feels directionless and wandering. But damn those few songs are good. They are perfect examples of how good the Flaming Lips can be, and because of that they really stand out from the rest of the album.
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