The Flaming Lips’ new album is called At War With the Mystics, so naturally there’s a fair amount of combat on the disc. But it’s the people Wayne Coyne and company are taking up arms against that might raise a few eyebrows.
“Of course there’s a lot of stuff about battling wizards and warlocks and people like that, because we’re a rock band and that’s what rock bands do in some small way,” Coyne laughed. “But when I was writing these songs, I found myself thinking about a lot of people like Destiny’s Child and the Black Eyed Peas, people like Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani, which is sort of strange for me.”
There’s a fair amount of ground covered on Mystics’ twelve tracks, from musings on life and death to speculation on humanity’s place in the universe. But there’s also a plethora of potshots taken at some of pop’s biggest luminaries. Take, for example, the epically titled “The Sound of Failure/ It’s Dark … Is It Always This Dark??” On that track, Coyne tells the story of a young girl whose best friend has just died, and describes the girl’s struggle to cope with loss in the midst of, as he puts it, “this juvenilely grating music” that populates every aspect of our lives.
“There’s a line in that song that goes, ’So go tell Britney and go tell Gwen,’ and I guess part of what I’m railing against on that song is this preternaturally happy music sung by kids and written by 40-year-old Swedish men. And in between them there’s this void,” he explained. “I guess the worst offender is like the Black Eyed Peas or Destiny’s Child, where they’re going, ’I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it,’ and I’m like, ’Well, you’re 20, what are you going to survive? Getting a bikini wax this weekend?’
“So the song sort of plays all that against all these small triumphs of life. In this case, a girl who’s just lost a friend, and everywhere she goes, her friends are like, ’Oh, it’s all good, girl!'” he continued. “And she doesn’t want to dismiss them, but she wants to embrace these failures in life — even though she’s inexperienced, she’s trying to become experienced. And she goes into this void. It’s really courageous, actually.”
But not everything’s that deep. There’s plenty of, as Coyne said back in September, “guitar-rock things that we’re freaked out about” (see “Flaming Lips Re-Discover The Guitar For Upcoming ’Weird-Rock’ Album” ). Case in point, the first single, “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” a bombastic exercise in call-and-response that sounds like equal parts Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and a bizarre B-side from the Starland Vocal Band — all which happened completely by accident.
“All great slogan-esque rock songs have the same sort of genesis where you have a happy accident in the studio. In the case of ’Yeah Yeah Yeah,’ I was walking by the recording booth and I heard [Lips drummer] Steven [Drozd] doing this crazy chorus,” Coyne explained. “And I thought, ’That would be a great call-and-response, where I would say something, and these sarcastic, fairy-dust Japanese children’s voices would answer back, ’Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!’ And it turns out that it worked.”
The Lips will shoot a video for “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” in Los Angeles at the end of the month with director/collective Traktor (Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At?” Madonna’s “Die Another Day”). Much like everything his band does, Coyne says he’s looking forward to the opportunity to get weird and wonderful.
“They’ve done some marvelously crazy videos, and the treatment they sent me has me dressed up as an evil king, and at one point I have a lion on a chain,” he enthused. “And they have real animals in their videos, so that excited me to no end, to be able to work with an actual lion. I just hope I don’t get mauled or anything like that.”
The track list for the Flaming Lips’ At War With the Mystics, according to Warner Bros. :
- “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”
- “Free Radicals”
- “The Sound of Failure/ It’s Dark … Is It Always This Dark??”
- “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion”
- “Vein of Stars”
- “The Wizard Turns On …”
- “It Overtakes Me/ The Stars Are So Big, I Am So Small … Do I Stand a Chance?”
- “Mr. Ambulance Driver”
- “Haven’t Got a Clue”
- “The W.A.N.D.”
- “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung”
- “Goin’ On”