The Flaming Lips have never failed to baffle, confound, delight, frustrate, and inspire me. I initially wrote them off as “alternative light” in the early 90’s in the wake of their hit single She Don’t Use Jelly (snobby hipster alert). As it now stands, that era of punk stoner pop rock ended around 1995, never to be revisited. It took me until 1999 to actually get into the band – The Soft Bulletin heralded a new era. Also, the best reviews the band ever received. The two shows I saw in Philadelphia for that album’s tour remain among the best, loudest, and most theatrical shows I’ve ever seen. The last 18 years have seen the band embrace electronic melancholy mixed with optimism (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots), existential dread in the wake of divorce by way of motorik (The Terror), and a few albums that try as I might just didn’t hit the mark for me. There are also a ton of collaborative albums, wild experiments, and one collaborator that is key to the genesis of Oczy Mlody – Miley Cyrus.
When news broke that singer Wayne Coyne was becoming close friends with Miley Cyrus I’d like to say that I welcomed that news with an open mind. But truthfully, my indie snob instincts kicked in – “what the hell is this?”. I know Coyne had gone through a rough time in his personal life and I honestly wasn’t sure if this was some sort of mid-life crisis. And maybe it is? Who knows? Who cares. What I can tell you is that the partnership with Miley Cyrus seems to have awakened optimism in the music of The Flaming Lips, starting with the collaborative album Miley Cyrus & her Dead Petz. A would be masterpiece if they had just shown some restraint in the editing process (23 songs), it was an unexpected delight. Though Miley Cyrus only appears on one song on the new record, her influence is felt throughout.
Now I know what you are thinking. What does that album title mean? Oczy Mlody is a Polish term that translates to “eyes of the young”. Keep in mind this is the world of Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins & company. So the band uses this term to take on a dark night of the soul, a drug induced self-rediscovery. And make no bones about it, this album sounds like a quintessential drug album. One that you’ll return to often to figure out what it was you just heard. Sometimes within the same song you’ll be taken on orchestral soundscapes, pop choruses, and prog interludes. It can be difficult to grasp and doesn’t always make for easy listening, which might explain some of the reviews that are all over the map. Not completely gone is the sadness that hung over 2013’s The Terror – the optimism on display is not unbridled. For the sake of employing an easy to follow along narrative, I am connecting the dots between official albums. And I’ll say, this is the 2nd masterpiece in a row. Something the band has not done since the 1-2 punch of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
The title track opens the record, a sad electronic prog tune that lays the groundwork for what will follow. How?? continues in this vein – a bass heavy lament that doesn’t really feature a chorus – just Wayne Coyne shouting How???. The Should Be Unicorns is where the album takes a left turn. Motorik sounds, a Neu! track married to pop. In the best possible way. Again, the chorus is almost non-existent, but it doesn’t impact the quality of the song. Lyrics are really out there “Yeah, there should be unicorns / The ones with the purple eyes / It should be loud as fuck”. Where is it all heading? How about the spoken word conclusion by Reggie Watts? Perhaps the most mind altering thing on the album. A sampling “And we will be high and the love generator will be turned up to its maximum. And we’ll get higher when, at last, the sun comes up in the morning and we will collapse under the weight of the ancient earth. And it will be inside me and it will be inside you. And it will be the end of the world and the beginning of a new love”. I can dig it. Nigdy Nie (Never No) is my favorite single from the album and features almost no lyrics. Go figure. Electronic beats, killer guitar riff, soothing orchestration. Galaxy I Sink is a meditation on existence and succeeds wildly. A simple beat with rapped lyrics gives way to the most emotional orchestration of the entire album. Absolutely my favorite song, it is a stunning display of emotion and complexity. “And with the floating specs in my tired eyes / I can see all dimensions of my life / At night, at night / How can the stars really know me now / When I fear their light will burn me up?”. Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes is the darkest song on the record – again, more of a prog song than anything other description I can think of. Wordless backing vocals are stunning, drum & bass drive the tune, while the emotional apex comes during the chorus “Have you ever seen someone die / In the summertime? / Is that what your demon eyes see?”. Exhilarating. Almost Home (Blisko Domu) is a late album masterpiece imbued with skittering beats, cathartic orchestration, and otherworldly lyrics. We a Famly closes the album with a pop oriented song that features Miley Cyrus singing a duet with Wayne Coyne. The ‘Lips don’t tone down their style and neither does Miley Cyrus – it is a perfect marriage of styles. “Oh, and I just can’t imagine / Life without you ever happen now”.
Certainly an album I’ve played dozens of time since release, it is well worth picking up – available just about anywhere (especially on the World Wide Web). The band is on tour now and I’m looking forward to the Seattle show in May. If you see a youngish looking hipster in his late 30’s with a look of joy on his face at the venue, it just may be me. See you there.
Verdict: Pop Prog Masterpiece
For Fans of: Miley Cyrus, Mercury Rev, Beyoncé, The Fall, Lady Gaga, Genesis, Madonna, Moby
- Oczy Mlody
- There Should Be Unicorns (featuring Reggie Watts)
- Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)
- Nigdy Nie (Never No)
- Galaxy I Sink
- One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Wizards and Witches to Kill
- Do Glowy
- Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes
- The Castle
- Almost Home (Blisko Domu)
- We a Famly (featuring Miley Cyrus)