Like many other US bands in recent times that did not start out with any particular campaigning bent, The Flaming Lips have just gotten political. Beginning with a chorus of 'yeahs' and an anguished falsetto that tries the ear's patience, opening track 'The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song' develops into a cautionary pondering on the corrupting nature of power. It is followed by 'Free Radicals', an arresting staccato track, which its subtitle describes as the Christmas skeleton pleading with a suicide bomber.
Another track, 'The W.A.N.D.', criticises fanatical minds that seek to rule the world. While it is debatable to which minds he is addressing, Wayne Coyne's magical W.A.N.D. (that's Will Always Negates Defeat) seems like an obvious reference to another four-letter acronym for Weapons Of Mass Destruction.
Elsewhere on 'At War With the Mystics', other themes can be detected. 'The Sound Of Failure/It's Dark...Is It Always This Dark??' has a different sonic character to the rest of the album, with piano and woodwind echoes recalling the moonlit tones of the band's first major success, 'The Soft Bulletin'. Lyrically, the song is a lament on suicide that is overtly critical of the pop world’s smash hit starlets.
For fans of the resolutely optimistic streak of The Flaming Lips' music that was most in evidence on the band’s last outing, 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots', 'My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion' is undoubtedly this album's standout track. Starting with summery bird sounds and leading with a soaring fuzzy riff and joyous chorus, the song springs from the same well as 'Race For The Prize' and 'Do You Realize?' among others from the band's last two albums.
This album's closer, 'Goin' On', is another upbeat number that manages to combine gushing backing vocals with groovy, keyboard-led tones and a tale of persevering to overcome adversity.
The second half of the album shows the breadth of styles the Flaming Lips can nod their instruments to, with sounds of guitar pedals, funky clap-along tempos and lounge, piano-led rhythms. A special mention must go to the prog rock track, 'Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung', which is a slow, brooding guitar and drum study of the famous story, with elongated lava flows of guitar and eruptions of crashing cymbals.
Truly a sonic treat from one of the most interesting rock bands around, both musically and lyrically.