It is always hard to know what to expect from a new album by The Flaming Lips. This, however, is to the band’s credit; not many artists pass the 30-year mark and remain so wonderfully unpredictable.
So, the headlines: Oczy Mlody is not The Soft Bulletin Part II, nor a second instalment of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. It is probably best described as melancholic electronica, and is one of those albums that needs to be listened to in its entirety, ideally several times, to absorb its full effect.
The simple-but-insistent keyboard motif that runs through the (instrumental) title-track opener continues on the following song ‘How’ and even returns later as a recurrent theme, elegantly stitching the album together. Singer Wayne Coyne’s voice is the perfect foil to the mainly synthesised music, just the right side of fragile and displaying a real vulnerability. ‘How’ sets the bar very high before the marvellously squidgy ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ comes along to replace it. “There should be unicorns / Ones with the purple eyes / Not the green eyes” sings Coyne, as he describes a fantastical scene which includes day-glo strippers, edible butterflies and motorcycle stunts, before maverick musician / beat boxer / all-round man of many talents Reggie Watts appears to deliver a remarkable voiceover describing how, at the scene, “The moon should be down for at least three hours, in a very red or orange state” and that, when the sun eventually comes up in the morning, “We will collapse under the weight of the ancient earth”. It could only be The Flaming Lips, (if not, at a push, perhaps Julian Cope!)
‘Sunrise (Eyes Of The Young)’ is a more traditionally-structured song, beautiful and comparable to something like ‘All We Have Is Now’ (from Yoshimi…). It is one of the more instant moments on the record and up there with the band’s best.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned unpredictability of The Flaming Lips, one thing that is a reasonable bet these days is the presence of Miley Cyrus; it appears to be a marriage made in heaven as she also appeared (alongside the likes of My Morning Jacket and Moby) on the band’s re-imagining of The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, (re-branded as With A Little Help From My Fwends) and the band returned the favour by collaborating on the well-received Cyrus’ album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. She waits until the final track, the excellent ‘We A Famly’ before making an appearance – one of the undoubted highlights of the record.
First single ‘The Castle’, a delicate song with a counter-intuitively deep bass line that attacks the ears and the stomach with equal relish, is kept back until a couple of songs before the end – together with ‘We A Famly’ and the yearning ‘Almost Home (Blisko Domu)’ it makes for a very strong finish to the album.
Elsewhere, there are more experimental songs such as the seven-minutes-plus ‘Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes’, which ebbs and flows and goes off on a few tangents along the way, and ‘One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches’, which brings to mind Yello‘s perhaps under-appreciated masterpiece You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess (musically, at least – once Coyne comes in, it couldn’t be anyone but The Flaming Lips).
Oczy Mlody is not an immediate album, but give it chance and it has the power to draw the listener back time and again, and becomes quite addictive. A very successful return from everyone’s favourite Oklahoma all-stars.
Oczy Mlody is released by the World’s best record label, Bella Union, on 13th January 2017.