, January 13th, 2017 16:58
Up until the release of this, their fifteenth full-length effort, Flaming Lips’ fifth studio album Hit To Death In The Future Head – released in the changeable milieu of the early 90s – was their only record to come bearing a Parental Advisory warning. The increasingly rare appearance of the caveat (voluntarily placed on audio recordings "in recognition of excessive profanities or inappropriate references" since 1985) has largely long since outgrown any semblance of functioning utility. It’s 2017: fucks, shits and cunts will happen; going to the effort to let the world know they’re happening with your own art is often a step-back; a big look-at-me; a silly, gratuitous discomfiture.
With there existing no specific definition of the term in relation to the warning, the “explicit” quality of Oczy Mlody is all but imaginary. Viewed within the frame of the bigger picture – i.e. the recent, well-publicised insubmission of Wayne Coyne, a recently divorced, 50-odd neon druid casually rebooting his mysticism and insulating a large chunk of his band’s fanbase by way of sluggish output and all but adopting Miley Cyrus as a fellow tripped-out bon vivant – this “warning” is much more of a statement in itself, for better or worse. Whether it spells new-found bravura or awkward chutzpah for the band is wholly dependent on your reading. For this listener at least, it’s merely a distraction from what is a slick, galvanic return to form.
Described by Coyne as "Syd Barrett meets ASAP Rocky [...] trapped in a fairy tale from the future” Oczy Mlody is, both in texture and temperament, the natural successor to 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Where the earworming peaks of 2009’s Embryonic and 2013’s The Terror glided in and out of focus, Flaming Lips have once more tapped into that marriage of abstracted cosmic luminosity and straight-up, song-orientated pop songwriting that made YBTPR and their baroque pop opus The Soft Bulletin not simply densely transporting but also records worth returning to, time and time again. Doubling up as the band's first non-collaborative release in four years, early highlights 'There Should Be Unicorns' and 'Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)' are familiar in the best possible sense: this is the sound and subtle aplomb of a band, focused, unified and intent on regeneration.
Wedding masterfully sparse percussive themes, submerged psych, future funk tangents and hip-hop tinged pop, the likes of seven-minute 'Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes' and lead single 'The Castle' are peaks in what Coyne hoped would seem “a record with abstract substitute meaning”. Where previous efforts have certainly flirted with achieving just that, this is an exploratory release that, for all its gentle, wandering, wide-screen refraction, doesn't disregard the “meaning” that ensures the trip is well worth taking. A record akin to returning home to safety of one’s own hole in the world after an extended breach of “square living”, hungover to high-heaven but almost reverent of the potential of the glory of just taking a step back, Oczy Mlody re-presents Flaming Lips as a band to be taken seriously once again, despite how much fun they’re clearly having doing it.