I genuinely never have the slightest idea what The Flaming Lips are thinking. I haven’t got a clue when they’re being serious, or indeed whether they’re ever truly serious. Equally I can’t tell when they’re joking, or even if they’re joking. All of which either makes the me the most or least suitable person to review their new album, Oczy Mlody, a title chosen from a Polish book entirely for the way it sounds, rather than for what it means, although Wayne Coyne has said that he thinks it sounds like a mysterious drug from the future. (It means ‘eyes of the young’ by the way.)
Most Flaming Lips albums give the impression that absolutely anything can happen next and in this sense Oczy Mlody doesn’t disappoint. It opens with the title track, an instrumental, which acts to strap the listener in for a new ride, and we’re off. Highs and lows, light and darkness, soul-searching and silliness. As usual, some tracks are more recognisably ‘song-like’ than others, with early highlights in ‘How’, all bass-heavy synths and lyrics that remind us that lucidity is over-rated, and ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ a wish list for a party at the end of the world (unicorns, naked slaves, day-glow strippers, edible butterflies, motorcycle stunts, the usual kind of thing) set to a synthesised blipping and clicking ‘80s disco backing track. Half way through ‘Unicorns’ Reggie Watts pops up to reiterate the importance of the unicorns’ eyes being purple (not green, what were you thinking?) and to emphasise “we will be high” which is probably unlikely to come as a great shock to any one of you.
‘Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)’ takes a tune that originally came to our attention on Miley Cyrus’s and Her Dead Petz album and re-makes and re-models it to come up with a work of dreamlike beauty that’s every bit as good as the original that the boys and Miley made and slipped onto SoundCloud in 2015. ‘The Castle’, damned by Wayne Coyne’s faint praise as “an embarrassingly pure little song” is about the suicide of a friend, but don’t let that put you off, because as we all know it’s when they’re at their most personal that The Flaming Lips can turn in their most beautiful work and this one, full of butterfly eyes and rainbow smiles and, crucially, a ruined castle that can never be rebuilt, ranks alongside their very best. It has an elegance that’s beyond description; you really need to hear it.
And ‘The Castle’ is almost (but not quite) eclipsed by the arrival of Miley herself on the closing track, ‘We A Family’ a tale of people who are apart but desperately want to be together, it’s poppy and uplifting, because even though they’re separated the overall message is a hopeful one and it literally ends the whole album with a giggle.
Some people like only one kind of music. I don’t. I love all sorts; I love music to be dark but I also love it when it’s frivolous. I love lyrics that seem to speak directly to me, but I also love it when they make no sense whatsoever. I love music that just washes over me, playing away in the background not caring whether I’m paying attention or not, but I also love music that demands to be heard. I love musical experimentation, and I’m just as happy when a recognisable song structure breaks through. Oczy Mlody is all of these things. More than anything I love it when musicians have absolutely no regard for how they are perceived, because that’s the only state that gives complete and total freedom of expression, and it’s only really then that musicians can be truly defined as ‘artists’.
And The Flaming Lips are artists.
I wrote a book about music once. It's called "The Great Cassette Experiment" and you can buy it for your Kindle. I'm busy writing another one. And the one after that one will almost certainly be a biography of the German genius behind Boney M and Milli Vanilli, Frank Farian.
I was 50 years old when I wrote this, however by the time you read it I will be at least 51.