Throughout the long and complicated history of The Flaming Lips, they’ve managed to simultaneously embody and produce an insane amount of diverse musical experiments. From the grindingly noisy and raucous impact of Hear It Is to the borderline shoegaze elements crammed on top of poppy psychedelia that was Hit to Death in the Future Head, to the baroque masterpiece of The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips have spanned a career that is fueled by dynamism.
In recent memory, The Flaming Lips have had some odd incidents in terms of reconciling a vast catalog composed of those diverse and opposing styles and themes. It’s perhaps becoming more readily apparent as the band progresses through their career. But if Oczy Mlody and recent trends indicate anything, it’s that The Flaming Lips seem a bit more complacent to explore a singular idea, instead of engaging in their former antics as a hyper-weird noise-rock outfit.
Oczy Mlody is technically a concept album, a paint-by-numbers affair involving drugs and the collective unconsciousness and unicorns and other inane paraphernalia for the sake of weirdness. Make of that what you will, but as much aesthetic consistency has been applied to this album, it’s not enough to save it from its burgeoning mass of pure mediocrity. Yet, when really delving into what has been done here, there’s a consistency and a focus that, while constraining and predictable, is also new. This reinvention unfortunately also flirts perhaps too much with linearity. The sound that the former prophets of weird have captured here is really set in the opening track “Oczy Mlody,” a dreamy composition of delicate synth layers with intricate and often redacted noise filters that create a calm atmosphere, a baseline where anything could seemingly happen. Sadly, seldom does anything of note occur until the second half
But before we get to the second half, the first half continues a lot of tried and true styles we’ve seen in the past with Embryonic and The Terror, even evoking the most engaging aspects of Yoshimi. Alongside the chill ambiance of the first half, Wayne Coyne’s vocals are also quite subdued, more reined in, congruent with the sound, yet still iconically off key. He’s displaying some growth, though, as “There Should Be Unicorns” has Coyne experimenting loosely with some surprisingly monotone post-punk vocalizations.
As dedicated as this album is to a confined sound, there are still some moments that feel decidedly nostalgic, in line with the more robust baroque pop compositions of the past. “Sunrise” in particular with its charming sentimentality and huge, warm, layered choruses feels like it could have been a b-side off of Soft Bulletin. Which is a tremendous compliment to say the least. What’s even more perplexing however, is how classic standards of the rock genre seem refreshing when used sparingly here. “The Galaxy I Sink” possesses some slick guitar work, some of the most organic sounds that emerge in the entire album. It’s foreign enough in a body composed almost entirely with an electronic focus to remain far more impactful than it should and seems carefully considered in its writing.
Yet, in every refrain and in every extended chorus, there’s a certain somber clarity to Oczy Mlody that is prevalent throughout, and it’s difficult to discern if it was an aesthetic choice or an unintentional consequence of attempting to create a baroque opera drowning in electronic experimentation. This is technically The Flaming Lips’ fourteenth album, and it borders on being dangerously close to some of their prior outings without a real need or purpose to reinvent.
Oczy Mlody suffers from a middling first half that squanders its potential, choosing to linger for far too long before evolving into something with infinitely more charm, charisma and dynamism. It’s more of a minor tragedy than anything, because when there are strokes of brilliance, they are so immediately recognizable that you feel that some sort of the spontaneous creativity that adorned their earliest works has managed to seep through, showing the strength of the Lips’ ability to write a masterful and complex track that incorporates their signature sound. Instead, what’s there is hidden behind a wall of seemingly purposeless electronic flair and needless repetition.