Wayne Coyne and I both have a personal history with the fast (sea) food joint Long John Silver’s. Famously, Coyne worked there as a teenager, manning the fryalator and making sure customers had enough tartar sauce for their deep fried clams. Apparently, he was really good at his job, (according to Coyne himself): “I still say that I could probably go back and work at Long John Silver’s… I get to do my art…but my skill level is working at a dumb restaurant.” Don’t sell yourself short, Wayne, you’ve done quite well in your other career — the Pied Piper of the Fearless Freaks of Oklahoma City, The Flaming Lips. Once, on a dare, I attempted to eat the LJS family sized portion (24) of hush puppies. After scarfing down 16, I projectile vomited in the back of my buddy’s ’89 Chevy Beretta. But I digress.
Back with their 14th studio album, and after the presentimental vibes of 2013’s The Terror, Oczy Mlody finds the Lips spinning their tires, caught between their acid-eating, knob turning experimental side and their pop sensibility that produced “Do You Realize?,” the go-to song for every wedding, prom and Target across North America.
Apparently there’s a narrative thread inside Oczy Mlody about a new, groovy drug that puts the entire general populace in a trance, dreaming of sex with mystical creatures. Aside from the unicorn porn, the “story” gets easily lost inside the cosmic slop. Even Coyne seems to be a bit tongue tied. On “How??,” he sings “I’d like to tell you / but I don’t know how.” How about just get to the point? The opening title track is an instrumental of zero consequence. It’ll neither get you high nor make time at your fast food job go any quicker. Oczy Mlody feels like a long, slow build to an entirely different album. In the past, Coyne and company have certainly been brazen with the notions of audial exploration, but they’ve never sounded this unfocused.
I blame Miley Cyrus. She’s the tongue studded, twerking Yoko Ono of the group. The Lips spent most of last year as the backing band for Cyrus’ Dead Petz Tour, which was in support of the unlistenable album of the same name. Both parties bring out the worst in the other. Perhaps there’s too much strangeness going on, which is a bummer since I’m a fan of both. I also love Syd Barrett and Rip Taylor, but I wouldn’t want them to have started a band together either. Actually…
Cyrus shows up on one track here — the album’s closer “We a Famly.” For these two, it’s the only attempt at a conventional pop song. It’s also one of two songs where Coyne lets his resilient falsetto fly (with a touch of auto-tune). The other song is “Sunrise (Eyes of the Young),” the most Yoshimi-era sounding track. Not that Coyne would consider that a compliment. He seems a bit too bored with writing hits — “the machine that brings me joy/ is now just a stupid toy.” Somebody keep this employee away from the milkshake machine.
“There Should Be Unicorns” feels promising before coasting on subpar Abbie Hoffman-isms. Coyne dreams of an kaleidoscopic orgy and lecherous acts with aforementioned horned horses, and “if the cops show up / we’ll give them so much money / it will make them cry and forgive us.” It’s enough to make your third eye roll.
Ultimately, Oczy Mlody is a hangover from one too many Cyrus-thrown bashes. The drugs are finally wearing off, there’s confetti caught in your teeth and the unicorns have gone home. This is a purging, too, which lends some optimism for whatever the future holds for The Flaming Lips. But, hey, if all goes south, there’s always clams to fry.