By Jack Alcott
Formed in 1983, The Flaming Lips cut their teeth playing Oklahoma City’s underground punk and new wave clubs, gradually evolving into one of the most experimental and original bands on the national scene. With 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” they burned their way onto the airwaves with memorable trance tunes like “Do You Realize?," their first single. Since then, the Lips have won several Grammy Awards, including two for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. “Embryonic” the group’s 12th album, follows up on 2006’s critically hailed “At War with the Mystics,” and was recorded in Fredonia, N.Y., and Oklahoma City.The Lips are well-know on the concert circuit now for artsy and outrageous live performances that often include various pyrotechnics and other special effects — such as frontman Wayne Coyne singing from inside a clear plastic bubble lofted above concertgoers on a sea of upraised hands.But it's not all theatrics; the music has a peculiar, driving charm of it's own and when in a certain spaced-out mood, I love to blast The Flaming Lips at top volume, reveling in their chaotic smorgasbord of sonic pyschedelia — a quick ticket right off the planet. My long-suffering wife, who’s nowhere near as musically unhinged as I am, will quickly exit the room.And that’s probably the way it’s always going to be with the Lips’ music; it’s not for everyone. But those who love the band, — and they are many— will not be disappointed by the Oklahoma City eccentrics’ latest venture deep into the musical nethersphere. From the opening track, “Convinced of the Hex,” Coyne’s vocals ride high above an electric storm of ambient bleats, electronic honks and buzzy explosions, all somehow held together by airy, fleeting melodies and wave upon wave of fuzzed-out guitar, deranged synthesizer and Kliph Scurlock’s crazed, propulsive drumming.Coyne has a great set of pipes and his voice alternately soars, croons, pleads and intones over a wash of harmonies that lend the music an otherworldly beauty.Clearly these guy’s are descendants of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, early ‘70s Amon Düül, The Moody Blues and San Francisco’s much darker Tuxedomoon during that band’s “Half Mute” days, circa 1980. All with a megadose of Eno from his “Taking Tiger Mountain” period.Coyne, something of a wacko-visionary and Acolyte of Syd — as in Barrett — also writes strange and playful lyrics reminiscent of England’s premier rocker-Dadaist Robyn Hitchcock. Interesting word combinations are as important to Coyne as droning chord changes, and his writing takes on a kind of trippy poetry with titles like “Gemini Syringes,” “Silver Trembling Hands” and “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine.”Now, if you’ve ever been to OKC, you know it’s a city that offers up a jarring brand of American-industrial surrealism on nearly every corner, from the giant golden geodesic dome downtown, to The Cowboy Hall of Fame and the occasional tornado funnel that whips through town. It’s a prairie city where cathedral-style Gothic skyscrapers from the Roaring ‘20s share the landscape with skeletal, smoking oil rigs that pump through the night under the blinking red lights of 1,000-foot-tall radio towers marching like space invaders into the desert horizon ... So, in that context, it’s not really so odd that one of America’s weirdest bands would spring up like a hothouse orchid in such parched, Southwestern soil. After all, OKC was home to the likes of rockabilly’s “blond Elvis” Eddie Cochran, jazz-guitar genius Charlie Christian and The Mutants’ Paul Fleming. A little bit of whimsy goes a long way, though, and Coyne does sometimes tend to overdo it. But so what? The passion is there and he’s having fun — and so will fans.About midway through the CD, the Lips dig into “The Ego’s Last Stand,” a tune that exhibits some muscular guitar riffs and makes you wish the band had introduced more rhythm and blues grit to the mix. Back in the early ‘80s when they were just gaining an audience, the other great underground band in Oklahoma City was The Fortune Tellers, led by the brothers Basile and Miho Kolliopoulos, two Greek expatriates who somehow managed to play the most snarling, overdriven electric blues and hypnotic R&B swamp-raunch this side of a Mississippi roadhouse (think Fat Possum records on ouzo and meth).Well, The Fortune Tellers have recently reformed and Coyne & Crew could take a lesson from their Greek-Okie peers. All they needed to improve “Embryonic” for this listener was more catchy, scratchy guitar wails and distorto power-chording to keep the throb alive ... Maybe on their next galactic outing.