The Flaming Lips have been in a strange place these last few years. After the critical shine waned a bit following their Soft Bulletin/Yoshimi two-punch, their gritty 2009 effort Embryonic was a welcome return to their freakout roots, but what followed since then, while exciting at first, showed that after ringleader Wayne Coyne got a taste of unlimited creative freedom, he neglected to find an editor that would keep his band in check.
Gummy Skulls turned into Chocolate Skulls. Multi-hour songs turned into a song that lasted a full day. Countless one-off collaborative EPs turned into Heady Fwends, and by the time their quite-excellent turn towards the dark undercurrents that had always lied underneath their work, this year’s The Terror arrived to a surprisingly muted reception. Coyne released gobs of good material, but hunting down good material isn’t as exciting as hunting down great material, and therefore it’s no surprise that even the most hardcore of Lips devotees wound up feeling a bit of exhaustion by the time The Terror arrived.
Thus, Peace Sword is a bit of a curio. Basically an EP that was put together after the title track was commissioned as part of the Ender’s Game movie, this is very much the sound of post-millennial, pre-Embryonic lips, languid mid-tempo pop numbers around, cartoon-y synths bouncing up against serious melodies, making for a curious juxtaposition. The songs contained within are good but not entirely memorable, as tracks like the open synth-funk of “Wolf Children” and the very Terror-sounding “Assassin Beetle/The Dream is Ending” strike poses that we’ve heard from the the band many, many times before.
Of course, that’s to say nothing of the title track. “Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)” is absolutely stunning. While it opens with Lips-ian (or Dave Fridmann-ian, depending on who you’re talking to) synths, the melodic synth trill the band unleashes before the drums drop in is addictive, expansive, and majestic in a way few Lips songs have been in some time, that trill running three times before it leaves an open space on the fourth beat, and it reminds you instantaneously that despite wading through more releases than Wikipedia could possibly keep up with, the band is still capable of stunning pop highs.
Just a shame that the rest of the material tacked on to Peace Sword is merely acceptable. While there are those that are tired of Coyne’s feuding, Instagram-trolling, and open Ke$ha-ing, let one’s feelings towards one of indie rock’s most heralded bands be diminished by that alone. As the title song proves, they are still capable of absolute greatness (when they feel like it).