The danger with drawing influences from the gentle psychedelia of '50s Disney is that sooner or later the world will turn dark. The old animators had the specter of The Bomb to deal with. Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne has the Devil in George Bush. On the gorgeous, fuzz-driven "My Cosmic Rebellion," Coyne wails so somberly "They tell us that autumn is coming/And everything around us will die" that you fear there will be no spring. Opener "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" poses the question: How would you behave if you wielded unlimited power? Would it be for the higher good of mankind? Isn't that the teeniest bit ... unlikely? There's real warmth here, and the Lips' typical melodic playfulness, but it's tempered by sadness filtering through from the sirens punctuating the plaintive "Mr. Ambulance Driver." And check out the full song titles: "Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading With a Suicide Bomber)," "The Sound of Failure/It's Dark ... Is It Always This Dark??" Life isn't all childlike wonder, not when you're as sensitive as Coyne and cohorts.
Musically, the album mixes the Flaming Lips' trademark layered synths with the odd stutter of Black Sabbath ("Free Radicals") and loopy electronic nonsense, with just a thin sheen of danceable rhythm to please the remote controllers. Melodies are, as ever, sentimental and saturated with harmony and just the right side of schmaltzy: no time for weird experiments or mood-breakers these days, not when the world is intruding so much. The mood is lush, soft, dreamy; but it's the most transparent of veils separating the Lips from their world and ours. When the Flaming Lips subtly shifted gears and mutated into the new R.E.M. on The Soft Bulletin, few noticed how the former acidheads didn't seem to be smiling so much. Now it's overwhelmingly apparent.