Release Date: Apr 16, 2013
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Before the confetti cannons and sci-fi Day-Glo-pop operettas, the Flaming Lips made great acid-nightmare rock records about the high cost of transcendence. The Terror is that darkness returned: a gripping middle-age-mystic crisis with rude, cosmic-German electronics crowding Wayne Coyne's tremulous boy-explorer voice. The beauty is fleeting but piquant.
Wayne Coyne is the Willy Wonka of pop music, and we’re all the lucky recipients of the proverbial golden ticket. Over the last two years, Mr. Coyne has whimsically guided us through his factory of never-ending instrumental loops and a paradisiacal garden of edible skulls, gummy fetuses, chocolate hearts, and blood-filled musical relics -- occasionally dispensing a large group of orange-faced collaborators (ahem...
The Flaming Lips have been in a state of constant flux for the last two years or so as Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd and company have stretched the limits of music, delivery, collaboration, and sanity. After such vehicles as life-sized gummy skulls and foetuses, the “strobo-trip” animation toy, and blood-filled limited-edition vinyl records, the limitations of a standard full-length album seem almost too narrow for the newly expanded and constantly expanding Lips consciousness. The Terror, the band’s first studio album since 2009’s heavy and chaotic Embryonic, is the next step in the natural evolution of the band’s sound – the culmination of all the experimentation and introspection of the last two manic years.
There?s a quote often attributed to Picasso about the autonomy of a painting: ?A painter only has one language,” which your art school friend drops a whole lot to shield criticism from his new conceptual exhibit. Leave it to Wayne Coyne to call bullshit on a widely accepted pearl of wisdom from the most prolific painter of the 20th century. Coyne tactfully obliterated this notion last week when he live-tweeted The Terror with compact interpretations of his own lyrics and behind-the-scenes nuggets.
Some would argue that we all have a dark side. We may not ever choose to embrace it, but it’s still there, lurking just below the surface. It may sneak out in the form of an angry outburst, or it might manifest as a passing thought, its malicious nature surprising even to you, and which you would share with no one. The Flaming Lips have always been cognizant of the fact that there is plenty of darkness in the world.
If there is one thing The Flaming Lips do better than most—even more so than the hallucinogenic sound quality of their records, more than the jubilant sonic surprises generating synaptic fireworks in your skull—it is album composition. The Terror, the Lips’ 13th album, is sequenced so beautifully, the tones and dreadful cadences escalate so calmly and surely, that one is lulled along gently, but with a sustaining, horrific heartbeat that never flags. The Terror is not an album of pop-space-funk gems, nor is it even rock music; it has the gauze-wrapped, nighttime quality of Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children, but even slower, more minimal and yet more intense.
One of the Flaming Lips' greatest strengths is how vividly they express emotions. For most of their career, they've focused on capturing wide-eyed wonder, unbridled glee, and the occasional poignant moment, but The Terror proves they're just as good at channeling despair. Embryonic hinted at this darker shift, but here it comes to a head: sparked by Wayne Coyne's separation from his longtime partner and Steven Drozd's struggles with substance abuse, The Terror is more fragmented and anguished than its predecessor.
There's always been a relentless optimism hidden behind the Flaming Lips' unique brand of pop experimentalism, from the uplift of songs like “Do You Realize??” and “Fight Test” to the band's gleeful acid-tinged live performances. Which makes their understated 13th album, The Terror, an evocation of a bleak, post-apocalyptic future, such a striking contrast. Don't let the title of the album's opener, “Look…The Sun Is Rising,” fool you.
Just a few weeks ago, when Wayne Coyne posted an abridged medley of songs from The Terror to the Flaming Lips' website, he also posted a long album manifesto. "The Terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing." He also wrote, a little more directly, that "The Terror is NOT fun…" He's right, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. If 2009's Embryonic expressed a long moment of chaos and destruction, The Terror is something like the immediate emotional aftermath — the damage has been done, but there's still no plan for rebuilding.
It's all too easy to survey the exploits of the Flaming Lips' last few years - composing synchronized iPhone symphonies, auctioning off human skulls and writing songs for Ke$ha - and ask, "Hey, remember when they used to be a band?" Well, The Terror serves as a rejoinder to the criticism that the long-running Oklahoma group has become nothing but a gimmick. Their first non-collaborative LP since 2009's Embryonic and 13th overall, The Terror is one of the bleakest, most intense albums the Flaming Lips have ever recorded, with very little of frontman Wayne Coyne's trademark whimsy peeking between the cracks of heavy, bad-trip psychedelia. Instead, songs unfold slowly and eerily, all distorted synths, claustrophobic drones and chilly melodies.
The anxiety that besets the American mind grows. Last year’s failed apocalypse begat no relief — no transcendent awakening, no cathartic collapse. There may be no escape from decline. How do you reckon with that knowledge? We still have recourse to the not yet (and hopefully never) obsolete salves of apathy and comedy, but these are approaches, not gods or destinies.
When Wayne Coyne sang “Do you realise/We’re floating in space?” on The Flaming Lips’ 2002 album ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ it came from a sense of wonder and an acceptance of the majesty and mystery of the universe, a place where human beings are just fleas on atoms. The message was: sure, it’s a scary thought, so just embrace it. What a trip, eh? Three albums and 11 years later, ‘The Terror’ is the mother, grandmother and great-aunt of all comedowns.
Over the past year or so, Wayne Coyne seemed to be going out of his way to lose his title of indie-rock’s jovial eccentric uncle. If he wasn’t having a spat with Erykah Badu or trying to carry a grenade onto a plane, he was leading his band into some misguided musical projects (Heady Fwends, Pink Floyd cover albums, etc…), all seemingly designed to make us forget the oceans of love that his band have built up since The Soft Bulletin. Thankfully, The Terror has arrived, to remind us that Coyne and The Flaming Lips are a musical act rather than a circus act –and a bloody good one at that.
Review Summary: Life is nasty, brutish, and short.At first glance, The Terror comforted me. That human figure, reposed peacefully (on a plain? a beach?) against a great blue beyond, the various hues of red and green and orange filling everything through with a vibrant sort of life, a soothing color scheme that was appropriately psychedelic and thus, appropriately Flaming Lips. Now, The Terror frightens me.
When Wayne Coyne opened The Flaming Lips’ 2004 Coachella set by crowd-surfing in a giant inflatible bubble, it represented more than just another gimmick to add to the band’s ever-increasing arsenal of theatrical parlour tricks. It effectively split the Flaming Lips into two bands. On the one hand, you have the merry pranksters that have remained a constant in music-new feeds for the past decade, whether they’re doing rails with Ke$ha, beefing with Erykah Badu, or taking the concept of a physical album release to literal extremes.
The Flaming LipsThe Terror[Bella Union / Warner Bros. ; 2013]By Alex Phillimore; April 5, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetYou could make a convincing argument that The Flaming Lips are becoming more difficult to listen to as time goes on and their discography grows. 2009's double album Embryonic was one of their most complicated releases, heavy in sound, excessive in length, and a big departure from comparatively 'easier' listening experiences such as The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
With their Heady Fwends project, The Flaming Lips opened their studio to all-comers, from Nick Cave to Yoko Ono and Ke$ha, for a mish-mash of a collaboration that stands in stark contrast to this album proper. Off the back of the Fwends sessions, exhausted in the early hours of the morning, the Lips retreated into their studio – and themselves – for a very different, meditative beast. The Terror descends upon the listener as a doomy patchwork of drones, grooves and chants, airborne non-melodies and snatches of musique concrète.
It’s easy to see The Terror, a tensed-up, teeth-grinding, inner-looking record, as a counterpoint to the arena-sized psychedelic explorations of the Flaming Lips’ last proper record, Embryonic. The better contrast, though, may come in remembering the cut-loose, often fascinating collaborations that comprised the Heady Fwends collection. This record, The Terror is – as has been often touted in the run up to its release – a more personal set about isolation and disconnection, even loneliness.
The Flaming LipsThe Terror(Warner Bros. Records)Rating: 3 out of 5 starsStream the album The Flaming Lips return with one of their most challenging, yet cohesive records to date. The Terror, the band’s 13th studio album, comes at the heels of an experimental period for the band, which saw them do everything from writing a 24 hour song, to releasing their music in the form of marijuana flavored gummy brains, not to mention teaming up with everyone from Bon Iver to Ke$ha for a collaborative record.
Art and biography are two very separate domains. But listening to The Terror, the 13th album by Oklahoman wonder-merchants the Flaming Lips, the (possibly scurrilous) internet rumour that frontman Wayne Coyne may have split from his wife of 25 years casts a shadow. Before the Lips became indie rock's life-affirmers-in-chief, they were ardent psychedelicists, ones on nodding terms with the abyss.
Of the myriad things Wayne Coyne has said in the press tour behind The Terror, the Flaming Lips’ thirteenth album in thirty years, one rings most true: “I don’t know if it’s dark,” he told DIY, “Or it’s just not light. There is a difference. ” Indeed, and that difference lies in the type of acute detachment that the band’s moony affirmation of life too often and too easily averts: the process of actually stepping back and realizing that life has no lightness or darkness to it, things just happen and we assign them value for the sake of sanity.
Though it’s still The Flaming Lips’ finest moment, there was one thing that was a little annoying about The Soft Bulletin. It appeared to be a record the band realised was so good that they spent the next ten years trying and failing to recreate it; everything about Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics seemed intent on aping its aesthetic, right down to the colour schemes and fonts used in the artwork. Yet though those records did have their moments, they were faded photocopies in comparison to TSB’s overwhelming, kaleidoscopic glory.
THE FLAMING LIPS “The Terror” (Lovely Sorts/ Warner Brothers) The goofy costumes, flashing lights, confetti blasts and general hilarity of the Flaming Lips’ concerts largely conceal the sense of dread that has also run through their songs in a recording career that has now lasted for an improbable 30 years. But there’s no escaping bleakness on “The Terror,” which willfully tosses away nearly anything that might offer easy pleasure or comic relief. “The Terror” embraces repetition and abrasiveness more monolithically than previous Flaming Lips albums.
‘Look, The Sun Is Rising’ sets an ominous tone; huge rotating blades whir threateningly into life, slicing through discordant electro rasp and kick-in-the-gut-punch-in-the-face drum beat. Wayne Coyne murmurs, distractedly, distantly, about a spaceship hiding in the grass. It stutters, breaks down, sticks and stutters again.
In space, no one can hear you scream, but here's what it would sound like if Wayne Coyne tried. Whereas 2009's Embryonic represented a cosmic reawakening for the Flaming Lips, signaling a new direction for the experimental Okies' third decade, the band's 13th studio album retreats further to the dark, fraying edges of manic depression. Helmed by longtime producer Dave Fridmann between Heady Fwends collaborations, The Terror possesses a distinct, late-night afterglow, stretching 54 minutes across nine tracks.
It's redundant to call a Flaming Lips album baffling. If someone somewhere isn't being baffled, the band’s not doing its job. But “The Terror’’ goes further: It flat-out confounds. An unbroken miasma of sound, it’s 55 minutes of interstitial music for songs that never arrive. As expansive ….