The Flaming Lips have always been a band that shunned convention, flying off of the rails in different directions with every album. However, with their new album “The Terror,” they have ripped up the rails, thrown them in the scrap yard and blazed their own trail.
And what a strange trail it is.
Fans of the more recent fun, pop sound The Lips’ presented on albums like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” will find few things to like about “The Terror.” The album as a whole is dissonant, distorted and all-around scary.
It is also really, really good.
Now, when I say it is really, really good, I do not mean it is a good album to pop in on the way to the lake. This is not summertime music. This is existential crisis music.
Fresh from calling it quits with his girlfriend of 25 years, lead singer Wayne Coyne released a video description of the album, saying the album resembles “some cult in the future transmitting distorted hymnal messages back to the present day, and their message is one of defeat and hope.”
It is an almost perfect description.
After “Embryonic” was released in 2009, the band has gotten more and more experimental, with both their sound and their marketing.
The Lips’ have started to release music in USB thumb drives embedded in anatomically correct chocolate hearts and gummy skulls. They have even released a few actual human skulls with USB drives inside (items that will cost prospective buyers a hefty $5,000).
Their sound has been building toward this. It is a complete overhaul that brings the punk-rock sound of their early career and the recent psychedelic pop together as one.
Coyne’s vocal style, normally upbeat, completely turns around on this record. He sounds weak, like someone who is afraid to sing too hard for fear of drawing the attention of some unseen horror.
I cannot imagine how their live show, usually filled with confetti cannons and Coyne stage-diving while encased in a giant plastic bubble, will adapt to fit these songs.
The music backing Coyne’s new vocal style is equal parts drone and driving sonic force. The bookend tracks, “Look, The Sun is Rising” and “Always There in Our Hearts,” are a wall of sound sitting on the edge of a record filled with eerie droning keyboards and guitars.
In the middle of the album, “You Lust,” a brooding 13-minute song, gives insight into the emotional state of the band during the recording process. Listening to the lyrics, it is not too much of a stretch to make a connection with Coyne’s recent breakup.
Listeners who choose to spring for the iTunes version of the album will receive two bonus tracks, “Sun Blows Up Today,” a very upbeat return to their 2002-era pop form, and a cover of “All You Need is Love,” which is beautifully heartbreaking.
The two bonus songs are the best on the album by far, but their stylistic differences make it obvious why they were listed as bonus. Fans of the Lips’ “Yoshimi” era should definitely pick up the digital version, if just for the added tracks.
I would recommend that those readers who have not heard anything by The Flaming Lips not start here. It is probably their most unwelcoming album.
Coyne has described this as his favorite Flaming Lips record. It is intensely personal, wildly dark and highly experimental. It lives up to its name.
“The Terror” is my favorite album this year, so far. I think it is a remarkable artistic achievement, and you will be hard-pressed to find someone who is a bigger fan of The Flaming Lips than I am.
Honestly, though, I might never listen to this album again.
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