“We tell ourselves it’s all just normal/the worst of it is gone/and you get up/and you just can’t take it/how we keep holding on?” Those lyrics were from Goin’ On, the song that closed out At War With the Mystics seven years ago. In my opinion, that album marked the end of what I like to call the Flaming Lips’ alternative bubblegum pop era, which began with The Soft Bulletin and culminated in Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
The Flaming Lips have been around long enough to dip their toes in just about every kind of music that captured their fancy, even if it meant alienating the people who grew attached to their current direction. Embryonic signaled the beginning of the Lips’ next phase, which I can only classify as psychedelic acid rock. It wasn’t my favorite album, but the band retained the same eccentricity that has become the defining attribute of all their albums.
Then something happened. The band embarked on an ambitious, highly creative distribution campaign that combined new tracks with very odd receptacles, from edible gummy brains and fetuses to randomly colored discs and USB drives. Their experimental tendencies also reached new heights, even surpassing Zaireeka in terms of complexity. There was a 12 part song that could only be heard properly if each piece was layered on top of the other and played simultaneously. There was also a song that was 24 hours in length, possibly setting the record for longest track in music history. The Lips capped it off with some collaboration EPs, but there was a problem. The music, all of it, was pure shit. At some points I struggled to identify their latest stuff as music at all. Granted, the Lips’ intention was probably geared more towards marketing than material, but I was hoping they weren’t going to adopt this sound as their new direction. It sounded like they were throwing stuff at the wall and hoping some of it would stick.
For better or worse, The Terror stays true to the psychedelic overtones that Embryonic introduced, except this doesn’t explode from the speakers—it oozes from them. On top of that, the theme that drives this album is a major bummer. Whereas Yoshimi was some kind of grand meditation on death and embracing the joys of life, The Terror pisses all over that. The long and short of it is that life is a hopeless mess and in the words of Wayne Coyne, “there is no mercy killing.” If that kind of talk came from a band in their prime, it would be written off as whiny mumbo jumbo, but it’s particularly troubling coming from Coyne, a seasoned musician whose band is no stranger to death, failure, and hopelessness. Steven Drozd, the Lips’ multi-instrumentalist, has battled heroin addiction for so long that his band mates refer to it as if it’s a part of who he is. When the Lips come right out and say The Terror is a dark album, that’s precisely what it is.
While I really admire their thematic approach on this outing, I don’t like the execution. It sounds like Embryonic with all of the life sucked out of it. This type of droning music, which calls to mind Suicide’s first two albums, makes you think of a junkie nodding off in a room with all the curtains drawn instead of the colorful bouncing bubbles that put a face on their pop period. Of course, this is the band’s intention. This is the mood they’re aiming for. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t alienated by it, but that’s to be expected as far as The Flaming Lips are concerned. If you’re a fan who loves the band unconditionally, you’ll find this interesting. If you fell in love with Race For the Prize, She Don’t Use Jelly, and Do You Realize???, I’ll see you on the wayside.
Check it out on Amazon.com