by Dan Murphy
After a few years of strange collaborations (really – Ke$ha?) and what was seemingly a long string of publicity stunts (really – a 24-hour song?), the Flaming Lips have finally returned with a follow-up studio album to 2009’s Embryonic. Entitled The Terror, the group has taken a sharp thematic turn away from the usual silliness mixed with existential joy. You will find no pink robots or tangerines on this record. Following Wayne Coyne’s breakup with his girlfriend of 25 years and Steven Drozd’s short drug relapse, the band delivers their darkest album to date, one that Coyne has considered to be “the best Flaming Lips record [they] have been able to make.”
In a press release, Coyne stated that the “terror” is knowing that “…even without love, life just goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing.” This idea presents itself both lyrically and musically in one of the most conceptually sound albums of their career. On Embryonic, the group experimented with droning repetitive jams, but on this album they take the idea to the extreme. In “You Lust,” a thirteen minute Phantogram collaboration, they build off-rhythm loops in a section that feels endless, bringing to mind absurdism and nihilism, realms that the Lips hadn’t gone near before. The track “You Are Alone” contains only a drum beat and vocals for the most part, using minimalism to make the listener feel alone in the universe. Even the familiar Flips musical tropes are subverted. If there are synth strings reminiscent of The Soft Bulletin, they are filtered and distorted. The only times guitars are used, they sound like they are being thrown against the wall. Everything presented feels off putting or tiringly repetitive.
And that’s what is so strong about this record. Yes, it’s depressing and bleak, but it presents itself in a clearheaded manner in an album that flows extremely well. In short, the album is downer in all the right ways and for all the right reasons, making it an interesting new direction for the Flaming Lips.