Album Review: The Flaming Lips – The Terror

Oklahoma psychedelic freaks The Flaming Lips have never been ones to abide by the norm. But now, we really know there is zero method to their madness. This week, they released patiently awaited, heavily marketed new LP The Terror, along with a previously unmentioned split EP with Oklahoma band Horse Thief featuring a single from each, along with that single covered by the other band. But really, this is just par for the course for the Flaming Lips, the band that put out countless EPs in 2011 on colored vinyl and inside gummy candy, and that released both a six hour song and a 24-hour song last year, the latter of which inside a human skull. But let’s not forget that this is also the same band that, a little more than a decade ago, put out the absolute most sugary piece of psychedelic pop candy ever to grace a stoner’s lips, in the form of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and helped pen an Oklahoma musical set to the album. Yes, yes, the Flaming Lips have done it all… all, of course, but make you sad. Even with the darker turn of 2009’s Embryonic, the Lips managed to maintain a positivity throughout the wild, twisting forest of a double album that touched on the wonder and mysterious majesty of new beginnings. But with The Terror, the Lips take bleak to new levels. From the opening static blips to the closing reverberated echoing noise, the new record is an atonal, aimless cloud of darkness. But alas, tried and true Flaming Lips fans shouldn’t fret. The Terror is an honest and refreshing statement from the band that proves that to whatever worlds they tread, the Lips will continue to create relatable and personable music that exists in a universe entirely to itself.

The Terror doesn’t really have many “songs”, per say, but it has chapters. “Look… The Sun Is Rising” and “Be Free, A Way” both meander through strange grooves as a sense of loss is discovered. “Try To Explain” takes a soliloquy moment to try and reconcile this feeling before human darkness and depravity are explored throughout “You Lust”, “The Terror”, and “You Are Alone”. Then, the last three tracks explore a reaction: how do we deal with this knowledge in a world of evil? The Terror is entirely conceptual. There aren’t any bombastic pop singles or lovable songs to listen to when you are down here. But the band is justified in their journey to this barren wasteland – as they always have, the Lips write from where they are at a moment in time, and The Terror documents an interesting chapter in their history.

The band’s musical mastermind Steven Drozd, now a father and a family man, noted feelings of increasing anxiety with age, realizing that death – though seemingly so far away in youth – is an inescapable future for all of us, regardless of age or location. This cosmic reality (much like the one Steven’s character dealt with in the Flaming Lips film Christmas On Mars) left Drozd in a bit of a daze, now knowing what to do but cling to what time is left and love those that he has with him. This feeling is what the Lips have come to designate as, The Terror, and is the primary muse for the writing of the album. This looming cloud hangs over every track, whether close at hand (“You Lust”, “The Terror”, “You Are Alone”) or further in the distance (“Be Free, A Way”, “Try To Explain”). But it regardless of its proximity, Drozd’s terror haunts every track and remains the ghostly shadow of every beat.

With Wayne’s lyrical help, Steven’s dream becomes a reality for all of us. Diehards will draw lyrical connections between Embryonic and The Terror, as Coyne embraces a similarly disjunct yet thoughtful stance for both. Coyne poses a lot of questions and ponderings on The Terror, some of which are fleshed out and some that remain unanswered riddles. But in every way, Wayne compliments Steven’s dark vision for the cultish dystopia that is The Terror with wild success.

But true Lips fans know that Coyne and Drozd would never approach this topic without at least a glimpse of the light that guides them, which is love and human compassion. As Wayne has said in interviews, the record is dark, yes, but it is triumphant. In the wake of this great cosmic awareness, we have no choice but to turn to each other and provide comfort on the verge of the storm. In the mad world of our lives, where we are bombarded daily with more news of death and destruction across the face of the globe, we live amongst The Terror even now. And as much as we may try to ignore it or remain blissfully naive to it, this darkness is always only one thought away from controlling our lives. But as the Lips wisely advise us, in times like this, the answer is compassion with a goal of peace. And though The Terror may be “Always There In Our Heads”, as the closing track remarks, we can fight it if we join hands in peaceful coalition against it.

Though it sparkles in a different light, the magic that has always prevailed in the Flaming Lips’ music still guides every note of The Terror. Coyne wasn’t lying when he hyped it as the best record the band has made. Though it may not be the catchiest or the most radio friendly, The Terror is the fullest picture of the Flaming Lips manifesto that we’ve seen yet. Light doesn’t shine without darkness to contrast, and The Terror shows us a very, very dark darkness in order to allow the love that the Lips encourage us to give shine ever brighter. In this, the Flaming Lips show us that thirty years into their career, they are not done giving all they’ve learned back to their fans. The Flaming Lips may be hard to track down or hard to explain, but one thing always remains true: all you need is love.

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  1. Greg Benson
    Posted May 3, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    I saw the Flaming Lips open for The Black Keys in Atlanta last night. For years, I’ve known that the FL is a band I’m supposed to love, but never really latched onto anything that seemed all that interesting. Still, I went into Lakewood Amphitheatre with an open mind. When the band took the stage, the silhouetted members were dwarfed by gadgetry and lights. Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, mounted a pedestal that towered him over the others while he held a doll in his arms. The lights were very pretty; the music sucked. The melodies were moronically simple, the lyrics vapid. Coyne’s voice was weak, and he seemed inebriated. He reached the height of audacity when he attempted to sing David Bowie’s “Heroes” and failed miserably to do anything more than shout the lyrics. At one point he began badgering the crowd to applaud more enthusiastically his attempts at genius–which I think is the level he craves. The gadgetry, to me, seemed to serve as an attempt to distract from the lazy songwriting and weak vocals. It was a spectacle, but I’m an old timer who attends concerts to experience good songwriting and musicianship. Coyne seems to have lost his way. Thank God the Black Keys saved the night with a simpler approach, great songs and a solid work ethic.

  2. Pete
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I saw the Flaming Lips in concert at the Roundhouse in London last night. I am a fan and have previously been to 3 of their concerts which were absolutely amazing. Last nights concert was the worst concert I have ever been to, with hundreds of people leaving the concert early. Coyne spent too much time talking nonsense with significant gaps between songs – band members kept asking him if he was ready for each song. Coyne was spot on when he admitted that some of these new songs aren’t that good and the fact that the crowd was motionless for much of the concert spoke volumes. The band played long intros to songs and when Coyne sang his voice was weak. To be fair Coyne did say he had a cough, however his voice seemed strong when he was cajoling the crowd to applaud and cheer, telling them that this was the best concert ever. The concert on Monday 20th was cancelled / rescheduled and ticketholders have been offered refunds – I wish I was given the option of a refund.

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