The Flaming Lips, ‘The Terror’ – Album Review
The space between the Flaming Lips’ 2009 album ‘Embryonic’ and the new ‘The Terror’ was filled with a reverent remake of Pink Floyd’s headphone-tripping classic ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ a collaboration record with some “heady fwends,” a six-hour song, a 24-hour song and a pair of giant gummies (one shaped like a skull, the other like a fetus) that housed new music. So it should come as little surprise that ‘The Terror’ is a weird, wacked-out journey to the center of frontman Wayne Coyne’s weird, wacked-out mind.
Ever since their career-saving melodic turns on 1999’s ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and the 2002 follow-up ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,’ the Flaming Lips have moved forward by backtracking their steps and rocketing to a place far, far away from the place where normal music is made. ‘Embryonic’ was a psych-rock/prog-rock/indie-rock mash-up that, even with all that going for it, is still hard to pin down. ‘The Terror’ is even more out there.
The nine tracks aren’t songs so much as they are interlocking sections of a 55-minute suite of themes, ideas and a musical expansiveness that is indebted to the Lips’ past and contains the most daring music they’ve ever made. There are no toe-tapping hits like ‘Do You Realize??’ here; the Lips and longtime producer Dave Fridmann have constructed an intricate album that demands your undivided attention.
‘The Terror’ is a buzzing, whirring, rattling and humming cavern of sounds that really has no beginning or end. Where does ‘Look … the Sun Is Rising’ finish and ‘Be Free, a Way’ start? Just how many passages find their way into the 13-minute looper ‘You Lust?’ Does it matter? The dark tones and despairing lyrics woven throughout the record paint a pretty hopeless picture of the future Coyne and the Lips have always had their wide-eyed sights on. The music, appropriately, is gloomy, despondent and apocalyptic.
But it also makes for the best headphone freakout of the ‘10s. The churning guitars that feed the factory fires of ‘Look … the Sun Is Rising’ adapt to different shades of krautrock, and the heavenly sunbursts that zip through ‘Try to Explain’ play like a hymn for fallen astrophysicists. ‘The Terror’ isn’t an easy listen. It asks too much at times. And it’s a lot to wrap your head around. But what a trip. What a trip.