The Flaming Lips⎟ The Terror⎟ Warner Brothers⎟⎟ US Release Date: April 16, 2013
Grammy award winners (Best Engineered Album Non-Classical, etc.) The Flaming Lips are veterans at their craft – making neo-psychedelic experimental/alternative rock – what a mouthful! They are also veterans in general, with the band being formed back in the 1980s. Despite their longevity with multiple album releases – many of which have been critically acclaimed, The Flaming Lips have more of a cultish, underground following as opposed to a discography filled with RIAA certified albums. They are the perfect example of a successful band on a major label that doesn’t sell millions of albums. What’s wrong with this picture? (Don’t tell Warner Bros.)
As of late, however, the band has seen decent chart debuts of its studio albums including
2006’s At War With The Mystics (no. 11, 48,000) and 2009’s Embryonic (a career high no. 8 debut with 48,000 copies sold). 2013’s The Terror debut is less lofty, settling for a start outside of the top 20 at no. 21. The effort technically follows up Embryonic with 100% new material, but you can’t look past Record Store Day release, the collaborative The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (2012, no. 139 bow) as well as their cover album of Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon (2010, no. 157 bow). The Terror is very much a ‘Flaming Lips’ album. As ambitious and left-field as it may be, it is also a hypnotic effort that draws the listener in. Sometimes being bizarre is a turn-on you might say.
The Terror consists of only nine tracks. That said, the total duration of those tracks equates to 55 minutes. Guess how many of those nine tracks are misses? That’s right its rhetorical – none of ‘em are filler!
“Look…The Sun is Rising” opens the album with a mysterious palette of sounds – who would expect any less from TFL? The drums enter in, pummeling, propelling the rhythmic nature of the opener. Noisy guitars match the established groove and all is right in the world of experimental rock (or pretty close). Among the memorable lyrics from frontman Wayne Coyne’s somewhat restrained vocals: “Love is always something / something you should fear / when you really listen / fear is all you hear…” Perhaps not a definitive smash, “Look…The Sun is Rising” certainly establishes the mood and delivers a solid listen.
“Be Free, A Way” trumps the former cut, standing as one of the ‘tallest’ songs from The Terror. Coyne’s vocals continue to show restraint, but there is still a power about them transcendent of the approach; his vocals are chilling and emotional. “Be Free, away / but how can we / find arms to hold / the days…”, Coyne sings on the chorus. Equally memorable is the line in which Coyne poses the question “Is love a God that we control / to try to trust the pain…” Haunting and hypnotic, “Be Free, A Way” is the type of song that keeps you on the edge of your seat just to see where it is finally going to arrive. Brilliant it is.
“Try to Explain” receives a small segue from “Be Free, A Way” via synths. The sounds are driving and uncomfortable, in a pulsating sort of fashion. Making “Try to Explain” even more mysterious are those consistently enigmatic, quirky vocals. Laden with effects, things become most grand given a growth in sound during the chorus section (“Try to explain why you’ve changed / I don’t think I understand…”) Not as profound as “Be Free, A Way”, “Try to Explain continues great consistency.
“You Lust”, featuring Phantogram clocks in at over 13 minutes (unless you purchase the
‘Individual Shuffle Ready Version’). While it seems excessive on paper, it is one of the more alluring 13 minute songs you will ever hear. A solid groove is established at the beginning, and is easily addicting. If you did think you were going to fall asleep on the cut, Wayne Coyne charms you early on (“You’ve got a lot of nerve / a lot of nerve to f**k with me…”). Even sharper than an unexpected f-bomb? The mysterious chanting treatment lyric “lust to succeed” receives. To keep things interesting, the band makes enough changes throughout where 13 minutes is an afterthought.
“The Terror” keeps the momentum level high, delivering another brilliant standout. The title track establishes a percussive groove from the onset that never changes nor crowds the overall production (its panned to the Left). The key lyrics: “We’ll sing in the sunshine / we’ll laugh every day / we’ll sing cause love will save us / the sunshine everyday”. Like many of its colleagues, “The Terror” flexes its muscles over the course of six and a half minutes, taking the time to unwind and allow for plenty of minimal instrumental space (and noise!). After all, it is THE TERROR (dun dun DUN!).
“You Are Alone” finds Coyne’s vocals barely discernible, fitting the ‘tone poem’ aspect of the project. Coyne continues on a trip about ‘love’, evidenced as he sings “Just the sound of
your ecstasy I hear / just enough to wake me from my fear / it’s enough to sacrifice me now / it’s the only sound of love I hear…” Yeah, I guess he didn’t lie when he said “I’m not alone / you are alone…” Oh and to make it truly creepy, the sound effects and musical ideas are pretty frightening… Don’t think we’re “in Kansas anymore” (Oklahoma for The Flaming Lips of course).
“Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die” proves to be one of the final ‘elite’ cuts. Buttressed by a funkier groove than the rest of the effort, “Butterfly” has some sense of normalcy. It’s not conventional completely, but there is plenty for a more traditional listener to cling onto as well as for hardcore fans not to be mad at. The songwriting in particular is clever; two of the three verses are explore the idea of beginning and end. Only the second verse, the ‘butterfly’ verse, varies.
“Turning Violent” contrasts “Butterfly…”, not driven by the same percussive means. Vocally, Coyne sounds much clearer here. Never ones to dwell on the ‘same’ (regardless of length), the addition of distorted, ugly sounds eliminate predictability – shakes things up. All-in-all, not to shabby for a penultimate cut.
“Always There In Our Hearts” continues to feature minimal ideas, this time through constant background counting (“1, 2 / 1, 2, 3, 4”). Lyrically, ‘the terror’ remains full force: “always there in our hearts / fear of violence and death / always there in our hearts/ there is love and there is pain…” “Always There In Our Hearts” marks a fine ending to a very consistent, brainy, and enjoyable album.
Ultimately, The Terror isn’t really ‘scary’ at all… well, maybe a little (gotta watch that Wayne Coyne!) If anything though, it’s pretty ‘scary’ good, as to be expected from a ‘band of a certain age.’ As asserted earlier, there are no miscues with each listening offering the listener consistency as well as liberation. Often times, the band isn’t concerned with duration and allow the music to continue. In many circumstances, that would be enough to break off the relationship; on Terror, that isn’t the case. Highly recommended to my fellow alt-rock loving weirdos!
Favorites: “Be Free, A Way”; “You Lust” featuring Phantogram; “The Terror”; “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die”