The Flaming Lips - The Terror - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Flaming Lips - The Terror

by Daryl Worthington Rating:9 Release Date:2013-04-16

Flaming Lips albums are defined by the balance of two driving forces, one for life-affirming, universal pop music, the other for a willingness to freak out and make the strangest racket they can. On all their albums, both forces are present to some extent, the priorities just shift. With The Terror, the balance is firmly routed in the freakier end of the spectrum, creating something akin to an apocalyptic psychedelia.

From the stabs of static and razor blade guitars that open the album on 'Look, the Sun is Rising', it's apparent straight away that this is probably the most abrasive music the band have made. The Flaming Lips are always associated with mind-altering narcotics, but here we get a more sinister form of mind-control, "The voice of MK Ultra, telling you to love". The reference to the redundant CIA research into mind-control is reflected in the involuntary spasms and twitches of the music. On Embryonic (the most recent Flaming Lips record, aside from a recent run of collaborations culminating with Heady Fwends), the band branched into heavy riff territory, but here they've taken the grooves to a nastier, deranged place.

The production and arrangements on this album easily rival The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in terms of complexity and depth. The ends to which they're used, though, is completely different. Throughout, Wayne Coyne's voice is buried deeper than usual in the mix, like a sinister version of a Lee 'Scratch' Perry production.

On 'You're Alone', he is drenched in thick reverb, sounding like he is singing from a broken radio, his voice almost drowned out by the deep synth-bass, static and stuttering electronics. The closing call and response between Coyne's submerged "You're not alone" and an almost choral, "You are alone" builds a terrifying sense of isolation. Throughout the album, layers of feedback-drenched synth and harsh guitars sound like the death howl of broken machinery. The tremolo saturated synth on the chorus of the title track sounds so cracked you will probably check if your speakers/headphones are busted. It lacks the bombast of their most recent albums, but in its' own fractured way, is just as beautiful.

Of course, this is The Flaming Lips, and it would be wrong to portray this album as all bleakness and depression. Coyne recently explained the theme behind the album, which could be summarised as the realisation that love isn't universal, and it is possible to exist in a world without it. 'Try to Explain' contrasts verses of burbling synths and oscillations with a beautiful chorus. The lyrics, "Try to explain why you've changed/ I don't think I understand" might betray confusion, but the lush arrangement reveals hope and optimism alongside it. Similarly the album's closer ,'Always There in Our Hearts', is built on booming drums, radio transmissions and a monolithic riff. The line, "Always there in our hearts/ something good we can't control" feels like a hopeful retort to the references to MK Ultra in the opening track.

The Flaming Lips have spent the years preceding this album indulging in a variety of eccentric experiments, from collaborating with artists as diverse as Ke$ha and Lightning Bolt to releasing a 24-hour song. All of this has seen them drift further away from the orchestral space-pop which characterised their late90s/early-00s' releases, without losing the optimism and hope that is their soul. The Terror works as a cohesive statement, the tracks feeling connected with a unique theme and sound while also absorbing elements of previous experiments, making it their best album since The Soft Bulletin.

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