The Flaming Lips – The Terror
Bella Union 2013
At first glance, The Terror comforted me. That human figure, reposed peacefully (on a plain? a beach?) against a great blue beyond, the various hues of red and green and orange filling everything through with a vibrant sort of life, a comforting color scheme that was appropriately psychedelic and thus, appropriately Flaming Lips. Now, The Terror frightens me. The person seems no longer at rest but entranced by something in that deep, blank blue, something cold and merciless and eventual, and what he sits on looks less like anything steady and more like something eroded (a cliff? an abyss?), something on the verge of being bleached of all those fiery colors. I’m reminded of Danny Boyle’s sci-fi excursion Sunshine, a movie that ends with Cillian Murphy and company incinerated against a glorious backdrop of searing white. That’s what The Terror stirs in me now – some poor soul, unable to move, transfixed by the simple grandeur of whatever awaits them when the color tendrils off into the blue and held still and dumb by the emptiness of it all. The Terror is what happens when the Flaming Lips let that blue void take them.
The album’s general ethos is if the pop wonder of “Do You Realize” abruptly cut off after Wayne Coyne wails “do you realize, that everyone you know / someday will die” and devolves instead into a disorienting blur of stygian synths, krautrock rhythms and a bleakness that erases any hope of what may have come after. So, yeah, The Terror is dark. Opener “Look…The Sun Is Rising” is less a paean to a new day and more a warning sign, not fresh life but sweltering, feverish death. It’s the perfect mission statement for the record and an excellent bit of foreshadowing of what Coyne’s headspace looks like in the year 2013. The Lips have always had a bit of a reputation as guys who were just happy to be along for the ride, uniquely able to indulge their weirdest impulses (Pink Floyd cover album, Ke$ha collaborations, giant bubble balls, etc.) in a scene that increasingly looks nothing like them. Whether it was because of Steven Drozd’s relapse or Coyne’s publicized split with his partner of 25 years, the Lips have no interest in playing the role of friendly psychedelic ringleaders on The Terror. It’s an album impressively focused in its construction – melodies hidden beneath the weight of fuzzy melancholy and brooding noise, lurching, mechanical rhythms bubbling below the surface, rarely breaking the oppressive miasma that hangs over most everything here. Nothing fits the record’s theme as bluntly as album centerpiece “You Lust,” a threateningly long opus that meanders its way through minimal ‘80s analog to dystopian noise rock to an ambient outro that seems to exist only to challenge the listener to get through it. Bookended as it is by the spiraling rocket launches of noise in “Try To Explain” and the hypnotic, deep groove of the titular track, “You Lust” offers no more respite than you’ll find anywhere else in The Terror – indeed, it revels, maniacally at times, in the deep, interlocked machinery of its groove and the freeform mania the Lips lay over the top of it. Coyne will make sure you get the point, too; minutes after the last of “You Lust” has faded away, “The Terror” notes, grimly, “however long they love you / we are standing alone / the terror is in our heads.”
Where Embryonic flitted from sound to sound and idea to idea with plenty of exuberance but little patience, The Terror locks into its apocalyptic atmosphere and throws away the key. It’s their most cohesive record since Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and its eternally exhausted realizations and powerful, if demanding, passages confirm that the band is as tight and concentrated as they’ve ever been. No matter how occasionally discomforting a listen The Terror is, no matter how slowly it seems to trudge towards the desolate buzz and whirring guitar rotors of “Always There In Our Hearts” that closes things out, it remains a singular record, one that deals in death and hopelessness as adroitly as anything from The Soft Bulletin. Those who fell in love with the Flaming Lips’ playful side may not find much to enjoy initially, but the treasure lies in the discovery – of just how deep the roots of these songs reach, and how carefully they are seeded and interlaced, one on top of the other. Coyne may not find the meaning he is looking for by the album’s end; I think if there’s anything to take away from The Terror, it’s to not expect anything but what you find in yourself at the end of everything, to find the solace in the fact that “You Are Alone.” It’s a dark heart at the bottom of The Terror, and one that takes a while to reveal itself out of the crushing murk and poisonous pressure. But it’s still a heart.
The Terror was produced by the band s long-time collaborator Dave Fridmann and The Flaming Lips at Tarbox Road Studios. It is comprised of nine original compositions that reflect a darker-hued spectrum than previous works, along with a more inward-looking lyrical perspective than one might expect but then again, maybe not. It s up to you, the listener, to decide what it means to you.