Let’s talk about the title: The Terror. Is it a political statement? A commentary on the state of world affairs? Is Wayne Coyne – the band’s eccentric frontman – ruminating on a personal catastrophe? In trying to encompass everything, it encompasses very little. Contemplate how audacious, thrilling and goddamn scary the music would have to be to justify such a title. Even Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, once covered by The Flaming Lips, decided to limit their album title by geography.
For the opening track, you may think the middle-aged rockers have it in them. “Look…the Sun is Rising” has a relentless drum beat, scattered synth, an abrasive tinny guitar, and Wayne Coyne’s voice laden in effects. The whole thing is unsettling and disorienting – as it should be.
This aesthetic returns only in the closing track “Always There…In Our Hearts”. The Flaming Lips may think this is a clever way of coming full circle but it leaves me frustrated. These thrills were largely absent in the main body of the album.
Instead of intensifying, the middle forty-five minutes of the album wallow in psychedelia. The relentless drum beat is replaced by “On the Run”-style pulses and indistinct synth. Coyne’s occasional vocal crescendos are the only thing to remind you that this is The Flaming Lips and not a second-rate Prog-rock tribute.
Like many of their progressive heroes, The Flaming Lips fail to limit themselves. The songs go on far too long; in one case (“You Lust”) for 13 minutes. It doesn’t justify its time. It thinks it’s hooked you into its sonic spirals but, really, you might be tempted to check how long of this supposed epic there is left. The band have regressed into imitating their formative influences, King Crimson and Pink Floyd to name a couple, rather than infusing these influences into something different. Something they have done prolifically since The Soft Bulletin.
I don’t want to seem totally down on the album. As well as the opener and closer there are some decent cuts; “Try to Explain” has a satisfying climax evocative of Sigur Ros. Likewise, “Be Free, A Way” does achieve that hypnotic effect they pine for in “You Lust” but without the excess baggage. Their are some pleasantly jarring sounds in the penultimate track “Turning Violent” and “Butterfly (How Long It Takes To Die)”. But all this seems without the much needed catharsis that would have provided the ideal counter to the gloomy mire in the middle of the album.
Some may praise the album for being cohesive – for maintaining a constant sound. This, I think, does a disservice to what has made The Flaming Lips enthralling for so long. Their schizophrenic sounds in previous albums have been their appeal. The way in which they usually and effortlessly progress from some guitar freak-out to an Enoesque ambiance is enthralling. Their last full-length studio album, Embryonic, demonstrated that. Here, however, the psychedelic noises flatline; they’re mundane. They lack the schizophrenic dynamic.
For all of their recent side-projects – the 24-hour songs, the Heady Fwends collaborative album, the cover version of Dark Side of the Moon and the future Ke$ha collaboration (Lip$ha …hmm) – perhaps they would have benefited by concentrating their efforts into this studio album. The project that will more likely get remembered.
The Terror, despite wanting to be dark experimental affair, may alienate many people. This is not because it’s a dramatic step forward but instead because it’s a relatively undramatic, uncatchy, uncamp small step backwards. The reverse of what has made them so lovable for so long.
…Jeremy has been listening to Sly & the Family Stone – ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’