The Flaming Lips have been in the downward spiral for some time now. I think it really started back in 2006 with At War With The Mystics. There was a feeling that they were having fun but at their sanity’s expense. Part bat-s**t crazy, part big rock songs, that album was the door to an alternate universe within an alternate universe opening up. Three years later they drop one of wildest mainstream albums in years. Embryonic was dark, experimental, harsh, and dense. It was also a strange masterpiece. It seemed that Wayne Coyne had unleashed an acid-burnt ringmaster persona to head his psychedelic freakout trip. I mean, the Flaming Lips have always marched to the beat of a different drummer.
Folks pining for the pop-flavored Lips seem to forget those first couple albums they released. It’s always been disturbing and perverse in the Lips’ world. The experiment wasn’t the harsh and abrasive freakouts. The experiment was the pop stuff. From 1993 to 2002 they denied those psychotic tendencies for more pop-inflected tunes, gradually dipping their toes back into the icy, Rorschach-spotted waters of their early days. The difference now is that they know what the hell they’re doing. That, and Steve Drozd is a musical genius who can pretty much make any sound Coyne can dream up in his gray and frazzled head come to life.
Where Embryonic took elements of Flaming Lips’ past and combined them with Bitches Brew freakouts and Tago Mago weirdness -along with Coyne’s pseudo hippy positive thinking- to create something unique and bizarre, The Terror is Coyne and his Merry Pranksters finally giving into the darkness and decidedly saying “You know what? It’s not all going to be okay. It’s not going to work itself out. We’re f****d.” That may sound like a real downer, and it certainly isn’t a sunny summertime album, but instead of spending close to an hour being dour and a sad sack, The Flaming Lips have made a record that feels like a journal entry where they’ve come to terms with the not-so-great fate. We’re human. We screw up. Children die. Good people have bad things happen to them. Lovers lose love. Death is around every corner. Do we cower in fear of every darkened corner? No, we don’t. It seems very apropos that this record came out when it did. Boston, Waco,….these are examples of events that can turn a nation into something ugly and hateful. It seems these are the themes that runneth over on The Terror. Coming to terms with all the bad is the first step in finding some sort of inner peace. As long as we fear “the terror”, it will rule our existence. It will feed on us like some sort of existential leech.
In some ways, The Terror is a parable starring the seven deadly sins. Or a Faustian fever dream. Or a dying man fighting to stay alive; twisting and bending to avoid his inevitable fate. Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips I think have found their rock bottom. It was a gradual descent, occasionally sidelined by collaborations with other freaks, gummy skulls, and 24 hour songs. But the descent has been a long time coming. Now, looking around at the bottom of this cavernous and dark space they’ve decided to slink into the primordial ooze and let it speak through them. They are letting the world know that the blinders are off. Or better yet, that the blinders were never on. They just were just trying to keep us preoccupied as the world went to s**t around us. Well, it’s time to face the music. “Look…The Sun Is Rising…”, “Be Free, A Way”, “You Lust” are there to lead the way through the darkness. Suicide drone and Tangerine Dream ambient haze are the magic carpet on which these songs ride. “The Terror”, “You Are Alone”, and “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die” are the rude awakening after the confetti has been swept away and reality sets in. “Always There, In Our Hearts” is more of a promise than a song.
They say once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. The Terror is a concept album about mortality and coming to terms with the darkness in the corner of the room. Or the darkness on a city street in broad daylight. Or the darkness in a burnt out city block. Or the darkness in our own heart.
10 out of 10