Although the title of the latest Lips suggests otherwise, there is actually nothing to be afraid of. That is, if you’re familiar with their work during the last few years. If so, take a breath and keep your calm because once more the band shifts their paradigm, this time to weighty ambient. The well-known theatrical freak pop seem to be a thing of the past, for The Terror is breathtaking hypnotizing, subdued and hazy at the same time. But above all, it’s almost impossible to deconstruct for those who lost their interest in the band since Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002). If this is the case, feelings of fear are in place, for an unpleasant surprise will probably await you.
Merriness and madness are two sides of the same coin when it comes to the works of The Flaming Lips. Layered psychedelic rock, combined with imaginative lyrics and the numerous strange titles did cause many brows to knit during the past thirty years. The same is applicable to their monumental live act. Usually performances are not only filled with large amounts of confetti and balloons, the band also loves to manipulate stage lighting, makes use of trippy video projections, plays around with fake blood, bunny costumes, giant hands and puppets. On top of this, frontman Wayne Coyne likes to dive into the audience in his man-sized plastic bubble. And then… suddenly everything changed? Undoubtedly there is change, but it is not that sudden as some will suggest.
The Terror is not an unforeseen break in style from happiness to bewildering. Its part of an incremental process the band has been going through the past few years. Metamorphoses are an integral part of the Oklahoma (USA) band. During the early eighties the Lips played noisy psychedelic rock which was followed by a phase of alternative rock. Transmissions From The Satellite Heart (1993) was their first big release. Although musically accessible this piece also contained various surreal lyrics. The Zaireeka albums (1997) heralded the third phase of fairytale pop that was perfected on The Soft Bulletin (1999) and the before mentioned Yoshimi record. At War With The Mystics (2006) can been seen as sort of a closure of this phase. Whilst the sound is pretty much cheerful, the band also made various statements against the Bush administration. Lastly the fourth phase of lengthily and serious electronics started off with the soundtrack to their self-made science fiction film, Christmas on Mars (2008) that was followed by Embryonic (2009). After Embryonic, which was partly about environmental themes, The Flaming Lips shifted their attention towards various side projects. With Stardeath and White Dwarfs they reinterpreted classics from Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Furthermore friends such as, Prefuse 73, Nick Cave, Yoko Ono and Tame Impala were assembled to participate on the eclectic, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, that came out last year.
Where Embryonic ended, The Terror begins. However, political and environmental issues are now replaced with a focus on a personal level. A track title from Christmas on Mars describes the themes that are addressed on The Terror best, “The Horrors of Isolation: The Celestial Dissolve, Triumphant Hallucination, Light Being Absorbed”. In short, its narrative is about men’s inner darkness. With heavily accentuated electronics and Coyne singing in falsetto The Terror kicks-off. After the opener it’s time for a detached reflection on human affairs. Be Free, A Way and Try To Explain seem centered on feelings of emptiness but fluidity shade into a state of blissfulness. You Lust is an absolute tension builder. During this thirteen minute track, listeners are hypnotized by Coyne who is accompanied by repetitive high and low synth tones and creepy whispers. Halfway through, the despair and disintegration continue in full effect. The walls of ambient soundscapes are expanded and plunges listeners into the depths of the soul. Death creeping on Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die and fear lurking on Turning Violent, all seem to be signs of the inevitableness of darkness closing in around us. So there is no way out? Well maybe, just maybe, there is. Sparks of light are still to be found for those who search for it. On the title track the chorus goes, “ We’ll save the last sunshine, the way I long to go. We’ll save the love, you’ll still love. We’re searching through the dark.” Next to this Always There… In Our Hearts is intense but somehow hopeful conclusion, “Always there in our hearts, there something good that we can’t control. ” What’s to learn from this? Will embracing desolateness lead to inner peace? Or is the search for such rest everlasting?
To recap, The Terror is not an easy listen. When a few spare moments are put aside it can even been said that it’s highly inaccessible. And this does not only apply to those who are new to The Lips or to those who still linger within the bands fairytale phase. The Flaming Lips reinvented themselves once again. If you’re able to accept the new phase of dark and fragile ambient, you’ll find The Terror a brilliant addition to their catalogue. So will there be no confetti, man-sized bubbles and bunny rabbits during their lively performances? Is fun substituted for seriousness? According to Coyne, the past will not be forgotten and it will always have a significant place on the stage. Phew. So Benji, rest assured.
Label: Warner Bros. (USA) / Bella Union (UK)
- Look…The Sun Is Rising (5:12)
- Be Free, A Way (5:13)
- Try to Explain (5:00)
- You Lust (13:03)
- The Terror (6:22)
- You Are Alone (3:47)
- Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die (7:31)
- Turning Violent (4:16)
- Always There… In Our Hearts (4:35)
Sun Blows Up Today (Bonus track) (3:08)
Review by Wander Meulemans // VOR-080413