Music Reviews
The Terror

The Flaming Lips The Terror

(Warner Bros. ) Rating - 9/10

Wayne Coyne is the Willy Wonka of pop music, and we’re all the lucky recipients of the proverbial golden ticket. Over the last two years, Mr. Coyne has whimsically guided us through his factory of never-ending instrumental loops and a paradisiacal garden of edible skulls, gummy fetuses, chocolate hearts, and blood-filled musical relics -- occasionally dispensing a large group of orange-faced collaborators (ahem... Ke$ha) to dispose of the bloated, blue naysayers along the way. But alas, we’ve embarked on a voyage across a thick, chocolate riverbed, riding atop of Coyne’s confetti-powered ferry only to find a dark, cavernous tunnel standing between us and utter bliss. 

Upon entering the tunnel, we find that behind every bombastic blast of 24-hour instrumentals and disruptive, golden hand-grenades was a quiet, slow-building misery. “Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing. Are the fires of Hell a-glowing? Is the grisly Reaper mowing?” Coyne shouts as the ferry begins to rock uncontrollably to a pulsating, motorik groove. “Yes! Yes! The danger must be growing, ‘cause the rowers keep on rowing!” he concludes, now in complete despair. Indeed, The Terror does in fact deliver on its titular promise, and is without a doubt the darkest entry into The Flaming Lips’ sprawling, thirteen-album discography. 

In many ways, The Terror seems to be the precise photonegative of the Lips’ acclaimed 1999 album, The Soft Bulletin -- sharing a similar reliance on MIDI processors and assorted synth modules. But instead of using these devices to transcend a desperate situation (a la The Spiderbite Song), the band opt to wallow in its inherent uncertainty and dread. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine any of these sounds came from the same equipment that produced the jovial, harmonically rich TSB. Rather, It seems more likely that Coyne and the gang teleported far enough into the future to see our planet’s inevitable demise at the hands of a brutal supernova, recorded the sound it made, and brought it back to the studio for some quick edits and vocal overdubs. And no, it’s not the blustering din of exploding buildings, erupting surfaces, and screaming Pompeian villagers caught in the debris, but rather a slowly suffocating noise basking in bright sublimity.

Lyrically speaking, Coyne’s typical "glass half-full" outlook has shattered, its remnant shards deeply lodged in his bloody, trembling hands. However, instead of making a quick play for some antiseptic ointment and gauze bandages, he seems to be clenching his hands into fists in a flustered attempt to observe and understand his pain. Coyne seeks out unanswerable questions on this album -- questions that can only yield further inquiries. “Did God make pain so we can know the high that nothing is?” Coyne asks, already half-defeated -- and that’s only the beginning of the album, folks. “Try to explain why you’ve changed” he begs in an ethereal, falsetto whimper, only to answer himself, “I don’t think I’ll understand.” 

Coyne seems to give up on himself entirely by mid-album, conceding that “We are all standing alone… we don’t control the controls”. It’s funny (and sort of sad) to think that this was the same guy who once sang lines as uplifting as “Do you realize? That you have the most beautiful face”. At times, Coyne’s optimistic, “butterfly” thoughts seem to escape from their sleepy cocoons, only to have their wings torn off by Drozd’s sharp, piercing frequencies. For instance, the line “I know that you will love me” is immediately followed by a blast of white-noise and the bladed, death-funk of Drozd’s guitar. Interestingly enough, by album’s end, the roles are entirely reversed. “You’re not alone” Drozd faintly reassures himself. However, Coyne is quick to correct, gently whispering back, “You are alone”.

It’s hard to see how The Terror will work its way into The Flaming Lips’ live show. Although it may provide an interesting contrast, I don’t think grim dirges like You Lust or Turning Violent would be an appropriate backdrop for dancing bears, day-glo-covered weirdos, and bursting confetti bombs. Sure, there’s a temporary blast of pulsing rhythms at both ends of the record, but there’s no way that’ll appease the band’s following of upbeat, fearless freaks. In fact, in many ways this album curiously finds the ‘Lips attempting to distance themselves from their fans in a way only Radiohead would be proud of -- pushing the limits of their audience without resolving to playful gimmicks to lure them back in -- and I really mean that in a good way. If nothing else can be said about The Terror, it at least represents the culmination of all of The Flaming Lips’ oddball experiments and elongated, anti-sonorous jams into a single, abrasively beautiful cacophony.