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The Flaming Lips - The Terror Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 7.5
Musicianship 7.5
Lyrics 7.5
Production 7.5
Creativity 7.5
Lasting Value 7.5
Reviewer Tilt 7.5
Final Verdict: 75%
Member Ratings
Vocals 8.5
Musicianship 8.5
Lyrics 8.5
Production 8.5
Creativity 8.5
Lasting Value 8.5
Reviewer Tilt 8.5
Average: 85%

The Flaming Lips - The Terror

Reviewed by: Chris Collum (04/25/13)
The Flaming Lips - The Terror
Record Label: Warner Bros
Release Date: April 16, 2013


Throughout the course of a prolific and often zany career that is now in its third decade, The Flaming Lips have made a name for themselves both as purveyors of tripped-out neo-psychedelic pop and a laundry list of increasingly bizarre stunts, with an emphasis on the latter in the last several years. Let’s recap: in the last few years, the eyebrow-raising things the Lips have done have ranged from releasing a 24-hour song encased in a real human skull to frontman Wayne Coyne crowd-surfing in a gigantic inflatable bubble at Coachella to multiple collaborations with trash-pop princess Ke$ha to pressing a vinyl record using some of Coyne’s own blood. And that’s not even getting into a highly provocative leaked music video that featured Erykah Badu’s sister Nayrock stripping down in a bathtub, which lead to the band catching heat from all directions, one very pissed off Erykah Badu, and Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls (an eyebrow-raiser in her own right) taking Badu’s place in the bathtub.

However, what The Flaming Lips have not done since 2009 is release a proper full-length album. Last year we got The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, a compilation album of collaborations with Justin Vernon, Nick Cave, Jim James, Yoko Ono and others, but it was not really a true Lips album, and was largely hit-or-miss. 2009’s Embryonic, on the other hand, was an expansive and dark freak-out of a double LP that is arguably the pinnacle of the group’s creative career. It also signaled a pretty big shift away from the blissfully colorful trio of records that the band made in the late 90s/early 00s and projected them into the mainstream limelight.

Those expecting a return to that blissful psychedelic pop from a record called The Terror, however, are woefully erroneous and destined to be horribly disappointed. Thematically speaking, The Terror seems to continue on roughly the same trajectory that Embryonic put the Lips on—but if Embryonic was Coyne and company venturing down into the vestibule of some darkened and druggy rabbit hole, The Terror might accurately be described as testing just how deep down said hole goes, or perhaps sitting motionless at the bottom of the hole and staring up at a pinprick of light thousands of feet above your head. You are not likely to hear many other records this year that are as intense, as dismal and as wholly bewildering as this one is.

Clocking in about fifty-five minutes, it’s only about fifteen minutes shy of Embryonic’s length, however The Terror is only nine songs, half as many as are on Embryonic. Despite being a bit shorter, The Terror really is more of a slog to get through the first few listens than Embryonic ever was, due largely to two very krautish epics, “You Lust” and “Butterfly How Long It Takes to Die.” The latter is seven-and-a-half minutes while the former is a whopping thirteen. And frankly, those two songs are probably the weakest on the album, largely because they are so long. “You Lust” in particular needed some serious editing, since it basically sticks to the same pattern for the first ten minutes of the song: a few minutes of a repeated three-note guitar lick, some menacing synthesizer hissing and sparse percussion, then Wayne breathes “lust to succeed” four or five times into your headphones in a way that’s startling the first time, but just sounds goofy after that. And then they repeat it. And repeat it again. And repeat it again.

The other reason why The Terror can be a chore to return to is that it’s such an immersive and intense album. After you get used to that though, it’s also the selling point of the record, for what the Lips do best on The Terror is create a microcosmic world that is icy, alien, foreboding, and altogether, well, terrifying. This creepy world gradually worms its way into your skull until by the time “Turning Violent,” the record’s penultimate track, washes over you with its dissonant throbbing bass rhythms and clanging church bell in the background, you have dissolved into the world yourself and are consumed by existential, inter-planetary dread—probably exactly what the Lips intended. In a press release for the album, Coyne called The Terror a “bleak, disturbing, hopeless record,” and that seems to be a pretty fair assessment.

It’s quite the trick, making someone feel hopeless simply by subjecting them to fifty-five minutes of hopeless music, and it distinctly reminds me of Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi of all things. Geogaddi is also a very dark, long, heady and abstract record, and leaves the listener confused and slightly disturbed at its finish. In an interview with XLR8R back in 2001, Marcus Eoin of Boards of Canada alluded to this, saying the group thought “that there are powers in music that are almost supernatural. I think you actually manipulate people with music.” Much like Geogaddi, what the Lips have done with The Terror is certainly a testament to that power.

But despite their skill in executing that sense of terror and foreboding, The Flaming Lips do misstep in some places on The Terror. As previously mentioned, “You Lust” devolves into a repetitive bore. Closing track “Always There…In Our Hearts” is a disappointing finish to the album, as it kind of just peters out, containing little of the drama and dread found elsewhere on the record. Furthermore, the band sticks largely to buzzing synthesizers, clanging percussion, and very noisy sound effects for instrumentation, mostly eschewing guitars except for the occasional feedback-laden metallic lick, and while this style certainly works for the sort of ambiance the Lips are going for, it’s somewhat one-dimensional and gets a bit dull at times—once again usually during the longer tracks.

But when this record is good, it’s fantastic. “Be Free, A Way” features a soaring vocal melody from Coyne but still manages to retain the static feeling found throughout the record, and is fascinating despite featuring very little musically besides shimmering synths and lightly pulsating electronic percussion. The title track’s jazzy percussion juxtaposed alongside Coyne’s heavily manipulated and rhythmically steady vocal line is masterful. Finally, while Coyne’s lyrics historically have often been lampooned as nonsensical space rock gibberish, he turns inward on this album and the results are pleasing more often than not.

The Terror is a frightening trip, a fantastically cohesive album, and one that could have benefited greatly from a bit more editing and perhaps a little better track sequencing. It certainly occupies a unique place in the Lips’ discography, and is a refreshing listen in an eerie sort of way after the innumerable hijinks we’ve watched from the sidelines in the last few years. It is not a fun record (as anyone who was at the band’s SXSW showcase where they played it in full can surely tell you), and it may not be a record that many Lips fans choose to return to that often. But it is, by and large, a very solid and singular effort from a band thirteen studio albums deep into their career.

7.5/10

Additional Information1. Look...The Sun Is Rising
2. Be Free, A Way
3. Try To Explain
4. You Lust
5. The Terror
6. You Are Alone
7. Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die
8. Turning Violent
9. Always There...In Our Hearts

Official Website | Official Facebook Page | Official Twitter Account

Chris Collum
AP.net Staff Reviewer
Twitter | Last.fm
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 18
10:26 PM on 04/25/13
#2
dash64
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Great review and I agree 100% with your score. This album seems to be scoring higher on other websites but I think 75% is really representative of this. Like you wrote, there are some great songs, but the weak ones really hurt the album.
10:34 PM on 04/25/13
#3
Chris Collum
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Great review and I agree 100% with your score. This album seems to be scoring higher on other websites but I think 75% is really representative of this. Like you wrote, there are some great songs, but the weak ones really hurt the album.
Yeah exactly, especially with only nine songs they all need to be top-notch.

Too bad though, because this has potential to be a classic. I love the concept behind the album/what they're going for here.
10:48 PM on 04/25/13
#4
dash64
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Yeah exactly, especially with only nine songs they all need to be top-notch.

Too bad though, because this has potential to be a classic. I love the concept behind the album/what they're going for here.
Have you heard the 2 bonus tracks?
10:49 PM on 04/25/13
#5
Chris Collum
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Have you heard the 2 bonus tracks?
Yeah. I don't like "Sun" at all and I can't stand Edward Sharpe so they're 0/2 there with me haha
10:50 PM on 04/25/13
#6
Steeeve Perry
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Haven't listened to this in full yet, not sure I'd dig it. Love The Soft Bulletin and most of Yoshimi but although I appreciated how different Embryonic was, I just didn't enjoy it that much. It seems fans of Krautrock and drone will find plenty to love here though.
12:42 AM on 04/26/13
#7
Jeff_Ryan
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Yeah. I don't like "Sun" at all and I can't stand Edward Sharpe so they're 0/2 there with me haha
Sun is good by itself but I agree about Sharpe
07:16 AM on 04/26/13
#8
dhayes
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Yeah. I don't like "Sun" at all and I can't stand Edward Sharpe so they're 0/2 there with me haha

I like them alright by themselves, but they pretty well ruin the whole experience if listened to in context of the album. The transistion from dark and moody to bright and sunny is jarring as fuck.

Spot on review by the way. I have to say that Hard to Explain and Turning Violent are two of the best Lips songs to come out in a while.
08:25 AM on 04/26/13
#9
samlowry09
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I love this album, but isn't as accessible as previous Lips album. It plays more like a soundtrack.
09:50 AM on 04/26/13
therookielot
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I'm not familiar with the dynamic of this band. I've never listened to anything before this album. I tried listening to this album on the ride home a couple weeks ago. It was like 3 songs in and I thought it was still the first one. I had to turn it off and put on more driving suitable music. I need to listen with headphones.
03:42 PM on 04/26/13
samlowry09
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I'm not familiar with the dynamic of this band. I've never listened to anything before this album. I tried listening to this album on the ride home a couple weeks ago. It was like 3 songs in and I thought it was still the first one. I had to turn it off and put on more driving suitable music. I need to listen with headphones.
Yeah, I don't think this is the best album of theirs to start with. I'd listen to The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots first.
03:43 PM on 04/26/13
Chris Collum
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Oh gosh haha, yeah this record would not be a good introduction to the Lips at all
03:48 PM on 04/26/13
dash64
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I'm not familiar with the dynamic of this band. I've never listened to anything before this album. I tried listening to this album on the ride home a couple weeks ago. It was like 3 songs in and I thought it was still the first one. I had to turn it off and put on more driving suitable music. I need to listen with headphones.
Listen to Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi, or At War with the Mystics.
03:18 AM on 04/30/13
QuietThings430
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Texturally and sonically this is probably the most interesting record I've heard since Age of Adz. It also kind of reminds me of Silver Apples in certain moments. There are certain moments that are less memorable than others but the songs that work with this style work exceptionally well. Really enjoyed it. Probably my favorite album by them next to Clouds Taste Metallic.
10:08 AM on 04/30/13
Chris Collum
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Texturally and sonically this is probably the most interesting record I've heard since Age of Adz. It also kind of reminds me of Silver Apples in certain moments. There are certain moments that are less memorable than others but the songs that work with this style work exceptionally well. Really enjoyed it. Probably my favorite album by them next to Clouds Taste Metallic.
Man, every Lips fan has a different favorite album seems like haha
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