Good news: The Flaming Lips’ newest album, The Terror, is actually quite creepy. You’d be disappointed if an album called “The Terror” was all about rainbows and unicorns and sounded like yet another Guys With Beards band, wouldn’t you? Don’t play this on a sunny drive to the beach or in the bedroom, unless you’re going to sail away from everything you know or your bedroom happens to be in a bondage dungeon.
The opener is called “Look…The Sun Is Rising,” but it’s more like something you’d hear the morning after a strange, cosmic, apocalyptic event rather than a breakfast cereal commercial. The guitar in it twitches with desperate madness. Lead singer Wayne Coyne’s vocals seem to be coming from everywhere but in front of you. It references MK-Ultra. It’s downright eerie.
The song that follows, “Be Free, A Way” continues the cosmic vibe. It drifts like a lonely spacecraft far away from its home planet. It is free, away from home, and free in a way that many of us couldn’t understand.
You can’t help but wonder if the song is about Wayne Coyne’s recent break-up with his girlfriend. The whole album, in fact, deals with bleak themes of loneliness, depression, and, yes, terror.
The droning synths of “Try to Explain” and the repeated plea of “Try to explain why you’ve changed / I don’t think I’ll understand” are heart-wrenching. “You Lust” (featuring Phantogram, who are fantastic, by the way) isn’t so much about sex as it is about commercial success in the music industry, what it brings, and what it can take from you. It’s the longest song on the record (over 13 minutes) and has more synth layers than a wedding cake baked by Kraftwerk.
The title track is a full plunge down the rabbit hole and expresses Coyne’s theory that, as he put it in an interview, “even without love, life goes on…We just go on…There is no mercy killing.” That’s what the terror is, ladies and gentlemen. That you can lose love and you’ll still be here. You’ll still have to deal with it. In truth, no one else can. Yes, you can turn to faith, family, and friends, but ultimately, you’re alone can “turn to face the sun,” as Coyne sings.
Don’t believe me? The next song on the album is called “You Are Alone.”
“Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” is not only about our mortality (and that of a butterfly), but also about the mortality of the universe. “Turning Violent” is the creepiest song on the entire record. Sludge synths, underwater drum beats, echoing vocals, and sounds best described as something you’d hear in an Eli Roth movie mix into a song that will make your skin crawl.
The album ends with “Always There…In Our Hearts.” It’s a song about the darkness that dwells in all of us and the constant battle to keep it at bay. It is a driving, forceful tune that ends with the word “overwhelmed” repeated again and again. It’s a brutal end to an overwhelming record.
This isn’t the Feel Good Record of the Year. It’s probably the Feel Like You Should Lock All the Doors and Hide Record of the Year. It’s definitely a record you should hear. It can make you feel like the last track, overwhelmed, but it will be worth the trip.
~ Nik Havert
Nik Havert is a writer, DJ at WSND 88.9FM University of Notre Dame, harmonica player, martial arts instructor, comic book publisher, crime fighter,music lover, cult movie enthusiast, and modern day Renaissance man. He hopes to shark cage dive sometime in the next few years and enjoys travel and good natural root beer. Visit his web site at http://www.picklepress.net.
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