The Flaming Lips – The Terror

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There was a time when I thought The Flaming Lips were the coolest band out there.  The duo of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots were an aural proof, and their celebratory concerts were life affirming events.

That was a point, or two, in time.

One of the things that I favor in bands is artistic growth, a sense of moving forward rather than repeating what has been done before.  I tell myself that, but when they perfected their efforts on The Soft Bulletin, I have to recant.  Give me more of that!

I looked forward to each of the albums that followed, but with less optimism each time.  It’s clear that they’ve moved beyond the point in time that I favored.  Whether they’ve embraced the notion that there’s no such thing as a bad idea is up to the listener.  But, their last, Embryonic, was a cruel, harsh electronic violation to the ears compared to the melodic appeal of their best work.  Simply, they chose to mutilate their former selves.   The horror.

And now comes The Terror, an effort which is less off-putting but which also offers no appeal for listeners hoping to hear from the band as they were a decade ago.  This is a muted affair, with spare percussion, repetitive keyboard and electronic loops, and a lead singer so focused on the mission that the exuberance of his former self has been banished.

You might call it art.  I’m sure many will.  And if I were in a room on a Saturday night, alone, with the lights out, my eyes closed, ensconced in my recliner, and well into my third St. Bernardus Abt 12, I might recall The Terror as having been a moving experience the following day.  I would also not be able to describe a whit of it by track or a memorable moment.   Perhaps I’d describe it as a soundtrack to a movie that they did us the favor of not filming in the back yard or a choice for a reimagined 2001: A Space Odyssey. One where Hal wins.

But, similar to Radiohead’s Kid A, which I had to listen to in the early morning lest I be asked to explain to my wife and kids why I found pleasure in it, I think I might try the Belgian method. 

But given what Steven Drozd admits in a “Spin” article, I think I have the right approach:

As a songwriter, you usually write the song and then figure out what the sound should be. But the process for The Terror was we'd find a cool sound: a distorted drum machine or something from a shitty amp or something made on a crazy monosynth that was given to us that other people would think was just a piece of junk. Whatever it was, we'd just record it and catch that sound and then go: "Okay now we're gonna make a song out of the sound.

I don’t think this is as great a work as Kid A, by far, but I’m encouraged that the band has managed to focus their effort from start to finish.  The noise is controlled, the experimental electronics vary (barely) enough to keep interest, and there are worse things than Wayne Coyne mantras.

Still, I’ll hope the group pulls a Neil Young with a random shape shifting to their more appealing past the next time out.  But I won’t count on it.

3 of 5 STARS



Currently, the album can be heard on NPR’s site:

1 comment :

  1. I'd listen to it, but I have no St. Bernardus Abt 12! ;-)