The Flaming Lips. Those old zany funster dudes who dress up as frogs and pandas and zebras and woolly mammoths and cover themselves in fake blood and roll over the audience in gigantic ballbags and exit the stage through a nine foot multicolored vagina spaceship. Their world is one never ending nudie party where everyone is forever deliriously happy and nothing bad ever happens. Except to the guy in the band that plays all the instruments and wears a cute bunny rabbit suit who liked drugs too much and took smack in that film about them. But then he got better and they all lived happily ever after again.
However, in recent times, the Lips have clearly realized that, like a lifetime supply of sweets, too much sugar can quickly lose its appeal. 2009’s Embryonic relied less on wackiness and pop choruses, instead dabbling in Krautrockian grooves and unsettling noise. The Terror continues nosing around this territory, but also sets up camp in a rather isolated place of its own. This is the sound of lonely paranoia, broken men battering the shit out of some destroyed instruments in a post-apocalyptic cave. There is a continuous sense of fear, unease and a lack of mental balance. The titles alone reveal the mind state we’re dealing with here – ‘You Are Alone’, ‘Turning Violent’, ‘Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die’.
One could surmise that Wayne Coyne’s split with his partner of twenty-five years may have led to a reassessment, a questioning of the world around him. Or maybe the years of overdosing on sickly sweet treacle has ended with him trembling uncontrollably over a toilet bowl. Whichever, as one would expect, this break-up has had an enormous effect on him, “A love that explodes convulsing your body” (‘Try To Explain’). Where in the past, Coyne’s lyrics have often revealed a view through a pair of rose-tinted sci-fi binoculars, these songs are clearly more personal, more fractured and more confused. It is impossible to escape the sense of loss which recurs over and over, “Love is always something, something you should fear when you really miss her” (‘Look…The Sun Is Rising’). And Coyne has taken a different approach to his vocals – they lack the confidence of previous work. Perhaps, having presented himself as ringmaster of the celebratory ceremonies for so long, he felt the need to retreat. His voice is often buried within the mix, shy and solemn.
The problem with The Flaming Lips’ recent tripped-out collaborations with their popstar mates was that it felt a little like they were laughing at their audience. Too much formless, tuneless self-indulgent twaddle. And while The Terror is by no means a straightforward melodic pop record, it is consistently riveting, like observing a car-crash in gory microscopic slow motion. ‘You Lust’ is the perfect example of this – thirteen uncomfortable minutes where Mr. Coyne pronounces that “You got a lot of nerve, a lot of nerve to fuck with me”. The music is relentless; hypnotic droning shafts of factory hum with a creepy man popping up now and again to exclaim, “Lust to succeed”. The Terror has the ability to unnerve in the same manner as Portishead’s Third or Joy Division’s Closer, albums that provide you with a queasy listening experience, made by people on the verge of a breakdown, clasping onto the edge with both hands. Maybe even occasionally letting go. And falling into a murky ether. Whatever, this is enthralling.