Three years since their last album proper, At War With The Mystics, The Flaming Lips have seemingly decided to forego the soaring synth-inflected tunesmithery that saw them elevated to pioneers of modern American rock and reverted to the kind of proggy, trippy jams that characterised much of their early work.
Clocking in at over 70 minutes, and containing a gargantuan 18 tracks, this double-album sprawls like a page three model at a 1970s’ car show. While State generally has little sympathy for A&R men, we do feel a modicum of pity for the record company employee charged with picking potential singles from what is essentially an extended jam, and a dark, often nightmarish one at that.
The lyrics throughout display a bleakness that’s rare for Wayne Coyne, who can normally see a chink of optimism even in the gloomiest of subject matter. It’s black stuff, from the menacing bass of -Powerless’ through to the nightmarish eco-disaster chronicled in -See The Leaves’.
There are moments where the Lips’ trademark idiosyncrasies and all-encompassing world view gel, but they are few and far between, with many -songs’ feeling like half-baked ideas and unfinished symphonies, released from the studio before they were really old enough to survive on their own in the wild (-Your Bats’, -Convinced Of The Hex’, -The Impulse’). Others, meanwhile, like the cacophonic electro-trash of -Aquarius Sabotage’, should never have got beyond the ideas phase. Experiments do not always bear fruit – just listen to the psychedelic non-melody of -The Ego’s Last Stand’ if you don’t believe us.
That said, the haunting -Evil’ is possessed of a shimmering, otherworldly beauty that stays with you long after the final blips and bleeps have subsided, and the sinister -Sagittarius Silver Announcement’ sounds like one of Syd Barrett’s more inspired musings. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O contributes various yelps and animal noises to the Tim Burton-esque fairytale -I Can Be A Frog’ and actually sings on the impressively insistent -Watching The Planets’, while MGMT appear on the staccato moog-fest that is -Worm Mountain’.
While it’s unquestionably brave and ambitious, much of Embryonic is also very difficult to listen to, coming across like an Orwellian nightmare put (very loosely) to music by a demented musical menagerie. We suspect the Lips wouldn’t have it any other way.