Any new release from The Flaming Lips is sure to be met with a degree of anticipation from critics and fans; they’ve recently put on some spectacular live shows and their catalogue of work contains some absolute classics. So when a band with their kind of reputation releases an album called “The Terror” you can’t help but be intrigued about what sonic madness it might contain.
The Terror is a concept album and getting your head around the lyrical theme is fairly important. Basically, the terror which Wayne Coyne sings about is the fear of life without love. That no matter the terrible circumstances you may be in, life goes on….and that is the terror: continued existence. This is very personal to Coyne as he recently split with his partner of 25 years, so you’d expect this record to be harrowing and representative of its title wouldn’t you?
Well….no it isn’t I’m afraid. Musically it bears inconvenient and obvious similarity to works by Can, Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno, being semi-ambient synth-driven music which is mostly quite formless. This has been done so much better decades ago by the aforementioned artists and more besides.
The Flaming Lips have been responsible for some of the most breathtaking experimental pop music since the late ’60s, particularly 2002’s ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ and 1997’s ‘Zaireeka’ which consisted of 4 CDs designed to be played simultaneously on 4 different CD players!
However, listening to this album, you get the feeling that Coyne’s hallucinogen intake may have gotten the better of him as it just sort of plods along as if in some kind of sleepy psychedelic trance. There is the presence of the odd shock at times….a synth stab here, a harsh & grating guitar chop there, but all they serve to do is prevent you from falling into a bored sleep.
If you’re gonna release an album called “The Terror”, you’d better be able to back it up. Coyne’s personal situation may well be terrifying, but this album is not. It’s mildly annoying at best…the terror? No. Terrifyingly dull.
As with any band of this calibre, even their poorer efforts will still have some redeeming qualities, and this one certainly does have the odd interesting moment. “You Lust” features some cool synth arpeggios reminiscent of Phillip Glass, but the harshly whispered vocals detract from the overall mood (also they’re not terrifying…did I make that point already? Good.)
“Be Free: A Way” possesses some nice uplifting vocal harmonies, but it drags on and on and….hang on…uplifting? Terror my ass.
The UK bonus edition contains two bonus tracks….and bizarrely they are the best and worst songs on the disc! “The Sun Blows Up Today” is the only track that’s a “song” in the traditional sense. It has rhythm, melody and hooks and is a relatively up-tempo track far more reminiscent of their glory days (cough….not terrifying). I’ll tell you what is terrifying though, the other bonus track; an abysmal whimpering cover of The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”.
I don’t wish to make light of Coyne’s personal situation, but it’s not my fault and this album is what it is. The musical embodiment of a squashed sea urchin; a stinking gelatinous globule with a few spikes sticking out of it.