It’s been a crazy few years for the Flaming Lips, still riding on the crest of a wave that built up a decade ago, but every good time comes to an end. The Terror is the sound of a band (or a lead singer at least) hitting rock bottom.
Wayne Coyne has been enjoying the fruits of the successes brought on by The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi, the free-loving hippy weirdo who runs across festival crowds in a giant bubble and posts naked photos of his wife on Twitter. But it seems that he’s not been quite so happy as you might imagine.
For one thing, his relationship broke down last year, and if The Terror can be pigeon-holed as anything, it’s a break-up album as desolate as Sea Change by Beck or In The Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra. These aren’t songs that get played by a man with giant laser-shooting hands or one with Heady Fwends.
They don’t get released in skulls made of gummy jelly either, and won’t go down well with the festival crowd waiting for the life-affirmation of Do You Realize? But The Terror is the best collection of new music from the Lips since Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots nonetheless, and the sense of focus that drives it is largely responsible for its success.
It’s far from straightforward, as you’d expect, but it doesn’t fly off in all directions at once like so much of their music in the last ten years has done. If anything, it’s almost an ambient album, so anyone who heard The Sun Blows Up Today earlier in the year will have a nasty shock (that’s a bonus track and sounds nothing like anything else on it), as tracks like You Are Alone and Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die are as bleak as their titles suggest.
Interestingly, one of the other bonus tracks is the whole album as one song and that’s probably the best way to look at it, because individually they largely don’t stand out from each other, it’s more of a concept mood piece than a collection of tunes. The concept being (according to Coyne): “The Terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing.”
While it’s not as kaleidoscopic as most of their other albums, nor is this a one-note piece, they’ve decorated their misery with plenty of colour and texture that reward repeat listens and Try To Explain is one of their loveliest, most memorable songs all of, while You Lust may last for 13 minutes without doing an awful lot, but is somehow never dull. And that’s the crucial thing about The Terror.
There was a danger that the Flaming Lips were going to disappear in a puff of multi-coloured smoke, stretching their cartoonish nature across so many gimmicky live shows and bizarre releases that they forgot what made them popular in the first place. This album strips all of it away and takes them somewhere new and much more interesting than its sister album And Heady Fwends, which came out last year.