Growing towards the sunlight from their experimental roots, The Flaming Lips’ career sprouted and flowered on the raw nutrients of joy, silliness, and quirky fun. Songs like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” are among the most well known from their catalogue. Recently, The Lips have been delving into darker and more experimental territory, and their new album continues that trend. The Terror is an imposing, ominous record—a solitary walk across a vast and vacant, cold and windswept, post-apocalyptic desert. However, The Terror isn’t the absolute downer it has been purported to be; uplifting and glorious melodies are embedded within these songs.
On opener “Look…The Sun Is Rising,” icy, metallic beats skitter as echoing vocals dissolve into the slow climb and chant-like trance of “Be Free, A Way.” Critics have insisted that The Terror is, well, terrifying (and much of the theatric staging and imagery surrounding the album have been), but here is a point where Coyne’s uplifting surge of vocals “Be freeeee, a waaayyyy” seem darkly optimistic. Of the album, in a press release, Coyne said, “The Terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing.” But that’s just it—even after love, we’re still alive. If the shot to the head never comes, we’re going to have to figure out a way to pick up these pieces and put them together.
Remember this is the same band that created “Do You Realize??” The Terror makes the point that we live in a world of darkness, of horrifying acts beyond our control—an apt point the day after bombs killed an eight-year-old boy at the Boston Marathon. This terror might be best exhibited by “You Lust,” where the album takes an even creepier turn as vibrating harmonium sounds blend with a three note hook and a voice chants “Lust to succeed” like some devil-witch. But on the song just before, “Try to Explain,” radiating buzzes streak across the sonic palate while sweeping synth strings climb buoyantly and the chorus unfurls a lovely melody.
Beyond these conceptual elements and the contemplation of The Flaming Lips’ sentiments on The Terror, it’s important to note that the album is a sonic masterwork, seamlessly flowing from one track to the next. More so than ever before, the record translates as one cohesive piece of music—a fully realized artistic vision. In this regard, the album is a triumph without question, and as a result, is a more enjoyable listen than the band’s previous pair of records.
“The Terror,” one of the busiest songs on the album, also contains some beautiful notes that cut through the droning ambiance and pulsating alien alarm bells. Brief and psychologically disparate, “You Are Alone” follows with a mental conundrum that leads into one of the most upbeat songs on the album, “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die.” Admittedly, titles don’t come much bleaker, and the track boasts angular guitar spasms and steady rhythm over pulsing and eerie atmospherics.
“Turning Violent” represents the final descent into total spiritual darkness and comes off like a mental map of someone wrestling insanity. The Terror closes with the propulsive “Always There…In Our Hearts,” which possesses an ominous but somewhat lilting refrain. Coyne drops the lyrics, “Always there in our hearts/ there is love and there is hate.” I may be in a minority here, but to me this is what defines The Terror and makes it profound. Hidden within this terrifying chaos and within our hearts is the dichotomous kernel of our universe.
The night before The Flaming Lips debuted The Terror in its entirety at SXSW, an electronic freakshow that had Wayne cradling a doll tethered to the stage lights by a dozen or more mechanical cords, the band performed Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots from beginning to end at a small show at The Belmont. The sequence of these sets says it all. You can’t have love without hate. You can’t have order without chaos. And you can’t have Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots without The Terror.