The Flaming Lips: The Terror


For all their flirtation with commercial grandeur, The Flaming Lips kiss off what could have been their first calculated move in 30 years: making an accessible album on the heels of a Super Bowl ad appearance. Instead, The Terror gives us anathema to anthems. No “Do You Realize??” or “Jelly”-type hooks here to rescue us from the uninterrupted, hour-long slog through sonic hell. Few bands parlay grating noise into something great, and The Flaming Lips always have—even if The Terror isn’t.

“There’s no fun,” frontman Wayne Coyne warned me last December during a Rolling Stone interview. “It sounds to me like the sound of hope dying.”

“But in a good way,” guitarist Steven Drozd added.

True to its title, The Terror is indeed a woozy fright of a record, one long song in nine parts, like a padlocked dream with no beginning or end. Yet where 2009’s elaborate Embryonic offered the occasional break and variation, The Terror provides no such escape. Its tempo creeps along at little more than a crawl, underscoring a level of unsettlement never quite felt from a Flaming Lips record, and that’s saying something. Imagine a venomous cousin of The Soft Bulletin’s “Spiderbite Song,” and you’re getting close.  

Coyne’s vocal swims deep beneath the mix, garbled and veiled in a vortex of muddled reverb and electronic eeriness. His high-pitched moans on “You Are Alone” crash into minimalist guitar strings, scraping in time with Kliph Scurlock’s metronomic hi-hat on “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die.” Fragments of dialogue litter the album (“I began to understand myself," goes one), and “You Lust” contains a hissing refrain: "Lust to succeed!" (or is “Last to succeed?”). Either way, point taken.

The Terror was made quickly, faster than any other Flaming Lips album, and it follows the band’s most daring recording to date: a 24-hour-long song (to which Coyne and Drozd admit they have yet to listen in full). The Terror scares and calms, kicks conformity and structure without being deliberate, and provokes a startling awakening just as the trance sets in. Best suited for a vinyl-induced coma. It’s mood music. For a morgue.

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