For anyone who’s been following the Flaming Lips’ career trajectory over the past decade — during which time they’ve released three increasingly claustrophobic studio albums, two collaborative records and a more gelatin-based products than Jell-O — their latest effort, The Terror, probably isn’t all that shocking.
After all, with its dark, dense drones, bleak lyrics and somnambulant sequencing (the songs on The Terror don’t so much end as they do bleed into one another), it seems like the next step down the path the band began walking with 2006’s At War With The Mystics and ’09’s Embryonic … a path that has continued to lead them further and further away from their sunniest — and most successful — album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.
And, again, if you’ve loved the Lips for 30 years now, this kind of dramatic reinvention is nothing new. But, if you’re looking for the bright-and-shiny sequel to “Do You Realize??” well, you’re out of luck (and you’ll probably really dislike The Terror.) Because on this album, there’s the no sunshine to speak of; shoot, there isn’t even any light.
“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel; we’re just singing about how there’s no light. Part of the power of this type of record is that it’s not trying to lift up the sun; some Flaming Lips music is this very optimistic, almost a ’Star Wars’ [sentiment,] of ’We’ll defeat the universe!’ which is great, that’s what music’s for,” Lips mastermind Wayne Coyne told MTV News. “I just think some of this is more reality-based, or it’s more based in the way our minds really are. Our minds aren’t trying to lift up the sun, some days we’re just trying to get through the next moment … and, I think that’s what The Terror is for us. It’s a strange record; it sounds strange because it deals with strange, internal things.”
And yet, for all the internalization, the songs on The Terror also make references — fleeting or otherwise — to very public problems. An early Pitchfork review of the album pointed out that, during the recording and writing of the album, Coyne reportedly separated from his partner of 25 years, and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd supposedly suffered a temporary relapse. And while Coyne didn’t address those issues specifically, he’s not denying that this album doesn’t come from a very dark place, or that his band hasn’t been through the wringer in recent years. But, in a lot of ways, he wouldn’t trade any of that struggle … because it’s re-invigorated the band in ways he never thought possible.
“I think, it works in context … I think you hear this music, and you think ’Oh, something must have happened to them.’ Obviously, things happened to us, things happen to everybody; it doesn’t matter what kind of music you make; things are going to happen to Justin Bieber, you might not know it through his music,” he said. “I don’t know. We’re never very far away from having Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots always with us, and we play ’Do You Realize??’ every night. And even The Soft Bulletin, as it’s come along, it’s such a celebrated thing, that it’s always with us.
“And we’re not rejecting any of that, it’s just sometimes that isn’t the music that is the mysterious butterfly that you go ’What was that?!?'” he continued. “It’s these new sounds, these new things, these new expressions or these new level of your character that we’re exploring. So as much as we wish it was part of our personality to do more songs like ’Do You Realize??’ We’re not interested in that. I don’t know we could do it if we tried. A lot of our best things are accidents.”
So, with The Terror, the Lips continue to do what they’ve always done: detonate the past and more forever forward. And while they’ve rarely been to places this dark, Coyne says it was necessary to go to these depths to keep the band alive. And, who knows where they’ll go from here; after all, things are always darkest before the dawn.
“We’ve been around for 30 years now, so, like, you could sum the Flaming Lips up to someone who doesn’t know anything about us, like ’You know, he’s the guy who does the Space Bubble, and they do that song ’Do You Realize??'” Coyne said with a smile. “But then you have The Terror, and people are like ’Why?!?’ And I can understand that. We’re just guys doing our own trip, which isn’t a singular trip; we’re always exploring and finding other things to say about who we’re becoming or who we’ve been, or what our dilemmas are. That’s what music and expression is all about.”
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