It’s 2150, and Earth is a smoldering ball of noxious fumes. The sun terrorizes the planet daily, and those surface dwellers strong enough to survive the poisonous atmosphere have gone underground. You and your shelter-mates decide to record an album documenting life in this hellish world. You want to capture the loneliness, anguish and fear that populate this post-apocalyptic nightmare so that you can send it back to your ancestors as a warning of what’s to come.
Warner Bros. Records
Cut back to 2013, and earth has received that foreboding broadcast from the future with The Terror, the Flaming Lips’s thirteenth studio album and the group’s return to making wildly experimental music. Like “indie,” “experimental” has no specific meaning, but if one had to guess what an “experimental” album would sound like, The Terror would make the list.
There are none of the signature “triumphantly weird” Flaming Lips songs on this album, so if you’re jonesing for a retread of “She Don’t Use Jelly” or “Do You Realize??”, don’t listen. Instead, The Terror contains 55 minutes of fear and hopelessness through a vortex of droning synths, space-age reverb and disillusioned lyrics.
The group recorded the album in the wake of two emotionally taxing events — the dissolution of lead singer Wayne Coyne’s 25-year relationship and another band member’s relapse into drug use — so the barren, emotionally numb atmosphere seems appropriate. The album hits nihilistic highs, manic depressive lows and everything else you might expect from a man with nothing left except a recording studio and a four-house compound in Oklahoma.
There is nothing here meant to be blasted with your windows down — a la Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — as each track contains a landscape of emotion that requires patience and an open mind. Certain tracks lack rhythm, and the ones that have some semblance of a traditional structure are expanded to eerie frontiers of beeps and bloops.
It’s difficult to evaluate The Terror through a conventional lens. The music bleeds melancholy, and the song titles and lyrics follow a man coming unhinged. The album shouldn’t be listened to unless you’re willing to throw out preconceptions of what the Flaming Lips is supposed to be. The music fascinates with its sadness and radiates shell-shocked creativity.
The Terror flips the eternal optimism of the Flaming Lips upside down. While Coyne normally delights and energizes his followers with crazy onstage and offstage antics, he holds his crushed heart for all to see this time around. The Terror is a story of brutal love, the untold half of love story orthodoxy.
Though this work should be consumed as a full album, that’s not to say that each track isn’t enjoyable. The opener, “Look … The Sun Is Rising,” rocks with abrasive guitars and well-placed feedback as Coyne’s voice, dripping with production effects, sounds lost and scared. “You Are Alone” would be a perfect addition to any lonely astronaut’s iPod, and “Turning Violent” encapsulates how Coyne’s sadness can turn into misplaced anger if he’s not careful.
The Terror really does feel terrifying, as it contains festering hopelessness and a look into a demolished man’s mind. The atmosphere simultaneously depresses and excites, showing that unendurable pain can make for brilliant art. Wishing this type of pain on anybody is cruel, but if the Flaming Lips continue making music like this, then can we just enjoy the silver lining?