Don’t let the brightly-colored packaging fool you. The Terror, the 13th studio album in The Flaming Lips catalog, is possibly their darkest release yet. In spite of the band’s legacy of playfulness and mischief, key band members Steven Drozd and Wayne Coyne recently hit rough patches away from the studio and stage. Oklahoma City’s favorite sons have long implied that life couldn’t exist without love and joy. The Terror makes the hard admission that you can indeed carry on minus these connections, but boy, does it suck.
Listening to this album is like trying to sleep naked under a wool blanket: You’re enveloped in warmth, but you’re gonna be a little uncomfortable. Longtime Lips fans will find The Terror very light on hooks, except maybe the vocal melody in “Butterfly, How Long it Takes to Die.” Riffs are hard to come by too, unless you count the Gang of Four-like guitars that coat songs like “Look…The Sun is Rising.” The band’s only true rock-out moment comes at the very end, with the pounding drum catharsis in “Always There…In Our Hearts.”
The album’s atmosphere is largely built from hypnotic, dream-state drones rather than anything functional or feel-good. So The Terror will likely stand as The Flaming Lips’ “techno” album. Coyne has toyed with electronica before, but songs like “You are Alone” don’t reflect prior pop work with The Chemical Brothers or Thievery Corporation. These are instead the kind of quicksand sounds found in Swans, the Throbbing Gristle universe and even Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi.
Embodied in the album’s central epic, “You Lust,” a dreading, disconnected Coyne (“You’ve got a lot of nerve to fuck with me”) floats above production fogs and staccato hissing loops that suggest steam released in a rhythmic cartoon Hell. The Flaming Lips do nothing without purpose, but replacing their freewheeling nature with this aura of anger and sadness gives The Terror uncommon direction. They’ve been considered serious artists for a long time. Now they show they’re artists who can actually be serious for a moment.