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The Flaming Lips Get Dark On The Terror, Freak People Out

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 16, 2013 9:00PM

2013_04_the_terror.jpg The Flaming Lips' new album The Terror is out and it's a doozy, throwing even longtime fans' critical opinions this way and that and generally shaking up the band's fan-base. The album is a dark journey, extremely challenging at times, and is honestly not a pleasant listen. Not that that's ever been a prerequisite for a Flaming Lips song. People have just gotten so used to thinking of the band as free spirited hippies—and a recent car commercial admittedly did nothing to dispel that opinion—but The Terror is probably a more honest reflection of the band, and their current tenor is very much informed by Wayne Coyne's frame of mind. (Kind of like this commercial.)

It's common knowledge that multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd contributes the vast majority of the musical composition when the band writes, but Coyne is still, and forever will be, the heart of the band. Many have attributed the darkness of The Terror to Drozd's struggles with addiction, but we think the tone is more reflective of Coyne's own life changes. Most notably Coyne parted ways with his longtime companion / girlfriend / wife? / artistic collaborator Michelle Martin. He has also taken to great outpourings across social media outlets like Twitter and Instagram, giving him access to pour out thoughts as they occur and get fan's reactions. A recent Reddit chat provided even more insight into his current thinking.

Fan adulation and near universal critical acclaim have allowed Coyne to stretch his creative process to the extreme outer reaches. All of this has contributed to a general sense that Coyne is free to delve deeply into himself and everyone will listen. What most people forgot is that, deep inside, Coyne is a pretty dark person. "Do You Realize?" — that song everyone sings along to joyfully as confetti cannons boom over the crowd at Lips shows — is about death. In a recent interview with Vulture Coyne said, in response to the success of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots:

“People seemed to like it, and you’re like, ‘We can do that forever. [snip] You go in that direction for a while, but part of you starts to get dissatisfied. You’re not going into the unknown."

The Terror is definitely borne of the unknown, and to us it sounds like what happens when humanity becomes unmoored. Songs drift in and out and a sort of tunnel vision develops, where everything on the periphery is ever darker and more menacing, causing one to focus more intently on what's directly ahead. It's these little sonic nuggets, the scary guitars in "Look... The Sun Is Rising," the weird oscillations in "Try To Explain," these are the things saving the listener from flying into oblivion. Perhaps Coyne is working with the band to keep himself from flying into the darkest nether regions as well.

The Terror deals with a sort of death, but this is not a physical expiring, it's an existential crisis. What's scarier than a man who can do absolutely anything he wants? If there is no wrong, then there is no right, and that means we are all spinning into the abyss. This is what The Terror is all about.

This isn't an album meant to appeal to fans and make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The Terror is there to enforce the fact that we're all alone. Or at least that's what The Flaming Lips believe. For now. If you view The Terror through that lens, we think the album delivers exactly what it promises, whether you like it or not.

The Terror is out now. The Flaming Lips have no Chicago dates planned but if you want to see them in Indianapolis they play there on April 29.