When I heard The Flaming Lips were going for a “darker sound” with The Terror I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Last I recall when I saw them live, they played a set so beautiful it moved the entire crowd of the Trib Amphitheater to tears, and this was long before they played “Do You Realize.” So what of The Terror? I must say I was rather hesitant to give this album a go, especially after vocalist Wayne Coyne described the mood of the album as “embracing hopelessness” – I tend not to embrace such things, but this band holds a very special place in my heart so I gave it the old “college try.” Sure enough, I was blown away, but for different reasons than any of their previous work. This album created a first in the many reviews I’ve written over the years.
It starts out with a dirty sound. “Look… The Sun Is Rising” features a lot of distortion feedback and echoes that make the sunrise of this album a strange one. Like a sun you see just barely beyond a thick fog (a.k.a. every spring morning in Hong Kong). Then they lower the tone with “Be Free, a Way” and “Try to Explain,” each song bringing it down just a notch. These two tracks also blend together so well, I had no idea they were separate until I looked at the playlist. You can tell right away that The Terror is not like any album from this band you’ve heard before.
They ditch the happy-go-lucky sounds that you remember from long ago. They take this brightness and bring in a fog, one thick enough to get lost in. This is when “You Lust” happens. This song exemplifies psychedelic experimentation, but there is a clear method to the calm madness. It’s a song you can easily lose yourself in – it takes you somewhere, somewhere you might not want to go. Then you have the title track “The Terror” – something about the distorted sound in the middle of the song, which then appears throughout and lets you perfectly visualize the album art. Never had a song do that for me before.
By the time “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” starts, you’re in another world. Somewhere in a place surrounded by dissidence and drone where Coyne’s voice is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “Turning Violent” takes me out of this rather quickly, as it becomes rather annoying each time I hear “turning violent” over and over again. Then it finally gets what you might think of as dark with “Always There, In Our Hearts.” I can see what’s going on here – sort of an “it’s always darkest before dawn” kind of thing, because after listening to all this, “Sun Blows Up Today” is the single happiest thing I’ve ever heard. With this upbeat track The Flaming Lips try to pull you back from the darkness they sent you to. Too little too late, to be honest.
This album is certainly a first in that it presents me with a paradox. On the one hand, I think this album is incredible. The experimentation, the use of drone, dissidence, and other effects to create a sound that has a life of its own – no matter how sad that life may be. Like all their other albums it took me somewhere, to a different place than I’d ever been. On the other hand, I really didn’t like this album. The place it took me to was not one I enjoyed, nor one I would care to visit again. It’s an incredible piece of music that I’ll probably never listen to again.