2 stars (out of 4)
The Flaming Lips may be best known these days for putting on shows featuring bear-costumed dancers and Wayne Coyne’s Mad Hatter treks atop the audience in a giant plastic bubble. But they also remain Great Plains acid freaks. Their ‘80s recordings indulged weirdness and sprawl, before big-hearted pop whimsy and affirming anthems took over on such breakthrough albums as “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart” (1993) and “The Soft Bulletin” (1999). Lately, the pendulum has swung back to the Oklahoma band’s less-comforting origins.
“The Terror” (Bella Union/Warner Bros.) is downright existential. It sounds like it was made by the last survivor on a dying planet, a final transmission from an underground bunker. Real-life break-ups and struggles with drug abuse inform the music, saturating it in gloom and heartbreak. Wayne Coyne’s disembodied voice floats through a matrix of drone and dissonance. The anticipation suggested by the title of the opening “Look … the Sun is Rising” is quickly undercut by spastic bursts of guitar over churning drums. “Be Free, A Way” and “Try to Explain” melt together, a pair of lost-in-the-void murmurs that give way to “You Lust,” in which the sound of a distant lawnmower underlines 13 increasingly annoying minutes.
From there, the murk of keyboards, factory percussion and muffled voices grows only more oppressive. Thin strands of melody surface occasionally, as in the melancholy “Butterfly, How Long it Takes to Die.” After the death rattle of “Turning Violent,” “Always There in Our Hearts” tries to blast its way to the surface but comes up short.
Incongruously, the mood brightens for the bubblegum bounce of “Sun Blows Up Today” and a hazy cover of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” Maybe it’s the Lips way of pulling the listener away from the ledge. By then, it’s too late.
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