The Terror is the sound of a band fighting like mad to keep from flying apart.
Bursts of unsettling noise, ambient sound effects evoking a fragile mental state and a pervasive air of desperation make this record, the Flaming Lips 13th studio effort, its most challenging yet. Functioning in many ways as the thematic (and musical) inverse of the Lips luminous 1999 masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin, The Terror feels like an existential crisis in auditory form. Whereas the former album charged headlong into adversity, finding beauty in the bleakness of life, the latter stares into the abyss and contemplates jumping.
The making of The Terror was fraught with offstage drama: Wayne Coyne separated from his wife of 25 years, and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, whose drug addiction was hauntingly captured in the 2005 documentary Fearless Freaks, suffered a relapse. (He is back in recovery now.)
Instead of the circumstances taking their toll on the veteran art-rockers, the Lips simply poured all the angst, frustration, melancholy and anxiety into some of the most spiky, alienating songs the band has fashioned in recent memory. Despite its shiny-happy reputation of late, longtime fans know this dark undercurrent has always flowed beneath the music Coyne and his bandmates make, stretching back to the weird ugliness of seminal works like 1987s Oh My Gawd!!! and 1989s Telepathic Surgery.
Longtime producer Dave Fridmann once more guides the Lips through dense sonic terrain: Butterfly (How Long It Takes to Die) is goosed by serrated guitar; You Lust (which features the albums lone guest, Phantogram) is underpinned by skin-crawling spoken-word segments; and album closer Always There ... In Our Hearts spins out an echo-laden guitar part into nothingness.
The Flaming Lips dont end in a better place than they began The Terror, but theres something admirable about the totality of such a grim vision. Life isnt all rainbows and sunshine, costume-clad fans and feel-good songs. Sometimes, theres immense, inescapable pain a fact of life The Terror turns into abrasive art.