When the Flaming Lips appeared in a commercial during the Super Bowl this year, it seemed that after 30 years as a band, they were ready to present themselves definitively to the masses; as fuzzy, fun-time freaks who roll around in hamster balls and blast technicolor confetti from their tour bus. The minute-and-a-half Hyundai ad crystallized the band’s whimsical qualities, which were particularly potent in last year’s hyper-collaborative and highly playful project, “The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends.” But the Lips have put aside their playdates with seemingly disparate “Fwends” like Ke$ha, Erykah Badu and Chris Martin and gone to a much darker place. Therein they found “The Terror.”
“The Terror,” which comes out Tuesday, finds Wayne Coyne and company capturing the sound of the desperate anxiety that you’d expect from an album with a title like that.
“A lot of times I think Flaming Lips music goes into the fantastical and I think that’s great,” says Coyne. “But I think this music specifically goes to how life is. Part of it is that there is something grinding away at you. … I think virtually every song on here has this kind of underlying, grinding, non-musical — not even always rhythmically correct — bed to it.”
Lyrically, the mood is persistently similar, with very little light coming into or escaping from the songs. On one track, when a high hopeful voice sings “You’re not alone” it is echoed by a sobering mechanical response of “You are alone.” This is a very different Wayne Coyne from the one who sang about a girl who uses Vaseline on her toast instead of jelly. It’s a very different Wayne Coyne from the one who asked if you realized that happiness makes you cry. Coyne admits that when the band began to chase these dark impulses, part of “The Terror” was that they wouldn’t be able to return.
“I always know that once we get interested in something it’s wonderful, but it’s also scary, because it’s like ‘We’re really gonna do this’ and you don’t know in the beginning if it means that we destroy this other part of us.”
But Coyne insists that the other part of the band has not been destroyed.
“I believe it’s like having a conversation with someone who is interesting,” he says. “They tell serious, horrible stories and then they tell silly, funny stories. That’s just the way the world is.”
‘The Terror’ of knowing what this world is about
Coyne says although he split with his wife of 25 years last August, more of the lyrics are related to harsh realizations about growing up, rather than such personal strife.
“When we’re young and when we’re trying to experience what we think love is, part of us wants to think that ‘Without love, what is life?’ that life isn’t worth living. And maybe that’s true for some people, but I think what love tells you eventually , if you keep listening and you keep trying and keep looking and keep wanting and keep failing and trying again, it says, ‘Yeah, this isn’t life.’ Life, if you look around you is in these birds and in these trees and in this planet and this dirt, and you’re just like them. These trees don’t fall over because someone doesn’t love them. The sun doesn’t stop shining because someone doesn’t love it. And you’re just like that. Love is just in your mind and your mind is part of what you’re created for. And part of you wants to kill yourself when you know that. And that’s the terror. You know that you’ve got to go down there and explore that. The terror is that you may find out some truths that utterly change the way you’re going to view the world from here on out.”