Consistency has never been The Flaming Lips' strongest suit – indeed, they seem to revel in confounding expectations – but even by their own standards, The Terror is tough going.
Track titles such as “You Are Alone” and “Turning Violent” indicate that, once again, Wayne Coyne is in brutally honest mode, keen to dispel any fond illusions listeners may harbour. Even the sunrise heralded in the album's opening track is seen not as a source of light and warmth, but as a curfew of night-time activity, while the title track itself sits like a toad at the album's centre, confirming how “We are standing alone/The terror's in our heads/We don't own the controls”.
He's been this brutal before, but usually even the prospect of extinction is sufficiently sweetened by glorious melody to hoist a track like “Do You Realise??” to the status of celebratory anthem. Not so here: the arrangements devised by The Flaming Lips for The Terror consist largely of dirty, piercing abstract electronic noises culled from old analogue synths sculpted into rhythms and riffs, with any additional guitar and keyboard sounds similarly treated for harsh, serrated effect. Melodies are obscured at best, afterthoughts at worst, and Coyne's frail falsetto sounds like a hostage manacled in a sonic dungeon.
All in all, it ought to be the nastiest thing you'll hear all year. But somehow, the sheer persistence of vision gives the project a coherence that renders parts of it increasingly agreeable, whether it's just Coyne's heavily reverbed voice, or the way that the undulating synth and piano lines of “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die” float blissfully over the bed of turbulent electronic noise.
And it's ultimately hard to dispute the underlying thesis about the evil that lurks in men's hearts, the baser urges of one's id, being just as inescapable a part of the triumph over bland mediocrity as the more noble impulses: affirmation that one is indeed truly alive, and not just living.
It's not to everyone's taste, but The Terror at least boldly attempts to tackle some of the Bigger Issues not usually broached in pop.
Download: Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die; Try to Explain; Be Free, a Way