Is there any band out there that ‘follows their gut’, that goes on whatever experiment the muse takes them, than The Flaming Lips? Certainly none as successful – evenBeck (QRO album review), who The Lips once opened for on tour, seems tame by comparison. While The Flaming Lips’ justifiably-lauded live show (QRO live review) is what has put The Lipshigher and higher on the map, from headlining just about every Americanfestival in the last few years (QRO Festival Guide) to recently gracing The Colbert Report (QRO Indie on Late Night TV), their recorded material has gone up freak-psych avenues that no one else has. 1997’s Zaireeka was a four-CD release that was meant to be listened to by playing all four CDs at once, and late last year, the band finally released their own trippy film, Christmas On Mars (QRO DVD review).
Through it all, major label Warner Bros. stood by the group, and was rewarded in 2006 with At War With the Mystics, a far more accessible record, such as with single “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, which really helped lay the groundwork for the band’s major success since then. Long-time fans, and certainly some music critics, chided the band for playing it straighter, and veering away from all of the weird places they cango. But with Embryonic, the band’s first double-album, The Flaming Lips have answered those critiques by stripping down and returning to their psychedelic roots – though they may lose some of their newer fans in the process.
The heart of Embryonic is a removed, fuzzy, low-tech psychedelic echo, lain over just above everything, and at times is the only thing. The eighteen-song double-LP has numerous instrumentals, or at least near-instrumentals – singer/songwriter Wayne Coyne’s voice is often used like another instrument, to be altered and affected like anything else. The stripped nature of the album makes the whole thing much more haunting that recent Lips records, which have embraced gusto & life as much as their live show spectacle.
And yet… would you be interested in Embryonic if it wasn’t from The Flaming Lips? If someone put it on without telling you what it was, might you not quickly grow disinterested in the psych-strip, and certainly weary somewhere amid the eighteen songs? There’s little in the way of singles – nothing of “Yeah” caliber, despite twice featuring vocals from Karen O (of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – QRO album review), and once, newer psych-rock duo, MGMT (QRO live review). It’s an atmosphere-setting, a mood-setting record – and are you in the mood?
For fans who arrived with Mystics, or maybe even at the two records before that, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles Pink Robots & 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, Embryonic is bound to be a disappointment. Despite being a double-album, one might almost think it’s a between-release excursion/appetizer, akin to the instrumental soundtrack to Christmas On Mars. But their next project is a start-to-finish covering of Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon. This is who The Flaming Lips are, or who they are right now, as they follow their latest muse, as they’ve done since their inception.