Under Review: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

In a year when experimental music groups have made some of their most accessible albums to date, you’d expect a veteran band of oddballs to upstage all of those upstarts with an effortlessly cool masterpiece.  If any group is qualified to carry out such a task, you’d think it’d be The Flaming Lips.  However, instead of a career-defining gem, we get the 18-track mess that is Embryonic.  With the new album, Wayne Coyne and company deliver a challenging, frustrating and ultimately little-rewarding cacophony of noise, aimless psychedelia and more noise.  Listening to Embryonic conjures feelings that aren’t usually experienced when listening to a Flaming Lips album.  Rather than feeling giddiness and glee, I felt impatient and insulted.  After so many great records, this is what I’m given?  To be fair, Embryonic has a few good songs on it.  Opener “Convinced Of The Hex” and the lilting “Evil” might have been lesser additions to any one of the Lips’ previous albums, but they’re forced to stand out by association on Embryonic.  There appear to be themes of machines, sparrows and factions of the zodiac, but Coyne’s lyrics and vocal delivery are as weak as ever.  Musically, the ‘so hi-fi it’s lo-fi’ production gets very distracting, as each overdriven harp and flanged guitar appears and reappears most unpredictably.  One thing truly shines on Embryonic, and that’s the Lips’ rhythm section.  Bassist Michael Ivins and drummer Kliph Scurlock pound out buzzy locked grooves every few tracks, giving a funky drive to otherwise forgettable songs.  Whenever a band releases a wild new album, I always question how much heart was put into the new songs as compared to the group’s classics.  Embryonic comes off less as an attempt to recapture the Lips’ freewheeling heyday, and more like a band going out of their way to be weird and alienate their fans.  Given their best work, it’s clear that The Flaming Lips don’t need to try to be weird.  What they might consider tame is weird by everyone else’s terms, so to have them make a consciously ‘weird’ album is moot.  Hopefully, Embryonic will be forgotten as a mid-career misstep for a band that has shown that they can do much better for years to come.

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~ by E. on October 19, 2009.

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