As alluded to by the title, the latest by the freak-out wizards of the Flaming Lips goes back to the embryo — or, more to the point, back to their acid-psyche roots where nothing was sacred, not even the basics of pop music, or for that matter the structured tenets of modern recording technology. Because of this, the album forces two, wholly differing opinions. If you are, in fact, a long-timer, this is news to celebrate. The first track, “Convinced of the Hex,” is drenched in noise, busted amp buzzing, Wayne Coyne’s vocals bouncing off the walls of the studio and only vaguely captured by the microphone. Believe it or not, it only gets stranger from here.
If you came to the band through their transcendent two-fer of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, you may well be horrified. The easy hooks and gonzo soundscapes once reined in to support the songs are broken open like a squeezed sausage. You’ll hear the potential in tracks like the very pretty “Evil,” but wonder if the tune was sacrificed to this hi-fi/no-fi aesthetic. It is followed by the instrumental “Aquarius Sabotage” which, if you’re not prepared for it, is just outright shocking to the ear.
So there lie the two reviews: For those who were wondering if the Lips were going to return to their bizarro world, right alongside Karen O making animal noises all through “I Can Be a Frog,” they have. For those who came late to the party, don’t worry. The album just sounds that way and no, you didn’t just blow out your speakers. After a couple of listens, I have gained an appreciation for it but can’t say by any stretch of the imagination that this is going to be revisited too often. Sure, there was a contingent that was clamoring for the Lips’ Death Magnetic, but once you’ve reached heights like “Race for the Prize” and “Do You Realize??” why would you settle on returning to the old stomping ground?
For anyone that would counter with the argument that I just don’t get it, you’re absolutely right. No, I don’t get it. Not at all.
Embryonic is available through Amazon.com.