The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
By: Mark Reed
Murder, Torture, Cancer. There are worse words in the human lexicon than “Free Form Jam”.
To those who joined The Flaming Lips ship with the wonderful phase that was 1999’s ‘Soft Bulletin’ to 2006’s ‘At War With The Mystics’, ‘Embryonic’ will be, at best, a significant challenge.
Whereas those records were sumptuous, Spector-esque visions, halfway between Pink Floyd’s early years and a philosophical Ronettes, ‘Embryonic’ is something else completely. 70 minutes, 18 tracks of largely improvised music, the sound of four men in a room making a racket. Drums punctuate and dominate the recording for the first time in 12 years, now that Kliph Scurlock is a full time and official member of The F’Lips, and the songs roll on rhythms and drum breaks with adeptness of the Zeppelin’s finest hours, Steve makes a racket by guitar and strings, fuzzy bass that reminds me of The Stooges throbs and moans, and over the top of all this, Wayne Coyne is no longer the band leader, extracting melody and vision to dominate the musical palette, but a band member: the voice used as another instrument : ‘Worm Mountain’ is an undulating wave – formless, and uncertain. As indeed is most of this failed experiment.
There’s little in the way of memorable material here – ‘I Can Be A Frog’ is the nearest thing to a hit, and that would’ve occupied a space reserved for a weird out near the end of any other recent album. ‘Silver Trembling Hands’ is a largely focused freakzoid experiment that is the nearest living relative to an actual song. But aside from that, if you are drawn to the Flaming Lips melodic song-writing skills, you will be shortly served on this.
I can imagine Warner Brothers receiving this and wondering aloud … ‘What’s THIS For?’ at the end of the first listen. The deft dynamics, memorable choruses, and fabulous songs of the last decade have been abandoned in favour of a more brutal way of working: instrumental fractions are extended until they topple, words and choruses are dispensed with, and the whole thing is an incoherent mess.
Reminiscent of listening to some – but not all – of 1997’s bonkers 4CD box set ‘Zaireeka’ at once, ‘Embryonic’ was undoubtedly great fun to make, and an exciting display of a band working together as a unit for the sake of music, but, and perhaps most crucially of all, it does not work successfully as a record.
In many ways, it is their first retrogressive step, as The F’Lips return to the well that they abandoned in 1995, trying to recapture the kind of punk rock acid super semi-cosmic jam that saw them spend their first fifteen years in obscurity. It may very well send them back there.
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In addition, the fact that several songs are bonus tracks only available if you buy low grade MP3’s from a certain well known retail website, a website that the band themselves will probably only see fractions of pennies in royalties from, makes me wonder what exactly the point is? Especially as there is space on the double CD format for these songs. Own Goal, Flips?