The Flaming Lips are like a secretly homicidal circus clown, performing with fantastic garish exuberance while maintaining a grim disdain for the crowd-pleasing antics they employ.
Since the release of “The Soft Bulletin” in 1999, arguably The Flaming Lips’ finest album, fans and critics alike have been waiting for the lethargic dinosaur to rise again and make the music that, for many, defined a decade in experimental, noisy, psychedelic alt-rock. On “Embryonic,” the Flaming Lips have dispensed with traditional songwriting and have finally unleashed their desire to kill the listener, or at least stretch the limits of what you thought a Flaming Lips album could be.
“Embryonic” is a sprawling, elaborate album, full of bombast and tension. With a sound reticent of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” tracks like “Scorpio Sword” and “Convinced of the Hex” contain influences of free jazz exploration. The production quality is overwhelming loud, raw and direct, evoking the feel of an album recorded live in a concrete room.
To fans of recent Lips releases this will be a jarring transition from the overproduction of “At War with The Mystics” (2006) and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (2002). Synths and organs abound while melodies lurch and stumble with an abrasive ebb and flow, creating a subtle continuity throughout the album. Standout tracks included “Worm Mountain” featuring MGMT and “Watching the Planets” featuring Karen O. The presence of guest artists focused the wild creativity that went unchecked by the Lips for much of the album.
This is ultimately “Embryonic’s” deepest pitfall: tracks frequently meander, and go in and out of focus. While this may have been intentional, it prevents the listener from establishing any rapport with the songs.
The most telling fact about the album is that, among “Embryonic’s” 18 tracks, there isn;t a commericially viable single. This is not an album for fans of the glitter-cannon-firing, pyrotechnic-shooting,ballooning-cascading Flaming Lips. “Embryonic”
represents a major shift towards eccentric experimentalism, a move that may alienate one of the most dedicated fan bases in rock music.
Final verdict: At best, “Embryonic” shows a band in transition. The Flaming Lips have been playing music for 25 years, and any band is going to change over time. While “Embryonic” is overall a lackluster album, it shows a great deal of potential for an exciting new Lips sound.