The Flaming Lips are a band from Oklahoma. That sentence, one that has certainly found a place at the beginning of many reviews and at the top of many descriptions of this band out of sheer desperation, works in that it is true and it is indisputable and it is easy. It's one of the few easy things you can say about The Lips. Most everything else is a complicated. The personnel, the personalities, and most importantly the themes and the music. And that's exactly how they like it. It's also what makes The Lips such a great story. Plenty of challenges overcome, enough contractions to keep you guessing, strange victories in even stranger place... It's a 26-year story of winning with weird. Embryonic is simply the newest chapter.
Embryonic is the twelfth studio album from The Flaming Lips and it has arrived as a double - surprisingly the first that the band has ever released. Conceived as such as far back as 2006, something sprawling and unique to them and their career seems like the least logical choice for a band on the heels of two gold records and a third which will appear on "greatest albums of all time" lists for years to come. A sharp detour from the clearly marked trail ahead into the thick underbrush. But the least logical choice is the route that has served the band best creatively from its beginnings. When in doubt, do something different.
The songs on Embryonic are not what you might expect if you've been a fan solely of the last two album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War with the Mystics. The lush textures and string arrangements which have been a Lips / Dave Fridmann production hallmark on the last three albums are there, but in a much less noticeable way. Most of the songs on Embryonic are fueled by a potent combination of super fuzzed out bass and Steven Drozd and Kliph Scurlock's Bonhamesque drumming. Sessions for this record took place in the living room of a house that Steven was unable to sell. The live band sound that The Lips had experimented with on At War with the Mystics was again employed to create new "embryos" for songs via jamming. What eventually became the album are pieces of these jams shaped into songs and treated with the usual Lips overdubbing to create a dark and heavily repetitious record of druggy psychedelic sounds. Songs like "Convinced of the Hex" and "Aquarius Sabotage" will remind you of a hi-fi version of the Lips of old - way old. For the sensitive Lips fan, tracks like "Evil" and the strikingly beautiful "If" will remind you of what you fell in love with the band for in the first place. And then there is "The Ego's Last Stand," a song about watching a kitten die on Wayne's mom's front porch. Whoa!
When there were no expectations for them at all, they gave us loud, loose and weird. When people expected that, they decided to get really good and even weirder. When people expected them to fail, they made the most complex and powerful work of their careers and won a Grammy - twice. When I expected them to sell out, they made Embryonic, possibly the most challenging work they've delivered their current fan base at any given time in the band's career. I should have known better. With the Lips, it's best to expect nothing beyond something unexpected.