The Flaming Lips
Embryonic


2.5
average

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
October 29th, 2009 | 227 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Flaming Lips say a lot without really saying anything at all.

It’s obvious from the moment that frontman Wayne Coyne’s voice monotonously intones “you think there’s some system / that controls and affects / I believe in nothing” at the beginning of Embryonic that this is a Flaming Lips record that really doesn’t believe in anything, at least nothing in the sense of the boundaries of popular rock music. For Coyne and company, Embryonic is a figurative rebirth (really, the cover art says it all) for the band that made their name on crafting quirky, psychedelic space-rock with a golden ear for pop hooks. They’ve always had their oddball urges, most noticeably Zaireeka’s ill-advised “quadraphonic” experience, but with that came the kind of earnest songwriting and memorable musicianship that really made the Flaming Lips one of the truly unique bands of the last twenty-five or so years. Do you know another lead singer who performs in a giant plastic bubble that rolls along the crowd?

Embryonic, however, takes all the conventions and songwriting chops they’ve perfected over their last few albums and throws them right down the garbage disposal. From the beginning it’s an enchanting reversal, a band that’s become moderately commercially successful over the past decade brandishing a seventy-minute middle finger to all who thought Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was the extent of their oeuvre. “Convinced of the Hex” is all sharp guitar jabs and a locomotive of a drum rhythm by workhorses Kliph Scurlock and Steve Drozd, framing Coyne’s purposely robotic lyrics. “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine” is even trippier, an atmospheric jam session again highlighting some powerful drumming while the Lips vast array of synths and occasional effects paint a vibrant musical canvas. Coyne still hasn’t gotten over his penchant for penning opaque existentialist mumbo jumbo like “what does it mean / to dream what you dream / to believe what you’ve seen,” but in the context of this freak-out of a song, it fits right in.

After the typically Lip-sian ballad “Evil,” which sounds most like an outtake of At War With The Mystics or Yoshimi than many of the songs on here, things start to wander off into uncharted territory, and the whole concept of Embryonic is rewritten. Tracks like “Aquarius Sabotage” and “Gemini Syringes” do little but bridge the gap between proper songs, going from furious neo-psychedelia to soft string arrangements in one or a bubbly bass line to, um, nothing really in the other. Songs like “If,” “Scorpio Sword” and “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast” never aspire to be anything more than sound exercises, varying kaleidoscopes of noise that shift wildly from one pole to the next without really giving a damn where they end up. It’s fascinating to listen to initially, but increasingly frustrating by the end of the record.

By the time I was through the first disc of this mammoth double album, I realized that the Flaming Lips never set out to write songs; rather, the majority of tunes here are built on Krautrock-influenced jam sessions, mixing equal parts keyboards and heavily distorted guitar with what often sounds like a twenty-gun salute set to drums. Coyne is almost an afterthought here, occasionally coming in for a random non sequitur or dropping heavy-handed metaphors on equally cumbersome tracks like “See The Leaves” or the hellishly compressed “Worm Mountain” (featuring a why-bother? cameo by MGMT). His rarely intelligible lyrics, which run the gamut from animals to the human ego to Mother Nature to whatever the *** Coyne feels like mumbling, are occasionally inspiring and almost always thought-provoking, but the pretentious way they are delivered and the increasingly divergent soundscapes that support them muddy any message the band might be trying to deliver. Perhaps that’s what makes the creepy, children’s book-esque “I Can Be A Frog” stick out like a sore thumb; it’s the only song on the record where one can actually tell what Coyne is talking about.

Coyne himself has said that Embryonic is a collection of all their leftover ideas from At War With The Mystics, a bunch of songs all dumped together that “go everywhere.” Indeed, Embryonic is a record with a definite flow, but unlike their earlier efforts, it’s a flow that goes absolutely nowhere specific but rather in a hundred different directions, with little to no resolution in sight by the time the jumble of percussion and yelps close out “Watching The Planets.” One minute the band will be noodling on guitar on “Powerless;” the next they’re building up to a feedback-drenched roar on “The Ego’s Last Stand” or chanting atop a repetitive bass loop on “Sagittarius Silver Announcement.” And whether they’re mimicking Can on air-drum-worthy tracks like “Convinced of the Hex” or Pink Floyd on the spacey “The Ego’s Last Stand,” one can hardly shake the feeling that this is something other bands have done better before.

Embryonic is a strange, schizophrenic, and ridiculously out-sized record, and I love it for it. Unfortunately, it undercuts what made the Flaming Lips such a great band in the first place. In trying to write an album that challenges the very conceptions of what music can be, it forgets what comes at the core of music: the songs. Its vague concepts and the metamorphosing tunes are at first engaging but never leave a lasting impression; even after listening to the album several times, I can only match the name and sound of a few specific songs (“I Can Be A Frog” doesn’t count). Sure, it’s an album’s album, but that doesn’t excuse the jumbled-together nature of the material, material that reminded me too much of modern art: experimental for the sake of being experimental. Buried under production and eccentric songwriting that can’t decide where it wants to go, much less where it wants to end up, Embryonic is an excellent album to listen to, preferably with headphones. Just don’t expect to be blown away any longer than this hour-plus acid trip lasts.



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user ratings (572)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • antiviper (5)
    Embryonic, more than any other Flaming Lips’ album, perfectly conveys the band’s mantr...

    Jonathan Kroening (2.5)
    For all the things Embryonic does so well, too much of the material is unborn song ideas....

    Paul blart (4.5)
    Forget that the Flaming Lips are this, and last decade's, The Beatles. Forget that Wayne C...

    Kashmir09 (5)
    The Flaming Lips have entered themselves on the ballot, along with Radiohead as becoming t...

  • George Menhal III (4)
    For those who have followed the Lips through more than one iteration of their sound, or at...


Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


10581 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i had to write this after reading the numerous orgasms about it on this site and thinking something was horribly wrong with my listening experience. still don't get it, but oh well

but that drumming!

Digging: Charli XCX - Sucker

Athom
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


17230 Comments


what the fuck is wrong with you

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


10581 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i don't know man it's sickening isn't it?

Kashmir09
October 29th 2009


772 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

yikes =/

Douglas
October 29th 2009


9201 Comments


Oh man no you didnt!

but that drumming!


: D

Waior
October 29th 2009


11461 Comments


seriouslyyy rudy

but i'm liking these jumbo paragraphs

plane
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


6100 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

You describe this album really well and it's easy to see where you are coming from. I respectfully disagree and it seems many of the reasons you list are reasons why I like this album.

IAmInsect
October 29th 2009


3799 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

123 lewis

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


10581 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

thanks lewis, my goal was to try to articulate why i disliked it because i knew that a lot of people would be like wtfux.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
October 29th 2009


3780 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ace review dude, I'm with Lewis on this one, liking it for all the reasons you dont, which is cool.

Prophet178
October 29th 2009


6397 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was expecting this to be a fireabove review lolololol.

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


10581 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i take offense to that :0

Prophet178
October 29th 2009


6397 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hahah I was just kidding, with all his 2.5's of popular albums and what not. I thought the review was excellent.

robin
Emeritus
October 29th 2009


4261 Comments


like the review. i think one of the reasons i loved this so much was because wayne coyne did say he wanted to make an album with no direction or control, which is why i love dipping into any track(s) here

Roach
October 29th 2009


2148 Comments


I enjoy dipping into these tracks too uh huh.

AtavanHalen
October 29th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Teabagging into these tracks

kingsoby1
Emeritus
October 29th 2009


4956 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

this is exactly right nice one

Yotimi
October 29th 2009


6570 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This read like a 3.5 to me. Take out a couple sentences about the songs going nowhere and it sounded like a 4.5 review. But like planewreck said some of these things you mentioned are what I like about it too.

kitsch
October 29th 2009


5107 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

good review


yet tegan and sarah is a 3.5?

klap
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2009


10581 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yeah, i enjoyed tegan and sara more than this

and i don't know yotimi, i tried making the last three paragraphs all try to point to what i thought was wrong with this album...as
a bunch of people have said, that's also what they like about it so its just a matter of taste i guess



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