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The Fearless Freaks'
trippy triumph

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
(Warner Bros. Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 8, 2010
The Flaming Lips

Review by Tony Bonyata

"I wish I could go back. Go back in time," cries Wayne Coyne at one point on The Flaming Lips' twelfth studio album Embryonic, and after their most prolific run of commercial success over the last decade, it appears that Oklahoma's self-proclaimed 'Fearless Freaks' may actually be turning the clocks back in time.

It's not that the music on this double album finds Coyne, Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins retreading any specifics from their past. But rather than follow the seemingly logical path (at least to most major label record execs) of building on some of the more commercial pop sounds of their last three studio efforts (The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics) they instead dig deep into the experimental, psychedelic music of their earlier career. And it's, perhaps, the smartest move they could have made.

The Flaming Lips know their audience possibly better than any other rock band today, which may, in part, be the reason they returned to this type of mind-bending, shape-shifting cacophony of sonic textures and aural explosions instead of an album peppered with catchy, eclectic pop songs. They realize their fans are just as big of freaks as they are. And it's these freaks that will rejoice over this sprawling, spacey and challenging collection.

Not unlike other double albums, such as The Beatles' White Album, The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street and Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, that traded in tight cohesive packages in exchange for organic creations that allowed the artists more freedom to explore new (if not universally accepted) territory, Embryonic digs into not only The Flaming Lips' own experimental past but also has the otherworldly feel of post-Syd Barrett and pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd (coincidentally The Lips have also just released a new studio album online through iTunes where they cover Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety).

Wayne & Co. also invited a few friends to help out with this project, including the synth duo MGMT on the foreboding track "Worm Mountain," German mathematician Dr. Thorsten Wormann speaking on the eerie and ethereal "Gemini Syringes," as well as Yeah Yeah Yeahs' beautiful extrovert Karen O on "I Can Be A Frog," where she playfully responds with various animal impersonations in a call-and-response dialogue with Wayne. But even without a little help from these friends this set is a triumph all on its own, pulling in influences as varied as Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, the intense rhythms of early '70s Krautrock pioneers Can and the avant-garde experimentation of John & Yoko's early works together.

A trippy, groundbreaking work like this that smashes preconceived notions and musical paradigms will surely fall on quite a few deaf ears. But for those who have been following The Lips' own 'long strange trip' over the last two decades (and, clearly, we freaks know who we are) then this a journey you won't want to miss.

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