(An edited version of this article was first published at www.youthcentral.com)
The harsh guitar twangs and distorted groove of the opening track from The Flaming Lips’ new album would fool even their greatest fan into thinking they’d put the wrong CD in the player. In fact, any listener could be forgiven for thinking they were listening to a 1960s psychedelic rock group.
Yes, The Flaming Lips’ first double album, Embryonic, is a blast from the psychedelic past. It is also a return to their roots for the Lips, who shook off their more alternative styling with the release of The Soft Bulletin in 1999.
It’s a big change from the band’s previous album which was praised for its “pop brilliance” by Filter Magazine. One of the new album’s most notable songs to show the Lips’ change in sound and mood from happy-go-lucky pop to a deeper, darker tone is See the Leaves.
See the Leaves is one of a few sometimes funky-yet-complicated sounding tracks on the album. In its case, the song starts with a heavy bass-driven groove before a slow organ solo. These tracks venture toward a sound that can be traced back to the 60s German rock group Can.
One of the reasons for the change in the Lips’ sound is the album’s length. The double-album, which runs for over an hour, has allowed the band to spatter a variety of moods throughout the album. Fun, upbeat songs dominate the opening of the album, which then progresses to a more cautious, measured and minimalistic feel before a rousing end.
Another stylistically significant track on the album is the penultimate track, Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast, which is a very minimalistic, spacey piece with limited vocals.
All this talk of change is not to say that there isn’t still that friendly, sparkly, fun, eccentric musicianship which is expected in a Flaming Lips album. The album retains the subtle dynamics and unusual special effects that has characterised the Lips’ previous work. The album is a jump toward a traditional psychedelic sound with a good dose of Lips magic mixed through.
An impending change in style could be seen in the band’s previous Album, At War With the Mystics, in which the Lips begun to adopt a more psychedelic feel. The band’s future direction and influences are made clearer by their recent cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with Stardeath and the White Dwarfs.
The shift in sound has seen the album welcomed by audiences who were not previously fans of The Flaming Lips. One Melbourne record shop employee who previously despised the band had been playing the album frequently in-store shortly after its release.
Overall this album is thoroughly pleasing for fans of The Flaming Lips and for any fan of a deeper, alternative style. MGMT fans should hear Worm Mountain, which features the electropop duo.