Tusk, by Fleetwood Mac. The Final Cut, by Pink Floyd. Jazz, by Queen. Phantasmagoria, by the Damned. The Great Rock & Roll Swindle, by The Sex Pistols. Out Of The Blue, by E.L.O. Sandinista, by The Clash.
Embryonic, by The Flaming Lips.
Seemingly bloated, pretentious works at the time they were released, cherished over time by hard core fans. Embryonic is no different and it is already polarizing casual and hardcore fans alike. The way Pitchfork has been peeing their pants over this album was enough to get my defenses up, but coupled with the fact that the band itself was comparing this to Miles Davis’ late 60’s/ early 70’s fusion excursions was making me downright nervous.
I previewed the album on Tuesday, giving every song at least 30 seconds and my initial reaction was the band took the sonics of the At War With The Mystics psychedelic instrumental fuzzy freak out”The Wizard Turns On” and made a double album out of it. But then I listened to it again at home in it’s entirety, and then again driving from the Tahoe area back to Redding, and I started to hear the cohesiveness in the thing. Sure, there are no real pop hooks like the previous three albums, but in no way is it comparable to the punky dischord of In A Priest Driven Ambulence, either. It’s a concept album, musically speaking if not thematically, and that’s a good thing. 2006 broght At War With The Mystics and that particular album is still considered sub par, almost universally. I disagree, but I will say that At War…is very much a collection of songs as compared to Embryonic, which is an album in the old fashioned sense of the word, even more so than Yoshimi or The Soft Bulletin. While those albums had Wayne Coyne and co. waxing about Pink Robots, Spider Bites and Superman, this album has shades of Joy Division angst and a much darker musical atmosphere.
Embryonic is held together by weird little electronic instrumentals based on the signs of the zodiac, which sounds very proggy on paper but musically it works to break up the album into four distinct “sides”. Convinced Of The Hex and Silver Trembling Hands are the instant standouts, but equally as stunning are The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine (very similar to Yoshimi’s “One More Robot/ Sympathy 3000-21”), the maniacal The Ego’s Last Stand and perhaps the centerpiece of the album Powerless. This is an album driven by the rythm section, where fuzz bass and compressed drums are allowed to roam rampant, but repeat listening sessions will reveal the fact that there are actual songs here, and they are as good as anything they’ve released. It’s not a 5 star album, but it’s a very solid 4 stars, maybe even a 4.5 depending on what the listener has ingested or inhaled. It’s also a perfectly sequenced album not meant for the IPod shuffle mode.
Embryonic is an album for the fans, and for themselves. They are a band again, and this is one of the best albums of the year.