There’s been a lot of roiling over The Terror, pro and con. Love it or hate it (and part of me hopes many people do hate it), in the context of the cultural wasteland, and in the context of the Lips’ canon of work, it’s an album to be reckoned with. It’s nigh on impossible to talk about the Lips (and many others with this kind of longevity and circuitiousness) without talking about them. To a point, that’s OK and fully expected. That aspect is part of the package, part of the escape plan they offer. If you don’t buy into a fraction of their damaged technicolor schtick—and I use that in a neutral way—you miss out on a lot, or at least bonus tracks. That’s nothing exclusive to the Lips. On the other end of the spectrum(s), so far it all comes back around, if you don’t sink your teeth into some of Hawkwind’s interstellar lunacy, or Sabbath’s lumbering persona, or even the detached clammy glam of Roxy Music, there’s still a staggering amount to get off on, but you do miss out on a little bit more. Consequently, it’s all about the same things…whether you think putting on a meat dress is something new, wrap yourself in a gold lamé cape or don a leather jack for some kind of credibility. One thing it doesn’t do, when you’re like the above, is hide the music. They can do it because they have the chops to back it up. One thing it does do, is add an element of fun. Everybody’s still trying to remember laughter, but no one remembers fun. And the Lips are fun. In their own way. And what is fun if not escape, or at the very least the illusion of it? Fun comes in many forms…Hell, I think Trainspotting is a fun movie…and in the Lips’ own inimitable way, The Terror is too. Thankfully not in the way the meat dress wearing crowd wants. There’s been a lot made of how bleak The Terror is. Well friends, welcome to the machine. The Lips don’t do much more than point out some of the facets of the human condition…again. Which is the real terror…the good and the bad, the fun and the not so fun. Strip out the sonic wizardy, the corrupted and interrupted alien transmissions and you can draw a line (not a straight one) back to the simple and effective Godzilla Flick, or the lush beautiful poignancy of Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, the masked aching heartbreak of They Punctured My Yolk…the inevitability of Do You Realize? is actually a downer by standard conventions. In that sense, The Terror is really a logical step, sonically another mutation in a long line of many, and a glorious culmination. Reveling in a wide open sonic palette, it’s still open season on interpretation. The Terror can be molded into whatever you really want it to mean. Couple that with a pulse that sounds like a transmission from a dying star…or a plea for help from a dying star…it becomes escape, or an attempt. The point might very well be that you can’t escape, and if that’s the case, then we need goods like The Terror for a valve. Wallow in the layering of sounds, slather on some meaning or just enjoy some damn cool sounds, and you can find release. Here is some of the disjointed fractures of Embryonic perfected and applied to maximum effect; not the only effect, just one of many. More importantly, in the framework of the Lips evolving/mutating with each record or at the least every other one, it’s the tense latent energy in much of Embryonic finally set free, breaking some remaining shackles and spreading out. It’s the sound of motion. Whether it’s the Lips moving forward is a whole other animal, and truthfully a pointless one to hunt. Part of the appeal of the Lips is that with each record they either are or they aren’t the Lips. If you don’t listen to the Lips, do they really exist? More fascinating is that when it all fires at the right time, they’re both at the same time. That might be hard to latch on to, but part of The Terror is about drift, about things out of hand, especially sonically. Lyrically it may be insular, and the initial sheen of the music may seem claustrophobic when married with that, but the pulses, buzzes, and throbs are in such abundance that it actually flies in the face of some the apparent intent of the record by being so alive. The Terror, for all its supposed impenetrability, isn’t really that dense. Be Free, A Way is in a constant state of flux, and where there’s movement there’s escape, there’s breath. It may breathe with an alien sounding life, but life is life. There are songs in here, elusive ones. If it was straight up noodling, there wouldn’t be anything at all to hang onto. But there is if you pay attention. The vocals of Try to Explain lead you through, and give form and core to the vibrations and undulations. The vocals are vital even if they seem buried, subdued or squelched. In the context of all the broken signal to noise ratio and half-transmissions, it’s not only elemental to the song, but highlights just how human of a record this is, despite all the knob twiddling. You Lust, the arguable centerpiece…that warped toy-sounding opening is the hook, maybe not the kind we’re used to, but it sinks in and drags you right through a prog rock tour de force. Lyrically, like most of The Terror, the opening salvo of ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve, a lot of nerve to fuck with me…’ doesn’t come across as belligerent or confrontational. If anything, it has a weary weight of wisdom—a personal wisdom to be sure—that’s been earned. A band, a viable band, that’s been around this long has earned the right to flash some of that. Always There… In Our Hearts might be the most concrete song in here, and that’s not by accident. It’s the period, or rather ellipsis, to a long snake sentence that may be hard to decipher, but is decipherable nonetheless…with your input. When compared to the opener Look … The Sun Is Rising, it becomes a conceptual and musical bookend to contain, but not constrain, the stories in between. When The Terror ends, you know what it means, and more importantly you know what it means to you, even if you can’t quite say it. Just because the Lips are ‘rock stars,’ and darlings, doesn’t mean they should be held up to another set of rules that demand clarity. If we put them in that position, that’s not only trapping them in a hamster ball, it’s nothing more than bending over to be spoon fed. The Terror isn’t meant to go down easy. It’s challenging, changing, malleable and what you make of it. That sounds like life to me, however maudlin and trite that comes across. In all it’s terrifying bone-crushing weight. If they had gone for a happy ending that would have been avoidance. And irresponsible in my book. The Lips are in a position to make a record like this—or at least try. If they hadn’t they would have been irresponsible with all the leeway they have been given, and earned. Love it or hate, enjoy it or loathe it as a piece of art or simply as wonderful trippy ear candy (you can have your cake and eat it, too…they do…) the fact that a band as non-linear and yet identifiable—in all forms—as the Lips have twisted and turned for 30 years and released an album like The Terror, through a major label conduit no less, is really something that should be celebrated. Because most of the time, it’s terrifying out here…we better take what we can get, and be thankful when we get something as lavish and fierce as The Terror.