The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

Now in its 26th year as a band, venerable psych-rock weirdos The Flaming Lips can be forgiven for a little indulgence. The band’s homemade sci-fi flick Christmas on Mars was a curiosity, a mind-bender that tried the patience of even hardcore fans. Clocking in at 73 minutes and containing a slew of abrasive samples and drawn-out jams, Embryonic (the band’s 12th album) could also be safely described as self-indulgent, but the excess works in the band’s favour.

Opening with the bleating, pulsating “Convinced of the Hex,” Embryonic seems determined to avoid locking into a steady groove. As a ballad, “Evil” could have fit in on 1999’s The Soft Bulletin; it’s followed by the two-minute “Aquarius Sabotage,” which kicks in harder and stranger than anything the band has done in the last decade. Conventional tracks like “The Ego’s Last Stand” are matched tit for tat by noodly detours like “Powerless” and the occasionally grating “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast.” The shorter songs are far from filler, even when they seem tossed off at first: “I Can Be a Frog,” which is built around animal noises from guest vocalist Karen O, could be written off as a novelty if it weren’t for the convincing sense of melancholy underneath.

That sprawl makes it tricky to pin Embryonic down. In a sense, it’s the band’s Sandinista! or its white album, a sprawling epic based more around a sense of adventure than any particular concept or theme, lyrically or musically. Hopefully, the album also marks yet another fresh start in a musical career that’s already lasted over a quarter of a century.

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