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Album review: The Flaming Lips' 'Embryonic'

October 14, 2009 |  6:08 pm
FLAMING_LIPS_240_ "People are evil, it's true," sings Wayne Coyne on the new album by his long-running Oklahoma psych-rock outfit, the Flaming Lips. That kind of observation is typical of Coyne, who in the Lips' 2002 hit "Do You Realize??" wondered if we were aware that "everyone you know someday will die."

Yet since the band's mid-'90s breakthrough (when it famously performed "She Don't Use Jelly" on "Beverly Hills, 90210"), Coyne's bad vibes have come coated in candy. Albums such as "The Soft Bulletin" and "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" had heart-swelling melodies by the dozen, while each of the Lips' live shows featured more confetti than a 6-year-old's birthday party.

The effect was not unlike a kindly grandfather filling in his grandson on the injustices of the world -- alarming but ultimately reassuring.

There's no such sweetening on "Embryonic," which finds Coyne and his bandmates stripping down their warm-and-fuzzy sound to its cold, hard essentials: synths, guitars, bass and lots and lots of drums. At times the result is bracing. "Silver Trembling Hands" toggles between an ominous space-punk verse and a lush R&B chorus; "I Can Be a Frog" features appealingly goofy animal noises from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; "Convinced of the Hex" works up to a clattering jazz-rock climax that suggests Pink Floyd covering Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew."

In these cuts the Lips offer proof after 2006's ho-hum "At War With the Mystics" that they haven't lost their edge. At 18 tracks, though, "Embryonic" includes an awful lot of filler, much of it of the meandering-soundscape variety. That stuff isn't depressing -- it's just boring.

-- Mikael Wood

Flaming Lips
(Warner Bros.)
Two and a half stars (Out of four)