The Terror is a wonderful album. Is it made more so in the context of The Flaming Lips' long career and hefty discography? Are the band at a point where the primary question, rather than a question of quality, is the one that people ask of these longstanding, outstanding artists, namely: how does this fit with the rest?

So maybe you could call this a return to form, if you feel that The Flaming Lips had ever lost theirs. The Terror could trace its roots to that breakthrough moment. In many ways austere, it has that element of dramatic performance that Yoshimi had – an element which made it, as with The Terror, play like the soundtrack to a very trendy musical.

Take, for example, 'Be Free, A Way' and 'Try to Explain'. Slow and ballad-like, singer Wayne Coyne evokes some real pathos, and he doesn't hold back; while the musical arrangement, slow and sad, is anything but sombre or sober. Instead, it revels in a stage-show sadness; of a kind that compels you to adopt a theatremask-despair as you empathically sing along.

But The Terror is cool and crisp – in a way that recent albums by The Flaming Lips have not been. Something about this album evokes a sense of space. It could be the lack of guitars, and also the album's long, airy vocal melodies – but its rhythmic pulse, and light and warm synth overtones, point to a sort of utopian setting, of space travel as we imagined it in the 50s. This is codified from the beginning, with the catchy 'Look.. .the Sun is Rising' (its drum beat-lead groove and wonderful, scratchy, muted guitar refrain one of the high points of the album), on which Coyne sings: "There's a little spaceship, hiding in the clouds..."

It's easy to feel see those images in the music, because, like Yoshimi and its recurring use of a fuzzy bass ('Fight Test', 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots', part 1 and 2, notably), The Terror uses recurring tropes. On the album's final two tracks, 'Turning Violent' and 'Always Our Hearts', the static transistor radio sound which begins the album, and the cutting, scratched guitar of 'Look...the Sun is Rising', reappear.

The album is circular, in that way. And, those final tracks, which in the penultimate track build along buzzy, deep synths (to the chanting of Coyne, singing "Turn on and on, turn on and on") and then crescendo in the crackling snare drum of 'Always There...In Our Hearts', are like the musical equivalent of a rocket about to take off, firing up its boosters and getting ready to launch, before finally exiting the atmosphere.

The Terror, more so than the playful and camp Yoshimi, and more so than the small-epic At War With the Mystics, places the band behind the canvas: and has the music, through these strong musical evocations, sing at its loudest volume.

It's an interesting step for a band that has always had a visual side as much as a musical one. Previously, that visual side was characterised by Wayne Coyne, inside a giant bubble, floating his way to the stage or pouring fake blood over across his face. With The Terror, the visual side is in the imagery the music creates: and its sound is cohesive, powerful and emotive.