ALBUM REVIEW: THE FLAMING LIPS – AMERICAN HEAD (BELLA UNION)
The Flaming Lips return with their most personal release in recent memory in an album that has moments of sheer brilliance, but is not without its flaws.
The Flaming Lips have returned with their 3rd album in just over a year and 22nd album overall. This time, the Psyche-Rockers explores themes of youth, drugs and relationships. If 2019’s King’s Mouth was reminiscent of Yoshimi Battle’s The Giant Pink Robots then American Head forms a shadow of The Soft Bulletin. Whilst it seems unfair to cast this album to the fate of a predecessor’s shadow, certain aspects hold it from its fullest potential.
‘Will You Return/When You Come Down’ starts this journey with worries and thoughts of a psychedelic trip and poses a Wayne Coyne style question – “Will you return when you come down?” The lulling and floating movements of this song culminate to a fading coda evoking feelings of a never-ending trip and, most importantly, our question never gets answered. These lulling feelings carry on through, almost as if to create lounge-like atmospheres where Wayne Coyne’s stories take filmic form through a drug-hazed mind.
‘Dinosaurs On the Mountains’ is youthful to the point of infancy – drenched in innocence and worries of a young child. Whereas, ‘At the Movies on Quaaludes’ paints a picture of two teenagers, sedated and hypnotized. The way the two verses collide in the third combines the retrospective realism with the momentary idealism in contradicting harmony. “As we destroy our brains, ‘Til we believe we’re dead, It’s the American dream, In the American head” is combined with “Someday we’ll be rich, We’ll be famous fools, Spending all our dreams”. This elegant counterpoint then lands on “In the American head” – nicely done. This level of subtlety is truly a Flaming Lip’s party piece.
Now we reach the middle of the album. ‘Mother I’ve Taken LSD’ is a lovely song, but it is not without its flaws. Straight away this song feels honest and emotional. However, the over-generous compression and over-zealous auto-tune certainly hold this track back. This is something felt across the whole album, but more often than not it’s something that can be gotten over.
The chorus lyrics start very simple but impactful and feel truly heartfelt – “Now I see the sadness in the world, I’m sorry I didn’t see it before” However, the second half of the chorus reads like it’s been written by a Wayne Coyne AI – “Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad, Sadness, Sadness, Sadness, Sadness” Hmm. Thankfully, the production and harmony carry this through. We move onto ‘Brother Eye’ and there seems to have been a role reverse. Wayne Coyne mans the lyrics whilst Wayne Coyne AI has a go at lead vocals. Don’t get me wrong, the vocal production and arrangement is cool…but a little bit confusing. Obviously, criticizing The Flaming Lips for unique and out-there ideas is like criticizing cheese for being cheesy. But, there is something I’m not getting about ‘Brother Eye’, at least not yet. Perhaps it needs a few more listens.
After this middle point come some of the highest highs of a generally high album. ‘You N Me Selling Weed’ is delicate and beautiful whilst maintaining the random, unique and effective Flaming Lips character. The melodies and structural changes are blissful, heart wrenching and romantically euphoric. This drifts into ‘Mother Please Don’t Be Sad’ with the help of some masterful orchestration and instantly touching harmony. This stretch certainly is the emotional apogee of the album. Now comes the most hypnotic and by far the coolest track on the album – ‘When We Die When We’re High’. The drums are so crunchy and lively, yet, dulled and pumping – very cool.
Overall, American Head is genuinely brilliant. The really fantastic moments are really fantastic and thenot so fantastic moments are still interesting. The vocal over-cooking is something that can be listened through but it occasionally drew me out of the atmosphere that had been so expertly crafted. This album definitely will join the illustrious gang of Flaming Lips albums that I circulate regularly.