September 23, 2020

The Flaming Lips latest LP expertly crafts sonic psychedelia, detailing pastime youth, family, drugs, and death, but in the present year, does anybody care? American Head Album Review


For a band as determined to explore all of the inner space that can possibly be explored, The Flaming Lips have done it yet again, but for all the sadness they seem to drudge up from either the past or their own lingering thoughts, there doesn't seem to be much new ground to be made. 

After their fantastical triumph Oczy Mlody and then their wacky but stale King's Mouth, The Flaming Lips want fans to know that even though the world has drastically changed for better or worse, they have not by even the slightest bit. 

The album opens with Will You Return / When You Come Down, a classic sing-songy and wind chimey song for Wayne to introduce us to the feeling of alienation, drug addiction, and death. It's a sobering reminder that life isn't all it's cracked up to be, despite the escape we all try to seek. "Here it's sad, now all your friends are dead." Oof... seems a little too depressing nowadays as the country crosses the 200k death threshold of the worldwide pandemic. And this is only just the first song...

Watching The Lightbugs glow continues the melancholy attitude in a beautifully slow instrumental piece that features vocal hums by Kacey Musgraves. Flowers of Neptune 6 works as a part two as Wayne chimes in, weaving space imagery and past memories that are nostalgic and sad at the same time. The following set of tracks keep the same low pace and hazy psychedelia, but it hardly uplifts or feels hopeful. Mother I've Taken LSD, a situation that would feel like the most unpleasant scenario for almost anyone, is another depressing trip down memory lane. 

The album doesn't start to really pick up or do anything more interesting than this until Brother Eye, a syncopated synth ditty that uses Wayne's full talent as a vocalist as he sings to his older brother, pleading with him not to die. The album art, after all, is Wayne's older brother, who was constantly in and out of the house, racing on his motorcycle. It's a deeply personal track that hits harder than any song before it. You N Me Sellin' Weed, which follows directly after, drops back into the tongue-in-cheek and fantastical pastimes of selling drugs and being in love as an Oklahoma youth. Mother Please Don't Be Sad is a hypothetical situation that Wayne felt after a real-life robbery situation that happened in a store he used to work in and it is symphonic, if not brilliant and leads into the rightfully genius psychedelic rock track When We Die When We're High; it wisely leaves Wayne's singing on the sidelines for the majority of its runtime as multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd pulls off a wickedly cool drum beat. 

The final three tracks, Assassins of Youth, God and The Policeman, and My Religion is You redeem an album that has already veered too far into nostalgia territory and fails to address anything that anyone is currently living through today, let alone the 21st century. It is the equivalent of trying to understand a person that can't stop living in the past, and the handful of hit tracks seem to stall the ultimate downturn of American Head from landing on its own head. Psychedelic, yes. Fun... not so much. 

Call me an old man, ignorant, jaded, whathaveyou for not falling in line with the general consensus of reviewers, but what The Lips offer here is another release of more of the same, highly refined, and interesting sounds, full of self-indulgent life memories reminiscent of drugs and death. Unfortunately though, in the present year, it’s hard to care with so many huge problems society is facing as a species. The result is probably the most polished, but irrelevant, Lips record of their career.

American Head - 7/10

Recommended Tracks: Will You Return / When You Come Down, Brother Eye, When We Die When We're High