9/26/2020

Psychedelic Rock Review: The Flaming Lips - American Head

Release Date: September 11, 2020
Label: Bella Union

After a decade of dabbling in the wayward experimental, prodigal psycho-proggers, The Flaming Lips have returned home with the modern-day jewel, American Head.  After the garage-acid college radio days of the '80s and '90, the band created the triumphant triumvirate, The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and At War with the Mystics -  three of the finest albums any band has ever recorded in succession. They closed out the 2000s with the brilliant Embryonic, a supercharged experimental onslaught which would carve an even stranger path into the 2010s. 
 
Chalk it up to creative differences, ill-advised flights of fancy or indifference, but the 2010s were a decade that tried even the most ardent Flaming Lips fans. The terror of The Terror, the lethargy of Oczy Mlody, and the inanity of King's Mouth made most fans drift toward disinterest. The savvy stylings of the early 2020 collaboration with Deap Vally gave fans a sign that a return to form was imminent.  Now, with the real American Dream in complete chaos, the Lips provide their own, a sonic roadmap through the sadness, steering listeners across the landscape of loss with profundity and hope. 
 
Elegant and layered, the opening track "Will You Return/When You Come Down" is a piano and acoustic guitar-ladened masterwork.  The initial refrain carries the doleful tune into an acoustic chord shift that drives the mood deeper. "Now, all your friends are dead. And their ghosts. Floating around your bed. Hear it said. Now all your friends are dead." In remembrance of all the death that fell before him over the years, Wayne Coyne laments the fact that he will not reunite with his fallen brethren in heaven or Valhalla.  They are gone forever, and the weight of this realization crashes upon him in the song's crescendo. Underneath it all lies a cutting rhythm and gentleness reminiscent of Yoshimi and the Pink Robots.
 
Thus lies the central theme of American Dream.  It is a protocol on how to live one's life years after misspending one's youth. Do not fret, because a hopeful theme undercuts these songs.  The pain of these remembrances is less sharp and even hopeful with those you love by your side. In an ocean of death, "You and me Selling Weed" and "My Religion is You" offer the illusion of salvation. On "Dinosaurs on the Mountain," Coyne brings to light the memory of traveling in his family's station wagon as a kid. Pretending the trees on the mountain are dinosaurs, he laments a time when one could simply imagine and create things in one's mind without repercussions of reality, which creeps in as adults. 
 
"Assassins of Youth" is as brilliant a Flaming Lips song that's been created in the last twenty years. A galloping pop jaunt through the tenets of rock and rhythm, there's a touch of Zeppelin and, to Coyne's admission, a touch of ABBA as well. "Mother, please Don't Be Sad" is another - a Bohemian Rhapsody-esque gem polished with soulful lyrics and other-worldly interludes.  
 
In American Head, the Flaming Lips have not quite come full circle as no journey of enlightenment ever truly ends at its source. Their journey is more like a spiral, and they've swooped by and tipped their caps to their former selves as they glide inward with a touching collection of songs ranking right up there with the best albums of 2020.  

- Tom Endyke | Guitar & Pen



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