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The Flaming Lips’ “American Head” – Album Review

I’m laying on my mattress, which is in a U-Haul. I’m listening to American Head, the newest LP release by The Flaming Lips. It’s only the first song, “Will You Return / When You Come Down”, and it sounds like the spirit of my old home is calling out to me. It’s funny how you can attach your own meaning to music.

The song is really about a younger Wayne Coyne — the Lips’ frontman — fearing for his older brother’s life in the ‘60s. His brother was into drugs. Coyne faced a stark reality that one night his brother might never come home. The album concept is based on his older brother’s drug-addicted lifestyle, combined with a blip in Tom Petty’s autobiography, where his band visited Coyne’s native land to record an unreleased session (sort of like Bob Dylan’s basement tapes). Coyne & Steven Drozd, the Lips’ composer and songwriter, imagined an alternate reality in which Petty and Coyne’s older brother crossed paths and made a “very sad, fucked-up, beautiful record in Tulsa.”

People often get upset when artists deviate from their debut, but I try to remember to take it as is. Artists are always changing, just like the art itself, its interpretations, and life and ourselves. Though, I didn’t even have to remind myself of that when listening to American Head (their new album, if you weren’t paying attention). After the first three songs, I had no doubt the Lips valued their original sound and unique craft just as I did. It’s sonically similar to revered releases, such as At War with the Mystics and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: planet Lips’ atmospheric composition is half psychedelic and half melancholic-wrenching, shifting my perspective to bigger things. Psychedelics aren’t a transferable experience, but the Lips will give you one take on it. And if you listen to their thoughts, you’ll get the gist.

Not only did The Flaming Lips stay true to themselves sonically, but lyrically as well. I noticed Coyne singing that the sun sets so slowly, and I felt a sense of familiarity. I remembered an earlier line in “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion”, how naysayers see the sun go down, but they don’t see it rise. The Flaming Lips also had a woah-dude lyric from “Do You Realize??” (which appeared in the film Boyhood) about how the sun never sets but it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning ‘round. Perhaps something is being said then about the new subject’s mental outlook, when compared with this idea’s earlier appearances. In the new “Dinosaurs on the Mountain”, the lyrics get drippy, wishing that the dinosaurs could still be here with us. For me, these woah-dude ideas are evidence of Flaming Lips’ trademark.

It was late in the afternoon when I heard Coyne’s words, and I was compelled to watch the trailing shadows across the street. It was like he was reminding me that we were on a giant rock in space. In matters like this, I tend to suspend all disbelief and follow music.

This LP is The Flaming Lips you know and love, but with a new statement to make. Part of it seems to be that the lifestyle of a druggie is ultimately, sadly paradoxical. Chasing a high and becoming empty. We hear the profile of his brother: “We’re so high that we/Forget that we’re alive/As we destroy our brains/Till we believe we’re dead/It’s the American dream/In the American head.” He calls out to his mother that he shouldn’t have taken LSD, how it’s changed him to see all the sadness. I guess it was a bad trip. It seems it’s not so much doing a drug once, but the excessiveness to which Coyne lost his brother to. We hear the brother apologizing to his mom (although he’s already gone), and it made me a little misty-eyed. Drugs. Family. Spirits calling out.

The Lips have always sounded trippy as a rock band, slow and contemplative, which might not be your cup of tea. Though I enjoy it. I bet they’ve dropped their fair share of LSD before, but they came out the other side. There’s so much meaning here.

Ratings: 8/10

Article by: Justin Capra

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