“Mother Please Don’t Be Sad/It’s only me who’s died,” sings Wayne Coyne during the meandering psychedelic Mother Please Don’t Be Sad – one of the many highlights on The Flaming Lips‘ new album, American Head.
We’ve not heard Coyne this open since 2013’s The Terror. A maligning release far removed from their usual hippified hedonism of sound. The anxious murky sonic backdrops were the kind one would associate with when tackling the subject of divorce and, by and large, The Flaming Lips captured the theme defiantly, for The Terror remains one of their most vital works.
Since then, it’s all been a bit haphazard, but, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s been The Flaming Lips post-Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
On American Head, for the most part, it pays homage to ’60s psychedelia. Like a comedown from the summer of love, those snapshots of running through the fields high on love and chemical refreshments. There probably hasn’t been so many songs that contain open drug references since a Spaceman 3 record.
American Head is bathed in reflection, a yearning for lost youth. There are shadowy images of Wayne Coyne writing these songs in the corner of a secluded weatherboard escape in the woods with the same box of tissues and bottle of whiskey that proved able companions during The Terror.
Although slightly cliché, if anyone could pull it off it’s The Flaming Lips and on American Head, despite Coyne‘s oversized boxing gloves, they make most of the punches count.
Gregarious and containing a dry sense of humour, Coyne has always talked a good game, to the point where he has become a surrogate-like figure to the misguided indie kids over the years.
On The Fearless Freaks, Bradley Beesley‘s 2005 documentary of the band, Coyne speaks openly about his drug use. On record, he hasn’t sounded so candid about it, which makes American Head one of the most honest pieces of work The Flaming Lips have done and if anything, a nostalgic companion to the aforementioned documentary.
It’s not soaked in tie-dye but merely dipped. There are still those staple odd-ball moments dotted throughout American Head, but for the most part conventional arrangements act as a setting for Coyne‘s manifestations.
As always, The Flaming Lips‘ greatest weapon in Steven Drozd finds the right spaces to sprinkle his melodic fairy dust all the way through American Head. Equally, long-time collaborator and producer, David Fridmann, pieces it all together from behind the mixing desk.
“Flower gun/Now you’re on the run/Flower head/Now all your friends are dead/And their ghosts/Floating around your bed,” sings Coyne on the opening Will You Return/When You Come Down – a balladeering symphonic sprawl that wouldn’t have look out of place on The Soft Bulletin.
Flowers of Neptune bursts with left-of-centre early ’70s AM radio homage as Coyne reflects on his friends sitting idle, not giving a fuck, and going to war, while he’s stuck in Oklahoma still doing acid and watching the sun set.
Aligned with the song’s title, Dinosaurs of the Mountain is a string-laden atmospheric waltz filled with escapism. A theme that drifts through the album like a bong water haze.
The piano dominated cut, At the Movies on Quaaludes, focuses on losing yourself through the mist of love and substance and You N Me Sellin’ Weed follows a similar path. “We’re the king and queen/Dope dealing celebrities/And we’re free”. While one of the protagonists tails off slinging dope the other works at the local slaughterhouse. It’s a story of youth glamorising their existence as small town world-beaters, trying to find a win at any cost.
The cleverly orchestrated campfire lament that echoes Dennis Wilson, Mother I’ve Taken LSD, sees Coyne‘s most heartfelt moment on American Head. Whether he is still tripping or has come out on the other side is the song’s mystery.
Brother Eye is a concoction of The Flaming Lips over the last two decades. The weird and conventional joining forces to shed one of the many great melodies on American Head. “You were born and the dark was changed/Like the stars into the night/Like the sun breaking through the sky/
Brother, I, I,” parts Coyne with those trademark wobbly melodies.
And they don’t stop there. Assassins Of Youth contains one of those Flaming Lips gold-dust moments that fall between euphoric and tear-jerking, “I was young yesterday/But now everything has changed after today/And I don’t know what to do/Oh my youngest self, oh I, I miss you/Yes, I do.”
Coyne hasn’t sounded this poetic in years and on closing track, My Religion Is You, it caps off American Head entirely.
“I don’t need no religion/You’re all I need/You’re the thing I believe in/Nothing else is true/My religion is you,” he sings.
It ties the album together, showcasing The Flaming Lips‘ staple diet of love, death and drugs. It’s no surprise that the band bid to trump the bible in favour of love. It’s not bold, it’s The Flaming Lips and their message feels genuine. It highlights the band themselves are some form of religion and American Head sends this message the more and more you listen to it.
American Head is out now via Bella Union.