Coming in hot off the back of the colossal mind-bending fever dream that was 2019’s ‘King’s Mouth’, The Flaming Lips have crash-landed back to frontman Wayne Coyne’s childhood town of Oklahoma city. Their 16th album, a quasi-concept record, loosely documents his teenage years. ‘American Head’ takes listeners on a walk down memory lane, Coyne’s own personal Americana viewed through a dreamy, nostalgic haze of friends, family and biker gangs (Wayne Coyne’s childhood was not like yours and mine).
A contrast to the more dramatic, extravagant psych operas of ‘King’s Mouth’ and 2002 classic ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’, here the Lips deliver a quiet, vulnerable and grounded album rooted in notions of a youthful loss of innocence. On the gentle, synth-led ‘Flowers of Neptune 6’, Coyne remembers “doing acid and watching the light bugs glow”, while on the flamenco-inspired ‘Assassins of Youth’ he eulogises his “younger self” who is “already gone”.
With ‘American Head’ the band capture and condense this carefree time, before Coyne experienced the troubles of adulthood, dusting them off and loading them into a magical stereoscope, where they will be preserved forever. This is a beautiful ode to love and loss that handles the subjects with grace, reminiscent of the band’s acclaimed 1999 album ‘The Soft Bulletin’.
Along with longtime production collaborator Dave Fridmann, Coyne and co. deliver a fresh supply of neo-psych melodies (‘At The Movies On Quaaludes’), cascading ballads (‘Brother Eye’) and hard-hitting crescendos (‘Mother Please Don’t Be Sad’). The instrumentals throughout are hypnotic and vibrant, kaleidoscopic refrains bursting through like cosmic radio waves – see the intensity of ‘When We Die When We’re High’, with its thunderous and frenzied drums, layered with the sounds of snarling dogs; and the soft, magical meandering of the Kacey Musgraves collaboration ‘Watching The Light Bugs Glow’, which Coyne has described as as “a slow erupting wordless meditation”.
Rather than using their fantastical bubble of sound to transport listeners into distant galaxies, as they have done so many times before, the band here float softly above Oklahoma city, where Coyne sits up front, quietly contemplating beauty and childhood. ‘American Head’ is a soft, reflective moment of taking in and appreciating the vista once the trip has worn off – when king’s heads and evil pink robots have melted away – and the dust has settled.
Release date: September 11
Record label: Bella Union