The Flaming Lips: American Head (Bella Union/digital outlets)

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 The Flaming Lips: American Head (Bella Union/digital outlets)

Longtime fans of Oklahoma's Flaming Lips – the pivotal figure being the delightfully humorous but here deadly serious Wayne Coyne -- know how frustrating they can be.

Elsewhere goes as far back as Transmissions from the Satellite Heart ('93) and even before that courtesy of the '98 triple CD compilation Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid 1983-1988.

But their digressions into covering St Pepper with their “fwends” and Dark Side of the Moon with Henry Rollins and Peaches were very much down to taste and patience.

But along the way for every Embryonic (a best of Elsewhere in 2009) there has been an uneven Oczy Mlody (2017).

It's therefore with delight we come out the other end of American Head smiling and thinking.

American Head is a typically heady but gentle Flaming Lips acid-kissed collection full of as much melancholy and reflection (the translucent shimmer of Will You Return/When You Come Down with lines like “flower head, now all your friends are dead”) as it is washed in warm musical colours and celestial soundscapes.

There are dreamscape passages here (the glorious Watching the Lightbugs Glow which segues into the Brian Wilson/folkadelic pop of Flowers of Neptune 6 which gets dark as the Vietnam/Iraq war imposes itself on the reverie).

It is also very much a domestic album in that it deals with friends (the near-pop of You n Me Sellin' Weed which is like Big Star's Thirteen grown up by a few years) and emotional closeness (Brother Eye).

So this isn't quite the day-glo coloured/rose-tinted glasses reflection of a woozy time under the influence which its surfaces suggest and seduce you with, or what the titles say: At the Movies on Quaaludes, Mother I've Taken LSD (“it's changed me”), When We Die When We're High.

Rather it is a look back from a perspective of greater understanding and often regret at the passing of time, friends and family: “Now, I see the sadness in the world, I’m sorry I didn’t see it before,” he sings on Mother I've Taken LSD.

So as much as it is a reflection on the personal, it is also political in that it yearns for what has been lost in (American) life and while the strings can elevate some of these lovely and cosmic songs, they can also descend into melancholy.

And on God and the Policeman with guest Kacey Musgraves you might wish that Neil Young would give these people one of his many lesser acoustic albums for them to sprinkle their fairy dust over. 

In the past Wayne Coyneand his friends have taken real flights of lyrical fantasy but these songs are about a more mundane reality (the day job at the slaughterhouse, selling drugs to get by, jail, conscription, death in a motorcycle accident) and although they had their genesis in the idea of their Seventies they resonate on the fallen and fractured America of today.

Wistful and full of wishes (dinosaurs still here, a spaceship coming to get us out of this life), there are layers of meaning and feeling across these interlocking songs. And more existential doubt and anxiety here than on a dozen bludgeoning Roger Waters albums, delivered on a delicious sound palette. 

Beautiful produced, astutely constructed where themes repeat with variations, and an album which pulls in the listener through comforting arrangements and then delivers its melancholy messages.

American Head -- an elegant lament for lost innocence and naivety -- is a Flaming Lips album to return for.


You can hear this album on Spotify here

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