The Flaming Lips are one of the great American rock and roll bands. With Wayne Coyne at the helm they’ve been transforming, expanding, and regenerating musical limbs for over three decades. The fearless freaks from Norman, Oklahoma, Coyne and Co hit their stride in the mid-90s and at their dimmest point in their career with only three members and producer Dave Fridmann, made arguably one of the greatest albums of the 90s with 1999s The Soft Bulletin.
From there it was one great album after another, culminating with 2013s dark and ominous The Terror. From there it was a series of collaborations, one-offs, 24-hour long songs, and various USB dongles encased in gummy skulls. The drug references got old and the next two albums, while having some bright moments, just didn’t reach the heights or the weirdness of past Flaming Lips records.
We now have American Head, which may be the best Flaming Lips album since 2009s Embryonic. This is the most straight forward record Wayne Coyne has done, and is in part somewhat autobiographical. Writing from his own life and experiences growing up in OK, Coyne makes an album that is closer in spirit to After The Gold Rush and All Things Must Pass than anything that came before.
Maybe it’s Wayne Coyne finding happiness again and becoming a father for the first time, but American Head feels heartfelt and present. Listening to album opener “Will You Return/When You Come Down” you get the feeling we’re hearing that kid from Norman for the first time in about two decades. Coyne has played the role of ringmaster for a long time and it’s worked for him. This song, with its piano, ethereal synths, and slide guitar have the sound of someone stepping out on stage with no makeup or persona. Just a great songwriter being earnest. “Dinosaurs on the Mountain” has the joyfulness and wonder of Yoshimi-era Lips. Producer Dave Fridmann works his magic and helps create these songs a sonic world all their own.
There are drug references, like “At the Movies on Quaaludes”, “Mother I’ve Taken LSD”, and “You n Me Sellin’ Weed”, which are all pulling from a misspent youth in the wilds of Oklahoma in the 70s. One track, “Mother Please Don’t Be Sad” has Coyne consoling his mother because he died in a robbery at the restaurant he worked at. It’s reminiscent of an actual story Coyne tells in the doc The Fearless Freaks where he talks about being robbed at gunpoint while working at a Long John Silvers as a teenager.
American Head is a classic singer/songwriter album. Something that could’ve easily come out of the 70s. The Flaming Lips bring melody and melancholy together beautifully and brilliantly. This is the best Flaming Lips album in years, and a welcome return of one of the most forward-thinking, transformative rock and roll bands we’ve got.
8.2 out of 10