When you’ve spent your entire career undergoing an identity crisis, one that’s included writing and producing an entire album of music with renegade pop star Miley Cyrus, and a collaborative collection of songs with Deap Vally, to an album of Beatles covers that included guests as weird and wonderful as Maynard James Keenan, Tegan & Sara and My Morning Jacket; you’d be forgiven for fretting that Oklahoma’s The Flaming Lips have finally burst their bubble.
While their recent output has been a far cry from the form of their early-noughties output, their sixteenth album ‘American Head’ is a wistful waltz through neo-psychedelia, dream-pop and lo-fi that is quite possibly their finest concoction since they battled those pink robots.
‘American Head’ is the result of frontman Wayne Coyne wondering what the world would look like if Tom Petty had purchased drugs from his old brother in the early seventies, and the songs they would sing. What follows is a record that tackles the loss of innocence (‘Dinosaurs On The Mountain’), a fear of death (‘Mother Please Don’t Be Sad’) and the life-changing impact exposure to drugs in his family at a young age (‘the entire album’) truly had on the frontman.
‘Mother I’ve Taken LSD’ masterfully drifts from sweet-tempered strumming and strong-willed vocals to stately strings and lavish lo-fi, symbolising his brother’s dive into drug-induced insanity while ‘Assassins Of Youth’ takes traces of folktronica, riddled with ‘808’-era Kayne and Bon Iver vibes, and dip-dyes it in dreamy lo-fi.
‘Watching The Lightbugs Glow’ is The Flaming Lips attempt at Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Big Gig In The Sky’ and the first of many honey-laden harmonies from country sensation Kacey Musgraves, while ‘God and The Policeman’ is their underwhelming duet, one of the album’s few disappointing moments; a song that was far too steeped in potential to push past its dreamy exterior.
Album highlight ‘You n’ Me Sellin’ Weed’ is The Flaming Lips at their finest, beginning with Wayne and a guitar, blurring into whirling winds of atmospheric synths humming away through echo chambers, slipping between rockabilly interludes and dream-pop segues, complete with the sound of cows mooing at the mere mention of a slaughterhouse.
For the first time in over a decade, Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips have concocted their most consistent trip through their wonderland of neo-psychedelic dream-pop since their career highlights ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ and ‘The Soft Bulletin’. It’s a trip very much worth taking.