The Flaming Lips - American Head (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Flaming Lips

American Head (2020)


I write this review just as I have just finished listening to American Head for the first time whilst reading the lyrics along with the music, and after doing so I do not want to do so again so I want to get this out while this album is still fresh in my memory. But, while I found it unenjoyable, someone did tell me recently that my opinions can be a bit extreme sometimes and I might want to consider other points of view sometimes. And, to be fair, I can see how this album could be of interest to some people, but definitely not me.

I wanted to give this album a try because, well, Apple Music suggested it to me, and The Flaming Lips did put out that great Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots album in 2003, and that awesome “She Don’t Use Jelly” song in the 90’s, but apparently in the years since then they’ve managed to slide farther and farther into the realm of psychedelia. Normally I shy away from anything that’s described as psychedelic music. I once got my best friend to dump a guy because he had a Phish poster on his wall. I actually love marijuana, I do live in Colorado, but I can’t see the appeal of the kind of music that’s designed to go well with marijuana. I despise “drug culture.” Just give me a few gummies and let me jam out to an Against Me! record any day. But I do remember seeing The Flaming Lips at Riot Fest just as my edibles kicked in and seeing the light show and Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing in a giant buble, I felt like I finally got it for a few minutes.

I didn’t get it with American Head. First off, you look at the album’s track listing, and four different songs mention drugs just in the title: “At the Movies on Quaaludes,” “Mother I’ve Taken LSD,” “You n Me Sellin’ Weed,” and “When We Die When We’re High.” And I guess I do love The Hold Steady’s constant drug references. And Direct Hit’s Wasted Mind, one of my all time favorite records, is a concept album about drugs. Okay, but they’re telling interesting stories about interesting characters, where The Flaming Lips just seem to want to revel in drug culture while they roll around in it like a pig in in a mud bath. At times they sound less like psychedelia and more like a parody of themselves. Here’s a section of the lyrics to “Mother I’ve Taken LSD”: “Now I see the sadness in the world/Sad, sad, sad, sad, sadness/Sadness/Sadness (Sadness)/Sadness.” If the lyrics sound silly on page, imagine it being sung by a 59 year-old alterna-hippy in a falsetto. Then there’s the insipid “Dinosaurs On the Mountain” which is just Wayne Coyne waxing not-so-poetic about what it would be like if dinosaurs were still around. And if you’re expecting that song to have some sort of metaphor to it or some sort of hidden depths, I assure you that it’s just about dinosaurs being cool, like it was sung by a five year old. The best track on the album, surprisingly, turns out to be “When We Die When We’re High,” which is, mercifully, an instrumental.

Look, the stars I did give the album go to the musicianship, which is incredibly skilled as anyone can see. I mean, it’s much harder to create these trippy atmospheric soundscapes than it is to play “Blitzkrieg Bop” and I get that. There are lots of keyboards, pianos, intentional overuse of autotune and some sound effects, I think I heard a cow or something. It got weird in there, man. But maybe it’s the punk spirit in me that comes back and says “Yeah, but so what? What did you make me feel?” The only thing American Head really made me feel was annoyance and occasionally unintentional humor. There was definitely a time when The Flaming Lips had something to offer that could appeal to a punk fan, but I think that time has passed now. I think the punk rock attitude is to not easily be impressed with technical musicianship that doesn’t make you feel much of anything. American Head didn’t hit me in the heart or in the gut, but it did make me want to go back and listen to “She Don’t Use Jelly” again and, if nothing else, that’s a positive that comes from this experience.