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October 19, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Album combines cultural criticism with witty lyrics

American Head

Warner Records

The Flaming Lips are back again with its newest album “American Head.” Existential and psychedelic, “American Head” sounds like a trippy twist of Pink Floyd, David Bowie and The Beatles. While many of the band’s previous songs, like “She Don’t Use Jelly,” have been on the more playful side, the band’s new album features much deeper themes. 

“American Head” explores how young people’s lives, once filled with hope and happiness, were ruined by a society that punishes wrongdoers instead of helping them heal. Lead vocalist Wayne Coyne sings with raw emotion about dead loved ones and the world’s cruelty. The album is filled with excellent songs that are overwhelming in all the right ways.

The first track, “Will You Return / When You Come Down” pulls listeners into what feels like a portal to a different universe. After an eerie swell in the song’s electronic sound, a faint, looping chime begins. Coyne’s echoey voice eases in, sighing, “Now all your friends are dead / And their ghosts / Floating around your bed.” While simple, these lyrics are haunting and unsettling. More modern psychedelic and less rock, the track sounds like something off Pink Floyd’s 1975 album “Wish You Were Here.” 

“Flowers of Neptune 6,” a song about watching friends go to jail and off to war, is another example of how the band delivers these sinking, heartbreaking feelings with ease. Coyne’s voice builds in intensity, and, in the end, it sounds as though he’s crying out the words, “Oh my God, why is it them? / Oh my God, now it’s me.”

Tragic events come up again in “Mother I’ve Taken LSD.” The track is a beautiful, heart-wrenching masterpiece. The lyrics detail a deteriorating society, one in which its people are hurting badly. It is implied that the world the album describes is akin to the United States. “Mother I’ve Taken LSD” is the highlight of “American Head.” It is deeply personal, written as if Coyne is speaking to his mother. Framing the song in this way was a genius decision on Coyne’s part because the lyrics are so honest and heartbreaking.

Although the album’s upsetting topics could have been based on Coyne’s personal experiences, these themes speak more directly to society. The aptly named title suggests these brutal realities are far too common in the U.S. Jail, war and severe mental illness all plague U.S. citizens and haunt them forever — especially because there aren’t enough resources to help people who have gone through these experiences heal.

A song that further explores these ideas is “You n Me Sellin’ Weed.” Coyne sings about people selling drugs to get by, putting themselves in dangerous situations just to be able to eat. This track highlights the severity of wealth inequality in the United States through its candid lyrics. The track starts with a simple guitar that slowly dissolves into a more psychedelic sound. The instrumentals make a listener’s head spin just a little bit, overloading the senses with information and sounds.

The closing song, “My Religion Is You,” leaves listeners on a more hopeful note, perfectly concluding the heavy album. The track emphasizes the importance of holding onto what listeners believe in. Although “American Head” is filled with tragedy, The Flaming Lips deliver bittersweet emotion perfectly. The band avoids corniness by keeping the lyrics conversational and not overly poetic.

“American Head” creates an atmospheric listening experience. The album is like diving into a black hole of thought, for the concepts are both incredibly upsetting and highly existential.