From the moment they have the opportunity to hear American Head, there’s no doubt that Flaming Lips fans will rejoice at the band’s return, for several different reasons. Some fans will just be happy the band is back with new music. Other fans will be thrilled that, for the first time in over a decade, the Flaming Lips have returned to a more rock permutation of their sound (last time was on At War With The Mystics in 2006). Some fans may note the more solemn impetus for the album’s creation (according to a press release, the death of Tom Petty in 2017 inspired the music and thematic arc through the running of American Head), but will also cheer the album for its form, structure and style. All of those angles at which one may choose to look upon American Head are perfectly valid and make sense; no matter how one chooses to look at American Head though, it’s a great album and its quality is undeniable.
Arguably the best part about American Head (especially in the uncertain times of 2020) is how jubilant and hopeful the album is. While recent albums like Oczy Mlody and The Terror made the most of dark and textural sounds, the chimes and bells which have a habit of appearing in songs like “Dinosaurs on The Mountain,” “Assassins of Youth,” “God and The Policeman” and “Will You Return When You Come Down,” combined with Wayne Coyne’s breathless and high-pitched vocal delivery, give American Head a dreamy and wistful through-line which is easy to embrace and will cause listeners to instantly accept the turn that the album represents, gladly. Likewise, the mid-tempo, very Pink Floydian presentation of songs like “Flowers of Neptune,” “At The Movies on Quaaludes” and “Mother I’ve Taken LSD” (which, thematically, feels like it should be a lost cut from the band’s earliest recordings) feel very easy on the ear and seems destined to mark a new kind of turn for the Flaming Lips on stage – whenever the band finally gets to return to the stage.
By the time “My Religion Is You” gently closes out the album with a spare arrangement and very heartfelt sentiments, listeners will find they’ve been sold on this new incarnation of the Flaming Lips, and hope the band’s stays where they are to examine this sound some more on future releases. Of course, because of the bittersweet context of the composition of this album, the likelihood of the band remaining in this area is not at all a foregone conclusion – but the most enduring aspect of American Head is a sense of hope and that’s just what listeners will be doing after they’ve run top to bottom with this album