The second and final album by the indie rock band Neutral Milk Motel, led by lead singer Jeff Mangum, was released to mixed critical success before later becoming widely acknowledged as a significant record of the 90’s. Mangum spoke of his admiration and pure despair towards Anne Frank prior to the album release, which made him out to be a rather odd individual whose music was likely as crazy as they perceived him to be. They were probably right, the lo-fi, psychedelic and indie rock mix is an odd one for sure, but Aeroplane really is an album of near-perfect songs. It is so defiant of people’s opinion that it seems like this album was meant for Anne Frank’s ears, and the listeners are just invading their privacy.
The lyrics are abstract so can be perceived in many ways, but they are best thought of with Anne Frank in mind. Album opener and highlight, “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, the brilliant but dark narrative about a troubled childhood could seemingly be strictly sexual, but fits better if perceived through the Anne Frank theme. “And this is the room one afternoon knew I could love you, and from above you how I sank into your soul, into that secret place where no one dares to go”, could be thought of as the first time Mangum were to read her diary. The title track, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”, is a standout, and pretty much as perfect as a song can be. The music, lyrics and vocals are faultless, and stronger Anne Frank references are evident, “Anna’s ghost all around, hear her voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me (reading her diary aloud)… How I would push my fingers through your mouth to make those muscles move that made your voice so smooth and sweet (turning the pages of her diary).”
“The world that you need is wrapped in gold, silver sleeves, left beneath Christmas trees in the snow”, from “Two-Headed Boy” is pondering if she were not Jewish (celebrated Christmas), would she have lived a long life? The album’s best track, “Holland, 1945”, is the only openly acknowledged song about Anne Frank (by Mangum), and deals with the theme of reincarnation, “Now she’s a little boy in Spain, playing pianos filled with flames”, is a metaphor for the subject, using Pepito Arriola as the reference, commonly suggested as proof for the life-after-death theory. Disregarding the lyrics though, this is simply an amazing song. “Ghost” continues the reincarnation idea with the lyrics, “and when her spirit left her body, how it split the sun, I know that she will live forever, all goes on and on and on.”
Aeroplane is one of the most lyrically mysterious albums you’ll likely hear, and although maybe not ground-breaking and inventive, you will struggle to find a more well-rounded and fully realized album. From this beautifully written stanza in their title track that could relate to anyone, “And one day we will die, and our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea. But for now we are young, let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see”, to his pleas towards Anne Frank, “I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine”, this is defining, immaculately crafted music. The last lyrics state, “but don’t hate her when she gets up to leave”, and this could refer to many things, but hearing Mangum leave his seat at the end of the track before walking away from the world, is a fitting end to the incredible album.
Top Songs – “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”, “Holland, 1945”