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The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

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Artist: The Flaming Lips

Album: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Label: Warner Brothers

Review date: Jul. 18, 2002

Is this record as good as The Soft Bulletin? No. Does it stink? Absolutely not. Should you purchase it? Of course: at the very least, your purchase will send a message to Warner Bros. that you support the most innocently daring, unpretentiously experimental major label band since, um, well...the Beatles (kidding!). The Soft Bulletin stands as a high watermark for American pop music for the ‘90’s. It is an honest-to-goodness beginning-to-end masterwork. The Flaming Lips are on a three album hot streak, and I’m not counting Hit To Death In The Future Head and Zaireeka because the former jus twasn’t all there yet and no one ever actually got the latter to work. Yoshimi continues the hot streak,, but this record seems more like a side-step than a giant leap forward.

But can you blame Coyne and Co.? The Soft Bulletin came from out of nowhere and defied all expectations (don’t tell me you saw it coming with Zaireeka because you didn’t), challenging the way people thought about catchy songs with sorta dumb lyrics. This record continues down the same path, albeit through a quieter, darker stretch of road.

Part of what frustrates me about Yoshimi is its intimate, pared down feel (I won’t go so far as to say stripped down...more on that later). This is both my favorite and least favorite aspect of the record. It’s exhilirating to hear the band take things down a notch for the Grandaddy-esque “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21,” especially its beautiful synthesizer coda (And who cares that steal a page from Grandaddy? I mean, it’s okay for the masters to steal back from the servants every once in a while, right?). “In the Morning of the Magicians” is one of the best songs released this year, with its quiet and intense beats and bouncy bass lines. “It’s Summertime” is a structureless stunner.

But, nothing here feels as big as The Soft Bulletin. Sure, the over-the-top-but-somehow-just-right Dave Fridmann prodution is here. This is the most aggressively chopped-up, manipulated, drum-machined, layered, etc. etc. rock and roll record released, well, ever that can still claim to be a rock and roll record. Radiohead should hang their heads in shame because the Lips one-up everything done on Kid A/Amnesiac...with catchy songs to boot! It’s one thing to blindly experiment with structure, drum programming, modulations, and the like, but it’s another thing to do all these things in a pop format. Look at what modern hip-hop and R&B are up to...but I digress. There is a severe lack of real drums of the non-looped and cut-up variety (which is a damn shame as Stephen Drozd is one of the more simple, yet exciting drummers around), so the record lacks the drive of previous releases. You can layer 30 tracks of bleeps, blips, tics, pops, and fake hi-hats on top of a song, but it still won’t go by itself. Even with the dystopian choir rock of “Are You A Hypnotist?” and the big-chorus/big-strings “Do You Realize?” Yoshimi lacks inertia, but I’m not sure that’s what the Lips are going for here. In fact, I think this is their equivalent of a front-porch record.

Lyrically, the record doesn’t feel big, either. One of the neat things about the Soft Bulletin was the seriousness of the subject matter and starry-eyed wonder about the nature of the universe. This was a guy in his 40s finally getting around to asking the big questions. And though that’s still in full effect here on a number of tunes, “Yoshimi Vs. The Pink Robots, pt.1” isn’t exactly addressing the nature of being. “Fight Test” may actually be the most straightforward and personal song Wayne’s ever written and “All We Have Is Now” is about time-travelling lovers or something. But the whole affair feels a little slighter, a little less important. It’s not a “Kim’s Watermelon Gun” or “Shaved Gorilla” kind of regression, but merely, as I stated before, a side step.

I was a little disappointed when I listened to this record the first time. I wanted to love it completely and totally immediately. That didn’t happen. With each subsequent listen, I discover something new to like about it, and though it isn’t The Soft Bulletin, it is something wholly satisfying in its own right. I’ve listened to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots about 40 times now, I swear, so they must be doing something right. Look at it this way, in terms of another band: just because The Queen Is Dead is the Smiths’ masterpiece doesn’t mean that Strangeways...Here We Come sucks.

Don’t argue with me on this one.

By Lucas Jensen

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