The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2002, Volume 9, #9
Written by T.J. Simon
Casual music fans generally associate The Flaming Lips with the quirky 1993 hit single She Donít Use Jelly. But in 1997, this Oklahoma-based trio pushed the limits of modern music (and the patience of many fans) by producing Zaireeka, a four-CD set that was intended to be heard with all four discs being played simultaneously. This required four functional stereos in the same room, and four fingers on four play buttons ó a Herculean task that probably resulted in no more than a few hundred folks ever listening to it with all of the elements in place. Nevertheless, the band regrouped and in 1999, it released a masterpiece collection of avant-garde pop (The Soft Bulletin) that featured hook-heavy, beautifully presented tunes encased within an electronic wall of sound.
Ever since, fans have speculated upon which direction The Flaming Lips would take its next album: weird, brilliant, or a little bit of both? With the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, they no longer need to wait for an answer. The disc is an interesting but uneven affair, featuring many of the same production gimmicks that were lauded on The Soft Bulletin. In other words, spacey organ arrangements with lots of blips and bleeps, layered vocals, and thundering electronic percussion abound. The oddly titled, sci-fi themed album has moments of brilliance, yet it is ultimately a frustrating listen.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots begins with its strongest cut (Fight Test), which features a funky guitar groove, spacey bass-line, and cool lyrics pondering the mysteries of life. Itís a great song that is totally consistent with the feel, tone, and sound of the finest moments of The Flaming Lipsí career. Other high points on the album include the pretty In the Morning of the Magicians and Do You Realize, the only tune on the disc with anything resembling a hum-able hook.
Heavy bass and funky, pounding drum machines reverberate through the rest of the beautiful, yet exasperating songs on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, particularly on the tracks One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 and the first of the two title cuts. The disc contains two instrumentals (one good and one bad) which resemble trip-hop versions of songs from a 1950s sci-fi movie score. On the vocal tracks, it takes quite a while to get used to singer Wayne Coyneís falsetto warble, and some listeners never will. And donít even try to make sense of the disjointed space battle themes running through the albumís lyrics.
The smorgasbord of keyboards and synths on Yoshimi just donít add up to a cohesive wall of sound. Rather, the laborious studio effects employed by The Flaming Lips create a strange mosaic that often distracts from the core melodies within each of the albumís eleven tracks. Accordingly, Yoshimi fails to capture the hooks ó and the sheer joy ó of The Soft Bulletin. There are moments of greatness, and in all fairness, the disc does improve with each subsequent play. But for most listeners, a dozen times around the carousel before the grand payoff is just too much to ask.
45th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Rock Instrumental Performance
Approaching Pavonis Mons by Baloon (Utopia Planitia)
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box