It is tough to tackle a new Flaming Lips album. On the one hand, one has to wrestle with the fact that they are weird to start off with. On the other hand, sometimes they are simply not weird enough. The trend since the monumental Zaireeka has been towards less and less weirdness. Listeners who enjoyed the poppiness of Soft Bulletin are likely to be pleased with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Those who liked the loud, brash (and weird) sounds of Hit to Death in the Future Head or the wonderful mix of Transmissions are likely to be scratching their heads and wondering where the Coyne of old went.
Coyne, Drozd, and Ivins are back again, and this outing is definitely closer to Soft Bulletin, but as always there is just enough peculiarity to keep these guys from hitting the "mainstream." There is not a single on this disk, but surely college rock stations around the country are combing through it to find something they can play, the same way that AOR hunted for tracks on Dark Side of the Moon, an album that clearly influences Coyne and Company on this release.
I read once that someone at Warner Bros. must like The Flaming Lips, as any other band would have long ago been dropped, and surely that must be the case. They must be selling albums, though, even without a single to support them since "She Don't Use Jelly."
The harsh sounds of earlier releases have probably kept them from the "mainstream," and Coyne's peculiarly strained voice scares away more listeners than it gains. On Yoshimi, however, what may keep this album from topping the charts are its pleasantly soothing sounds. Sci-fi, bizarre, enigmatic lyrics have always been a trademark of the Lips, but here they combine with beautifully lush music that only grates occasionally-in just the right way.
"Flight Test" begins with cheers and a robotic voice, hinting at a crowd as if this is a live album-but it appears to be entirely recorded in the studio from June 2002 to April 2002. The song is poppy, perhaps among the most pop-rock oriented on the album. The lyrics are catchy with turns of phrases that are typically unexpected—"there are things you can't avoid you have to face them when you're not prepared to face them."
"One More Robot / Sympathy 3000-21" is more pop from the Lips. While it is often easy to dismiss Lips' lyrics as nonsensical Dadaist strings of words, here they seem to address issues of artificial intelligence and emotions, much the same way that have played with ideas of the chemical roots of love in the past. The track ends in more lushness.
The heroine, Yoshimi battles the pink robots in the title track where snippets of spoken voice and school cheers appear to peek in and out of the music. The song is pleasantly snug, while recounting the future resistance of a human against the evil-natured robots. It is easy to be led astray (or into it) and start looking too closely at Lips' lyrics, but let's not look too closely here.
Every track here is pleasantly constructed and layered, infused with influences that everyone who has listened to western popular music over the last 35 years would recognize. Is it a masterpiece? By no means. But neither was Soft Bulletin, and that got loads of attention. Is it good, perhaps better than most things out there? Yes, indeed it is. It is wonderfully poppy with just a enough quirkiness.
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Copyright © 2002 Leslie Carl Seiler. All Rights Reserved.