Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Warner)


The Flaming Lips know existentialism like the back of their hands. Over the course of nine acid-damaged albums, they’ve examined the question "What is real?" over and over, each time sounding wiser, while becoming more and more child-like.

Like its magnificent predecessor, the Oklahoma trio’s new album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, floats in an ocean of questions, drifting like a lit-up Portuguese man-o’-war, scintillating and beautiful, but offering answers as slippery as jellyfish.

The new record is co-produced with David Fridmann and Scott Booker, and features the same, luminous sonics that made 1999’s The Soft Bulletin such an otherworldly sensory experience.

Opener Fight Test is a love song, something the Lips don’t often do, at least never this directly, or with a regret so poignant. Sample this line: "So when it came time to fight, I thought I’ll just step aside, and (hope) that time would prove you wrong." But singer Wayne Coyne isn’t just recalling a girl he lost to indecision. His diffidence is part of a larger, existential querulousness, one that puts him in creaturely awe of the Big Questions in life. And he sums it up thusly: "I don’t know how a man decides what’s right for his own life, it’s all a mystery."

The questing repeats like a mantra throughout the album. But on at least two songs, Coyne flings aside his tentativeness, and makes a brave reach for the specifics of reality. It’s Summertime is a song written to comfort the sisters of a dead friend from Osaka. On it, Coyne, who lost his own father to cancer, acknowledges the devastation of loss, but offers a suggestion so loving it sends shivers down your spine: "When you look inside, all you’ll see is a self-reflected inner sadness; look outside, I know you’ll recognise it’s summertime."

Then on Do You Realize, the listener is surrounded by a rippling wash of thoughts that centre on the inevitability of losing loved ones and friends. Overwhelmed by ephemera, Coyne rushes in with words of advice that would like been frighteningly trite if they weren’t also so genuine: "Let them know you realise that life goes fast."

You ask, "Who’s Yoshimi? How does she come into this record?" Well, Yoshimi’s an ostensible reference to Japanese noise band Boredoms’ drummer, but on the record, she’s also a vitamin-popping civil servant who’s on a karate mission to defeat evil-natured robots that have overrun society.

Makes no sense? No matter. The Lips have written songs about stranger topics before. Certainly, in a career of 20 years, The Flaming Lips have long left the corridors of rational thought. Their latest flight takes them (and us) into outer space (and whimsy) where we might find the Ultimate Reality. No guesses, though, what that might be, the Lips certainly don’t know, and to pre-judge the issue would be like shooting down the band’s increasingly wondrous rocket. — Lee Chung Horn

Note: The above was published in BigO #202 (October 2002).
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