“I don’t know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins”: The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

YoshimiOne of my favourite bands are The Flaming Lips.  I consider them to be one of the most vital and creative forces in music right now – have been for a number of years, too.  They divide folks I know though; some agreeing that they are incredible and others saying they just don’t get it.  I don’t think I know many who are on the fence (that being said, I’ve learned over the years that everyone has at least one of their albums.  Most likely it’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots).  Anyway, I find that they continue to evolve with each album.  Pushing their own sense of being and continuing to challenge the listener.  To challenge what music is.  What art is.  I think that right there is why I continue to follow them.  Even when they flirt dangerously close to the abyss.  Despite the missteps, they remain a truly marvellous band with a truly wondrous and charming front-man.

I got into The Flaming Lips big time when I heard The Soft Bulletin in the summer of 1999.  An album that just blew my mind.  It’s quite rightly considered by many as their masterpiece – full of crashing overdriven drums, creative instrumentation, a wall of sonics, imaginative production, dreamy melodies and emotional weight.  The question: how do you follow something like that?  Well, for Wayne & Co. the answer was to embrace electronics and focus on the swooning and often dizzying instrumentation.  I was late picking up Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but the few folks I knew that dug them said it was the greatest thing they’d heard.  A sentiment echoed by much of the music press that I’d spotted reviews in at the time.  The contemplative songs about mortality remain, but they’re thrown in with some stuff about evil natured robots and a young girl named Yoshimi.  It’s surrounded by glitches, reverberating falsettos and dizzying distorted digital … eh … pyrotechnic splendour. But was it, as Uncut declared, “astonishing” and the greatest album released in the magazine’s lifetime?
gatefoldI got my copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots from my brother.  He gave me it to start off my collection when he gave me the record player.  There’s a few pops and some surface noise, but it still sounds really wonderful.  Lush and warm.  When I finally got my hands on a new stylus and pre-amp I got that sucker hooked up and got the album spinning.  Twice.  Back to back.  Just like I did when I first got my hands on the CD.  Just finding myself lost in the grooves.  Each beep, crunch, and swoosh vital.  Even the little bit of surface noise and the pops sounding like part of the album.  A pulse.  A heartbeat.

The album opens with Fight Test – a coming of age tale that caused them a whole lot of bother with Cat Stevens.  Truth be told, as much as I like Father and Son, I can never relate to that sucker the way I could this.  Despite all the awesomeness to come on Side 1, it’s One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 that really gets me.  A really tremendous bass run and a looped drum kick drill a hole as Coyne sings “Unit 3000-21 is warming – makes a humming sound when its circuits duplicate emotions”.  Perhaps inspired by Short Circuit’s Johnny 5? but it pre-dates Wall-E by a good couple of years.  Although there’s not a great deal more to it (other than the tremendous closing minute of so when the acoustic guitar features), I just can’t see past it.  It’s utterly marvellous.  And I don’t care what anyone says.  It’s the same with In the Morning of the Magicians. Simple and effective.  I dare say both of these could have complimented the The Soft Bulletin.

Side Two is kinda strange and is a mixed listen.  Coyne continues exploring those same themes and there’s a weight behind it that’s lost within the concept of Side One.  With the robots long gone (thanks Yoshimi!), the mood changes and the textures get a little less glitchy and a little more lush.  Are You a Hypnotist? is a take on that whole ‘fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice’ shenanigans.  Coyne throws it out differently though – “are you some kind of hypnotist waving your powers around?”.  Never thought to use that line, so well played.  In fact, Side Two it’s all about asking questions, and the most important one of all is wrapped up in Do You Realise? and All We Have Is Now.  Life moves fast, people.  Don’t get caught waiting around – live it and make the most of it.  The closing Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia) is really pretty wonderful, too.
BACKI guess it would be wrong not to mention the title track (well, part one), given it’s likely the song most folks would associate with the band.  Ridiculously wonderful in every way you could imagine.  It bounces along quite nicely as Yoshimi is introduced.  It’s brilliant.  Preposterous, even.  Part 2 is the chaos.  An instrumental breakdown that represents the battle.  Complete with screams and crowd cheering.  You go for it, Yoshimi!  You done it!  And that’s it, really. We never hear from the Pink Robots or Yoshimi again.

Even now.  It’s a great listen – not their best, but it’s still a pretty great record.

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28 Comments

  1. I’ve always found the Flaming Lips intriguing but ultimately a little too crazy for me. This album however received a lot of store play and I sold a shit-ton of ’em that way. I really liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah – I think that’s generally the response from a lot of folks that don’t get it. As crazy as this one is at times, it’s easily their most accessible and probably the most well known. I’d heard it getting a fair share of play in the music stores over here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It has some lovely, melodic music on there.

        The one I really want to experience properly is Zaraika. Four cars with 4 CD players in a circle would be the way to do it, I think. You could easily play Zaraika today, using mp3 rips and all your devices at the same time, singlehandedly. But I think that defeats the purpose of the project.

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      2. I think so too, Mike. I did come across a bootleg copy of the album that had the complete thing layered. Which does defeat the purpose of it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. They did release an “official” stereo mix of the album, I think. But I get that — I don’t mind that. Because how often are you going to be able to listen to it properly? When are you going to get two or three more friends to all wanna listen to it…again? So an “official” stereo mix, to me, solves the problem.

        To me it’s like, you can go see the new Star Wars in 3D. But when you get it on DVD, it’ll just be the regular version. The 3D is kinda like the special occasions.

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      4. Y’know, I’m not actually sure. But that makes more sense than someone ripping the discs and layering them (which I’m certain this was).

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Well both scenarios are possible, because any custom mix you make yourself can be done any way you want to! I kind of like the idea and if I had the album I’d be tempted to try it too.

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      6. Oh for sure. Just something official to put on and enjoy as a singular piece of music. And then when you and your buddies have a night free, break out the four CD version and play it “live”. I imagine it would be fun to walk around the room, and see how it sounds from different angles. A really neat slant on music listening.

        I can see it. A bunch of folks just hanging out in the basement, enjoying whatever they like to enjoy, going, “woah! You need to stand over here, the drums are like, in my head!”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful album – would likely be that much more wonderful as an LP!
    I was excited when I heard this was made into a broadway musical, I’m hoping it one day comes through Toronto, I’ll be there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah – I’d quite like to see that too, Geoff. I’d read an article a few years back where Wayne Coyne spoke a bit more about the concept and was really intrigued. Only thing I’ve seen of it to date was a clip that was on YouTube. More of an ad than anything else …

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice write-up but I’ve just never been able to like FL – coincidentally they played Liverpool last night, I think.

    I’m not sure why it is either, they’re talented and headstrong and Mr Coyne is a real sharp looking fella, but I think I must have some sort of immunity to them at an almost cellular level.

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    1. I reckon you’d dig them. Loads. Particularly the early psych-garage-rock shenanigans. It’s rare that a band on a major would have the freedom those guys do – they scored quite the deal in the early days.

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  4. I admired the Flaming Lips from afar back in the 90s, with “She Don’t Use Jelly”, “Bad Days”, and “Turn It On”, but never bought any albums. Then in 1999, like you, I fell hard for The Soft Bulletin. To this day it’s one of my all time favorite albums. Something about it I really connected with in that cold Midwest winter, and the fact that only three of them(plus Dave Friedman) made it gave it a mystique. A beautiful album.

    As much as I’m confused by their current behavior and embracing of the ridiculous drug culture(hello, Steven Drozd is a recovering heroin addict), I think I’ll always love them. They haven’t put out a proper LP since The Soft Bulletin that I haven’t loved(or that didn’t grow on me after a time.) I think Embryonic and The Terror are damn near genius. And the 7 Skies h3 record(the excerpt from their 24-hr song) is surprisingly focused and concise.

    Great write up. Good to know another Flaming Lips lifer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There aren’t many albums better than The Soft Bulletin, eh? Still one that blows me away each time I hear it – still something new to discover. A buzz. Note. Emotion. Man, I love it.

      The evolution of the band is pretty incredible. Psych rock garage band to … eh … cosmic experimentalists. But yeah, the druggy stuff … I have no idea what’s happening there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Soft Bulletin is a definite one of a kind record. So much innocence in there. It really felt like a record they made thinking it could be the last, so they just threw caution to the wind.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A post that demanded responses – nice one! Alas, most has been neatly said by others so I’ll just maybe pop off and spin Yoshimi. Haven’t listened to it for years.

    PS. I have sealed copies of Zaireeka on both vinyl and CD. Utter insanity.

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    1. Nice – glad it could inspire a spin.

      I assume you’re saving Zaireeka for a special occasion? I would also image that the vinyl set is pretty magnificent inside *hits Google*.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I liked ‘She Don’t Use Jelly, ‘ but when I heard this it was so mellow it made me angry. I’m sort of weird like that, soft music makes me aggressive. Every time I hear James Taylor I want to punch someone.

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  7. One of my all time favorite bands, I’ve loved virtually everything from Priest up to Embryonic. Hated the last one, though, and Coyne’s..ahem…excursions/collaborations of late have left me cold. But great post on a great band!

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    1. I haven’t actually heard the With A Little Help … album yet. Must rectify that! The Terror took me a couple of listens, but I really found myself getting lost in that one.

      … and yeah, I’m not quite sure what’s going on at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s a misstep or genius. Time will tell?

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I sometimes think…because the melodies are often more direct…that the album’s better than the Soft Bulletin. it probably isn’t (because it isn’t as immersive) but whatever. “Do You Realize??” is clearly their best song.

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  9. I’m an almost noob when it comes to these guys. I have these three things I know about them:

    1) I own their cover of Dark Side Of The Moon, bought because it has Henry Rollins on it. ROLLINS!

    2) I know the song Do You Realize, probably from some CMJ mag comp or some other mix. I gather it was some sort of hit for them. And it’s here on this record! Cool.

    3) I once saw a clip of the singer dude crowd surfing in a gigantic clear hamster ball.

    And that’s about it. I’m gathering, from your review, that I ought to be getting into them more, then? 😉

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    1. Hell yeah! That Dark Side of the Moon album is ace, but there’s a load more wonders to uncover! This is a good starting point, then it has to be The Soft Bulletin. Clouds Tastle Metallic and In a Priest Driven Ambulance are two of my other favourites.

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