Even at their goofiest, the Flaming Lips had been so goddamned unhappy. The enduring reminiscence of the band at their peak of visibility facilities on their absurd, colourful stay present: Wayne Coyne in a swimsuit befitting a touring salesman or a televangelist, surrounded by dancing furries and streams of confetti, dousing himself in blood and rolling throughout a area filled with festival-goers in an enormous plastic bubble. They appeared like residing cartoons, and by no means extra so than when singing what might be the plot of an anime. But most of the time, the Lips’ psychedelic circus was a method for Coyne to reckon with intensely heavy real-life experiences. It was true on 1999’s game-changing masterpiece The Tender Bulletin — on which Coyne memorably requested, “Will the struggle for our sanity be the struggle for our lives?” — and it remained true on that album’s hit follow-up.
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, launched 20 years in the past this Saturday, discovered the fearless freaks Trojan-horse-ing a report of depressive downtempo pop experiments into the hipster mainstream through a novelty tune a couple of Japanese warrior lady coaching to struggle killer machines. Yoshimi was no idea album; if its songs cohered round a central battle, it was the wrestle for hope within the face of despair, not the struggle between the title character and her mechanical foes. Yoshimi didn’t even actually seem to be an avatar for something particular, and no less than at first, she wasn’t. As Coyne defined to Yahoo years later, the idea originated when Yoshimi P-We, one of many drummers for the esteemed conceptual psych/noise band Boredoms, lent her voice to the squelching, stomping, perennially descending instrumental that turned “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 2.”:
Initially it was only a monitor that has this girl, an actual musician named Yoshimi P-We. We had been sprinkling her singing and her taking part in and her screaming and her ad-libbing by means of completely different sections of the songs that we had been beginning to refine and prepare. “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 2” is an instrumental that has plenty of her screamings and these little karate chop sounds. We’re placing that in an association that seems like some sort of machine. When Steve [Drozd] and I went again into the management room, [producer] Dave Fridmann stated, “That seems like Yoshimi who’s screaming and doing all of the karate chop sounds is both having intercourse or being killed by an enormous robotic.” After which I stated, “It could be a pink robotic.” It turned “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1.” After which we made different songs that associated to that theme, and I painted the album cowl.
The oil portray that graces the album presents a David-and-Goliath scene; the younger Yoshimi is proven from behind staring down a long-legged pink big. “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1,” an earnestly goofy campfire singalong that features as a struggle tune for Yoshimi, additional frames the album in these phrases. To an extent, so do the 2 songs that bracket it on the album. But it surely’s a stretch to attach most of those tracks to that storyline — which is an efficient factor as a result of twenty years later it feels fairly inane to howl together with lyrics like “Oh Yoshimi, they don’t consider me/ However you received’t let these robots eat me.” The tune is attention-grabbing and sensible in its simplicity, little greater than some acoustic chords and a catchy, whimsical hook. From a listener perspective, it’s a superb reminder to not take your self too severely. However an entire album of songs like that might be cloying to the acute. Luckily the Lips had a special sort of journey in thoughts.
Simply because the braintrust of Coyne, Drozd, Fridmann, Michael Ivins, and Scott Booker got here up with their very own distinct musical language on The Tender Bulletin — a hyperreal orchestral psych-pop that pulled from throughout music historical past and the outer reaches of the creativeness — they as soon as once more concocted a novel aesthetic for Yoshimi. Drozd’s bashed-out drumming was largely changed by programmed beats, a self-imposed restriction of superpowers akin to Radiohead’s sparing deployment of guitars on Child A. Ivins’ darting melodic basslines got here to the forefront, primarily functioning because the hook on tracks like “Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell” and “One Extra Robotic / Sympathy 3000-21.” Acoustic guitars and loosely zany keyboard tones figured in prominently, as did samples and sound results, with interstitial returns to Tender Bulletin drama typically gluing songs collectively on the seams.
In that Yahoo interview, Coyne talked about taking inspiration from the mainstream pop, rap, and R&B of the second, evaluating their very own work with innovators like Timbaland — a commonplace trope now, however a radical departure for another rock band on the time, even on the heels of the so-called “electronica” growth. It was definitely a twist throughout the Flaming Lips catalog, which had at all times been melodious however had by no means delved so deep into the digital realm. “To us, we had been experimenting with pop music,” he defined. “We’d take heed to issues like Nelly Furtado and Madonna and we might say, ‘Why don’t we strive to do this to our music?’ Like, ‘Wouldn’t or not it’s humorous if?’ Not pondering we’re making commercial-sounding music — we’re pondering, ‘We’re gonna put these huge beats and these humorous, quirky sounds to our easy little songs about robots. And wouldn’t that be attention-grabbing?’ And it was!”
Inside Yoshimi’s world of vibes and textures, Coyne mewls in regards to the ache of heartbreak, the price of forgiveness, the seek for that means, and the specter of life passing you by. He usually sounds weary and depressed, and even when he takes an inspirational flip there’s a mournful glint in his voice. On “Are You A Hypnotist??” he laments the lack of intimacy with a former flame: “I assumed I acknowledged your face/ Amongst all of these strangers/ However I’m the stranger now/ Amongst all the acknowledged.” On “Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell,” he sings a couple of equally painful epiphany: “I used to be ready on a second/ However the second by no means got here/ All of the billion different moments/ Have been simply slipping all away.” There are songs about coming to phrases together with your destiny (“In The Morning Of The Magicians”) and studying to see the nice on the earth (“It’s Summertime”). Ultimately, on the album’s slowest tune, Coyne declares, “All we’ve got is now.”
This type of electro-organic existential reflection contains the majority of the album. Most of these chilled-out, heavy-hearted tracks maintain up fairly nicely, and so they characterize an enchanting chapter within the Flaming Lips’ historical past. The closing instrumental “Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” received a Grammy towards competitors like Joe Satriani and Slash. You can also make a case that Yoshimi laid groundwork for the extraordinarily vibey indie subgenres that adopted within the late 2000s and 2010s, from chillwave to “RIYL Tame Impala.” However the album shouldn’t be a top-to-bottom basic like The Tender Bulletin, and even on the top of my Lips fandom I made liberal use of the skip button. Often I used to be skipping to one among three tentpole singles: the lovably goofy “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1” or one among a pair of anthems that translated all that ache into hovering transcendence.
The perfect-loved tune on Yoshimi is nearly definitely “Do You Notice??,” the secular hymn that emerges late within the sport to snap the album out of its funk. “Do You Notice??” shouldn’t be the final tune on Yoshimi, but it surely serves because the album’s grand finale and has closed many a Flaming Lips live performance. Musically, it blurs collectively the Tender Bulletin and Yoshimi aesthetics, melding acoustic strums, artificial burbles, chiming bells, pogo-ing lead guitar, an arching string part, and extra right into a symphonic psych-folk energy ballad extraordinaire. Throughout the bittersweet swirl, Coyne strikes simply the best stability of tenderness (“Do you notice that you’ve got probably the most lovely face?”), painful realism (“Do you notice that everybody you realize sometime will die?”), and pseudo-profundity (“The solar doesn’t go down/ It’s simply an phantasm brought on by the world spinning ’spherical”). The result’s emotionally charged but shut sufficient to a clean slate to challenge no matter intense emotions you’re feeling in the intervening time. In an enormous crowd or throughout the privateness of your headphones, it tends to efficiently tug on the heartstrings.
But for me, Yoshimi isn’t extra elegant than on “Combat Check,” its masterful opening monitor. Sure, I’m conscious that the melody was lifted from Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son,” for which Coyne apologized in a 2003 Guardian interview. However as Coyne identified in the identical breath, “There’s clearly a fantastic line between being impressed and stealing,” and “Combat Check” is nothing if not impressed. The tune stands tall among the many many, many examples of thievery in pop music historical past. It’s so lovely. The “Combat Check” melody is nice, clearly, however so is the swish, glimmering array of sounds the band assembled round it, an interstellar burst that has at all times struck me as a surreal cousin to Radiohead’s “Airbag.” And although the monitor could be spellbinding strictly as a set of recorded sounds, it’s elevated to the stratosphere by among the most painfully simple lyrics Coyne ever wrote.
Somewhat than any sort of foolish robotic state of affairs, “Combat Check” is about actual shit: particularly, realizing too late that it is best to have performed one thing moderately than let your lover slip away into another person’s arms. There’s some crazy stuff about sunbeams on the refrain, however the wonderment works like a appeal within the context of the verses, every yet one more devastating than the following, resulting in the dagger: “Trigger I’m a person, not a boy/ And there are issues you possibly can’t keep away from/ It’s important to face them while you’re not ready to face them/ If I might, I might/ However you’re with him now, it’d do no good/ I ought to have fought him, however as a substitute I let him/ I let him take you.” I don’t know whether or not these lyrics are based mostly on a real story, however throughout the tune’s beautiful sweep, they by no means fail to make me verklempt. Even at their saddest, the Flaming Lips had been so goddamned lovely.