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The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Music Reviews The Flaming Lips
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The Flaming Lips: <i>Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots</i>

PasteCover-75.jpg This review originally appeared in Issue #2 of Paste Magazine in the fall of 2002, republished in celebration of Paste’s 20th Anniversary.

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In the wake of punk’s cooling tumult and new wave’s aloof and icy veneer, the mid-’80s spawned visionary sonic experimentalists like Butthole Surfers and Flaming Lips, bands intent on boat-rocking of the first magnitude. It’s particularly ironic that these two musical entities have survived for the past two decades while so many of their contemporaries have long since crashed and burned.

The Lips’ twisted history is perhaps the most amazing. From Zaireeka, a four-disc set of divergently complementary music designed to be played on four stereos simultaneously, to the shrieking wonder of Oh My Gawd!, to the inexplicable success of “She Don’t Use Jelly,” to the snarky pop triumph of their last album, The Soft Bulletin, the Lips have shown themselves to be an authentically alternative rock band in an era when the “alternative” label gets hung on anything that positions itself remotely outside of mainstream rock. With the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the Flaming Lips seem poised to square off against their alternative brethren once again.

Touted by the band as being a concept album without a distinct concept, Yoshimi tells a bizarre story of love and devotion, sacrifice and redemption, all contextualized through a heroine named Yoshimi (who may or may not be the Boredoms/OOIOO multi-instrumentalist, who plays on the album) and a robot that falls in love with its adversary and commits suicide rather than defeat its beloved. Perhaps most fascinating is the way the Lips draw ably from both sides of their creative psyche here—the brave new worldliness of their early experiments and the simple pop joys of their later forays. On Yoshimi, the Lips borrow from a number of unexpected sources. “Fight Test” nabs its melodic heart from Cat Stevens’s “Father and Son,” while “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21” draws a little psychedelic soul from the Elephant 6 collective. Or did the Elephants borrow from the Lips in 1989? Or were the Lips serious when they name-checked Eric Carmen and Lionel Richie in the promotional material for the album? The only clear answer in any of this is the Lips’ cracked brilliance over the past 20 years and their absolute defiance against convention, especially when they use convention to make their unsettling points.